This Is What Farm Stress Looks Like.

This is what farm stress looks like for us. An empty feedyard amidst a grass and forage production crisis.

This spring has been unlike any other in our decades of farming. Drought combined with late, hard frosts, has resulted in almost no grass and forage growth across the ranch.

We have had farming seasons before that turned us upside down. We have survived BSE – when a sick animal from a different farm in a difference province cause the bottom to fall out of the beef market – and the value of every animal on our farm dropped to pennies. We survived the early 2004 frost, when every acre of our grain farm froze in the fields. Those moments will be forever etched in our minds, as they will for many of our fellow farmers. We have survived floods, a lightning strike to our cattle herd, trade wars and more. We know and understand farm stress as well as anyone.

But this spring is different. Our ranch is built around forage production. Over the years, that has ranged from high to low, and everywhere in between, but we have NEVER experienced zero production, and it is weighing heavy on our shoulders.

More than the financial hit we are taking, more than the uncertainty of what the best course forward is, there is such a weight of responsibility on us. The responsibility of having living, breathing animals relying on our decisions is immense. Crushing. We need to know that we have enough feed to nourish the animals in our care for not only the summer, but also the looming winter months as well.

We are already selling off animals, so they can be shipped out of province to parts of the country that still have feed. While it hurts to sell at a financial loss, moving those animals off the farm will free up what little feed we have for the animals that are left.

So we will make the best decisions that we can. We will remind ourselves that the struggles of our past have made us better farmers. We will knuckle down and pray for rain. We will look for ways to manage our stress as best we can. But – that pit in our stomach, the strained smile on our faces, the sleepless nights and the grouchy attitudes – those will be with us for a while. This is what farm stress looks like.

A Mother Allows Her Children To Walk Into A GMO Field Sprayed With Glyphosate. You’ll Never Guess What Happened Next. 

It was a beautiful summer day, the perfect day for a family road trip to the lake cabin. A mother and her two children had packed the car, and hit the road for a weekend of fun. Along the way, they stopped on a quiet country road to picnic beside a field of beautiful yellow flowers. They snacked and frolicked without a care in the world. 

For those of you who know about Canadian agriculture, you will know that these yellow flowers are a crop called Canola, grown for it’s oil, much of which is GMO (Genetically Modified Organism), and sprayed with Glyphosate. 

So, as the children played, and smelled the beautiful flowers, and their mother looked on, what happened? 


Well, the simple answer is – absolutely nothing. 

You see, as a farmer herself, the mother understood that GMO plants held no risk to her children. Her university education and science background taught her that a field previously sprayed with Glyphosate held no more toxicity for her children than a field sprayed with salt water, which actually has a higher toxicity level. 

That mother knew that Glyphosate and GMO are scary sounding words, but science and research hold far more weight than any fearful scare tactic or headline she may see online. 

That mother, who loves her children more than anything on this planet, allowed them to smell those flowers with confidence in agriculture, confidence in science, and confidence in the farmer responsible for that particular field.

I am that mother. Those are my children. And I am thankful every single day for the science that allows farmers to grow bountiful, nutritious and delicious food that I can feed my children. 

Important Note: Never, ever enter a farmers field without permission. Not only are the crops in those fields their livelihoods, but only the farmer can tell you if it is safe to be in that particular field at that particular time. 

When Ranchers And McDonald’s Spend A Week Together, Amazing Things Happen!!

Many of us have enjoyed a Big Mac or Quarter Pounder with Cheese, but have you ever glimpsed at the business behind the burger? Have you ever wondered how the beef gets from farms and ranches into those juicy, beefy sandwiches? (Are burgers really sandwiches??)

This April, I had a rancher’s dream opportunity. A chance for a behind-the-scenes peek at McDonald’s business. An insider’s view into not only their corporate executive minds, but also a chance to speak with their restaurant owners – those with boots on the ground, literally selling the beef from my very ranch.

In theory, cattle ranchers and the burger giant McDonald’s should go together like peanut butter and jelly – but in reality, there is rarely a direct connection between retails and those who raise the beef that they are selling. As food producers, we have made a concerted effort in the past few years to connect with the people who consume our food, but have somehow skipped over those who are selling it.

Full disclosure, I have been a huge fan of the McDonald’s organization for many years now. They have treated Canadian beef producers in a way that no other end user ever has before. Beyond their commitment to serving Canadian grown food to Canadian people, McDonald’s has done so much more. In a world of fear based marketing, McDonald’s has risen above and embraced the primary producers of food. Their “Not Without Canadian Farmers” campaign has filled farmers and ranchers from across Canada with pride. So, when I was invited to Orlando to attend the McDonald’s World Wide convention, I didn’t just jump at the opportunity – I leapt.

 


The convention itself was a once in a lifetime experience. There were 15,000 people from all over the world registered. To put that into perspective, the population of people attending the conference was more than 23 times larger than Ituna, the town we ranch near. The conference population would have been in the top handful of largest cities in our entire province. It was BIG.


My purpose for attending this massive event was twofold. I would have opportunities throughout the week to meet and talk with McDonald’s executives, their greatest minds who keep the global wheels of their entire organization rolling. From supply chain to communications, I was to have the unique chance to share with them my thoughts on how to bridge the gap between beef producers and consumers. I was also going to spend time in the Sustainable Beef booth speaking with restaurant owners and corporate McDonald’s people about what sustainability means to my own ranch.


From the first session (which happened to feature a surprise performance by Pitbull), I had an entirely new appreciation for their commitment as an organization to sustainability. There, on a stage in front of thousands and thousands of people, global CEO Steve Easterbrook spoke of their Scale for Good commitment. As the largest restaurant company in the world, they saw that they could create positive change in a way that no one else could. They could make changes within their own restaurants, as well as within their supply chains, which could have ripple effects across the globe. He spoke of this with pride, as well as determination. It would not be an easy task, but it was a noble one.


It made me think back to when McDonald’s first launched their Sustainable Beef Pilot here at home. It was a ground breaking approach, for an end user to come to us, as an industry, and say “Here is our goal. Let’s work together to figure out the best way to get there.” By all accounts the project was a huge success, and has now transitioned to being a part of the Canadian Round Table for Sustainable Beef. There is also now the Canadian Beef Sustainability Acceleration Pilot with Cargill and partners like Verified Beef and BIXS, which brings the work that McDonald’s started even further along. All along, McDonald’s vision has not been about creating an elite brand of beef to market, it has been about helping beef producers learn from each other and to grow as an industry.

Being on the enourmous conference floor helped me see McDonald’s restaurant owners in an entirely new light. The scope of their business is not unlike that of a large farm. There were booths for drink dispensers, uniforms, print material, insurance, banking, cleaning supplies, and on and on and on. Chatting with many restaurant owners, it was a complete surprise to find that succession planning was just as big of an issue in their business as it is in my own.

Spending time one on one with those owners, also helped me see that they are as disconnected from food production as consumers are. It was absolutely fantastic to see just how excited each one was to hear directly from a beef producer, and to get a little glimpse into a cattle ranch. Cargill, who makes all of Canada’s patties for McDonald’s, had created an amazing 360 degree video showcasing beef production from ranch to feedlot to processing plant and through to patty plant. It was a huge eye opener for each person to see, and was incredibly fun for myself, to be able to guide them through the video with anecdotes from my own farm. Every single time that I introduced myself as Adrienne, a Cattle Rancher from Canada, I was met with the same huge smile and exclamation of “No way!! That’s amazing!!” It was heartwarming to see not only the excitement of people wanting to talk to ranchers, but also that McDonald’s saw this need, and wanted to make sure that as many people as possible had the opportunity to learn from us. Yes, learn FROM us, not talk down to us. It was so refreshing, just thinking about it now has me craving a Big Mac….

 

Corporate Executive VP, Francesca DeBiase believes in beef producers. She made me feel as though we are on the same team.

I was amazed with how much their corporate executives wanted to chat with us ranchers, and how much they valued our opinions. We sat down with many of their corporate staff to share our views on how we thought McDonald’s could continue to do business with beef producers. The idea that they not only wanted to bridge the gap between their beef producers and their customers, but wanted our opinions on how best to do that, gave me goose bumps. These people, including the Corporate Executive Vice President herself, Francesca DeBiase, as well as many other vice presidents, directors and managers of McDonald’s global business, deeply valued our boots on the ground experience.

 

Corporate VP, Sustainability Keith Kenny walked the trade show with me, highlighting Scale for Good sustainability projects.

From McDonald’s Canada’s CEO, Chief of Marketing VP and General Council VP, each were thrilled to meet and chat. I met a man  who works in their HO treasury branch. I asked him about how they hedge markets and peg currency to lower their risk. He was shocked and amazed to hear that farmers need to be experts in these areas as well, and that we, as producers, need to be constantly managing our exposure to markets. He had never thought of agriculture as that kind of business before. It was a great conversation.

It was a week that filled me with pride in the food I am producing, as well as excitement for the future of the beef industry. In my eyes, those golden arches are glowing pretty bright these days, in ways that this country girl would never have expected.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Balancing Leadership in Agriculture Requires Many Solutions


Recently an Agriculture Commentator, Kevin Hursh, from right here in Saskatchewan, sparked a heated debate with a tweet commenting on what women need to do in agriculture. 

The quote he tweeted about was from Jen Christie, a respected woman in Ontario Agriculture. She was speaking at an event by Chatelaine Magazine, and was explaining the dynamics of board leadership in agriculture. 

This same tweet prompted a great discussion between myself and my husband. Aaron sits on many boards. He was asked to sit on every one of them them by experienced board members and executives. We listed off many of the (male) board members that we know. They were all asked to sit on boards. The local director for our Saskatchewan Cattlemen’s Association was first asked to run for that board. I have never been asked to sit on a board. The very long list of my confident, accomplished female friends have never been asked to sit on boards. This was a pretty simple light bulb moment for both of us. Board members need to be aware and look for great future board members of BOTH genders. It was a great discussion, one that Mr. Hursh did not seem to find in that quote. 

After receiving many questions and objections on Twitter, he then continued expanding on this opinion in a piece for a mainstream newspaper. Read it here

Over the course of the past week, I have written, then deleted, a snarky tweet response to Mr. Hursh at least a dozen times. I believed that a public spat over Twitter would do little good for myself, women in agriculture, or the industry as a whole. But upon reading his very public expansion, using terms such as victim mentality, I could no longer remain quiet. 

Since Kevin is (very obviously) not a woman in agriculture, I though that perhaps he could benefit from some context of what being a woman in today’s Ag industry actually looks like. Allow me to share some stories. 

A woman is told that the retail she is managing will quickly go to hell with a woman running the place – they would have been better with a toddler manager. The three other men in the office laugh and laugh, and comment that perhaps she best run the fertilizer blender in a skirt and heels. In the best interest of keeping the customers happy, of course. 

A man quietly walks (sneaks?) into a woman’s office while her back is turned to the door. He grabs her shoulders and proceeds to move his hands towards her chest. He is surprised at her anger, and makes comments about her need to “keep her customers happy” and to “not make trouble.”.

A woman is demoted for taking the standard maternity leave that the law affords her. With no warning and no discussion she is moved from a sales rep to a junior associate. 

A woman is at a commodity group meeting. She is told by three different men how odd it is that she is at the meeting instead of her husband. Would she not have been better off caring for the children so that he could be there? 

Do you think that these are isolated occurrences? Are these old school instances that no longer happen? Well, let me fill you in on a little secret. They were all me. Every single one. I am a woman in agriculture, and, at under forty, a fairly young one at that. That last example? It was last week. 

Now, perhaps you will think that by sharing these stories, I am falling into the “victim mentality” that Kevin referred to. I almost wish he had experienced a close up of his posterior posted on Ag Twitter to be examined and measured, as did a horrified young female summer student I spoke with last year. Perhaps he would understand that the hesitation to step up often has nothing to do with “victim mentality.”

The truth is that I have never spoken of these before. I have not complained or tattled, whined or whinged. I took each incidence for what it was, and made sure to make the best of each one. Sometimes you can laugh it off. Sometimes a fuss must be made. 

I know that I am not alone in these experiences. Just as I know that they have not ceased to occur. These instances, and my response to them, are experiences that I can share with younger women. Women who may not have my confidence, or my network to fall back on. 

Of Kevin’s opinion piece, I can point out some glaring mistakes. He did not get pulled into this discussion. He inserted himself into it, after reading a single tweet that he had no context behind. His generalization that “many women just aren’t interested in rural municipal politics or one of the many crop commissions” is pretty far off base, in my slightly more expert opinion. The women that I talk to are very interested. They are struggling to see the path onto many of these boards, for a multitude of reasons. 

I had the confidence to tell the grey hairs that I deserved to attend our regional meeting. I can only imagine their shock if I ran for a position. Fear of failure is not a reason to hold back, but it is a wall that needs to be climbed in order to move forward. Climbing such walls takes time, and an incredible amount of confidence. Kevin believes that these barriers are based on perception not reality, yet they still seem to leave a mark when we run ourselves into them. 

Mr. Hursh, I would like to believe that your intention was to inspire women to step up, rather than to tear down events and organizations that many women see value in, but let me assure you, that message was lost in your condescension. 

So here I am, as a confident, competent woman in agriculture, telling you, Kevin Hursh, that you do not get to tell me what it is that I need. There are many areas that I could learn from you and your valuable experience, but the struggles of being a woman is not one of them. 

Women and their personal experiences are as diverse as this amazing industry is. There is no one right answer in creating more balanced leadership. What does not help is bashing options. I, myself, have not attended many women focussed Ag events, but I would never belittle them as an option for those who seek their value. 

It is in the best interest of agriculture as a whole, for our boards and commissions to be diverse in both opinions and gender. It is a problem that they are currently not. Many issues require many solutions, but let’s all try to be part of the solution rather than the grey haired problem. 

An Open Letter to Hunters (from a Rancher)

Dear Deer Hunter,

This year during white tail deer hunting season here in Saskatchewan, I encourage you to re-think some of your past ways. As the owner operator of a large cattle ranch, I want you to realize that your actions have direct consequences for us. Every year, we dread the upcoming hunting season, which is so unfortunate because it doesn’t have to be this way. 

Every single year we have fences run over, gates left open, fences deliberately cut, cattle on the loose, and cattle riled up because of bullets whizzing around them. Not to mention, human lives put at risk.  Again, it doesn’t have to be this way. 

We are in no way against hunting. We understand, perhaps better than anyone, the importance of population control of our wildlife. We have hundreds and hundreds of deer eating at our feed yard over the winter. Trust me, we would much rather those deer be in your deep freeze. Although not hunters ourselves, we understand the sportsmanship of the hunt, but unfortunately a large number of your group are ruining it for all of you. 

Sitting on my front porch drinking coffee means hearing shots fired much too close for comfort. I don’t dare let my kids play in the pasture and I honestly fear for the safety of my husband and hired men as they are out fixing the fence that another hunter drove through the day before. This is no war-torn country, but we need to wear hunters orange to avoid getting shot on our own land. 

I understand that the laws in Saskatchewan protect your right to enter my land to shoot at will, but when does human common courtesy come in? Do you need to post a sign on your lawn asking me not to spin donuts on it? Or asking please don’t chop a hole through my front door so my dog runs away? We spend countless hours every year rounding up loose cattle solely because it was easier for you to drive through my fence than get out of your truck and WALK to shoot that deer. Did you know that when you leave a gate open, it means there is no electricity on the rest of that fence for miles and miles?

The thing is this – it is so easily rectified. There is such a simple solution.  Ask. Ask before you enter my land. Ask where it’s okay to hunt or not. Ask, and I will even tell you where I saw the biggest buck, or where the deer herd has been hanging out. Don’t know who to ask? There is a simple solution for that too!! For a very low price, every RM has maps that show you who owns each piece of land. Easy! If all else fails, stop in at a yard. Most of us can tell you who owns which land, and how to get ahold of them. For all the time and money you put into hunting, surely this is not too much to ask. For those that already do this, thank you! It is both noticed and appreciated. 

I know that our acres and acres of grassland looks like empty “nature” to you urbanites, but in reality, my husband may be just behind that bush fixing fence or treating a sick calf. My livelihood is likely just behind that bluff of trees. Do you use your paycheque as target practice? Or your pet dog for that matter?  

So many ranchers grumble and moan about how much they hate hunters, and the saddest part is that it doesn’t have to be this way. I won’t go into your house without asking. Offer me the same courtesy. 

Sincerely, 

Adrienne Ivey, Rancher  

Update: Since writing this post, we have posted all of our land as No Hunting. We hoped that this would solve the problem, but it has not. It has slowed the hunting traffic somewhat, but it is as dangerous as ever to care for our cattle. Last year, my husband was caught fixing fence in a bush out in the middle of our posted land, and hunters drove through the fence (past the No Hunting sign), and were shooting blindly into the bush in his vacinity. THIS MUST STOP.