Meristem Land and Science: Driving Progress in Sustainability

NewStream Farm Animal Care, Volume 3, Edition 9

Soil Health rises on the sustainability landscape

December 18, 2015

Western Canada Conference on Soil Health. Credit: Annemarie Pedersen

Links to human and animal health driving interest

In many ways soil has not received the respect it should. For whatever reason, soils just have not captured the imagination of the world.

That may be about to change. Driven by the designation of 2015 as the International Year of Soils by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, soil health is the new buzzword on the sustainability landscape. New initiatives are taking shape that are linking the quality of soils in Canada and around the world with much broader issues.

Soils Summit 2015

The Summit on Canadian Soil Health in Calgary early December of 2015 organized by the Soil Conservation Council of Canada (SCCC) brought together many of the potential Canadian players on this new landscape.

The Summit gave a solid overview of the situation in Canada through the voices of a broad group. Keynote speaker author and researcher Dr. David Montgomery talked the message of his book, "Dirt. The erosion of civilizations, the challenge and promise of global soil restoration." A key message is that taking care of soils is a lot more than managing erosion.

Click here to read the complete feature article.

Data: The big opportunity for beef improvement

December 18, 2015

Deborah Wilson, senior VP BIXS

But the beef industry is playing catchup

The world of sports calls it analytics. Watch Sidney Crosby play, watch a rookie from the minors playing their first pro hockey game and listen to the announcers. You'll hear many statistics describing how they play the game and in-depth analysis of why they are or aren't meeting performance objectives.

Statistics, once confined to Don Cherry rants and color commentary during playtime have moved to the business side of hockey. Teams use data to develop business strategies, select athletes and determine how they will be rewarded. Professional sports management is favoring young guns with interest and experience in this new world of analytics.

And so it is with agriculture. Data is in the headlines many times these days as companies align strategically to better serve the industry. The ability to collect and move information has grown tremendously, but the biggest change on the horizon is the ability to interpret that data for decision making and make the knowledge seamlessly available to more people.

Deborah Wilson certainly understands that challenge. She is senior vice-president for one of the most innovative front line players in the beef data business in Canada, the Beef InfoXChange System (BIXS).

Click here to read the complete feature article.

Insights from Dr. David Fraser

December 18, 2015

Professionalizing animal agriculture is key to the future, says the animal welfare expert

It's a time of change throughout animal agriculture. But perhaps the most important trend taking place – particularly for key sustainability issues such as animal care – is the increasing movement toward "a professional model" for animal agriculture.

Renowned animal welfare expert Dr. David Fraser offered a range of insights on this topic in a recent webinar hosted by Farm Management Canada and presented by the National Farm Animal Care Council.

A professor in the Animal Welfare Program at the University of British Columbia, Fraser's track record includes a 43 year research career and long-time service both domestically and internationally advising on progress in farm animal welfare.

Here are few key perspectives, among many, from Fraser on the topic of professionalization:

The human factor

"Very different welfare outcomes occur in the same type of physical environment. Why is this? Of course it's because animal welfare depends on so much more than just the physical environment. It depends strongly on the quality of animal care that the animals receive. This in turn depends so much on the knowledge, skill and attentiveness of the producers and staff."

Click here to read the full story.


December 18, 2015

Quick takes on key activity and what's coming, from NewStream editors

New frontier of swine health and genomics at Banff Pork Seminar

It's one of the most promising areas of swine animal health. Genomics, the branch of molecular biology concerned with the structure, function, evolution and mapping of genomes looms large over the livestock industry as it does in society.

"We're really looking at using genomics and relating sustainable management in combination to improve swine health," says Michael Dyck, program co-chair for 2016 Banff Pork Seminar. "We are going beyond just biosecurity and identifying animals that are genetically more resilient to disease and opportunities to select for enhanced resilience. That's particularly important in an environment with limited antibiotic use."

Seven speakers at the forefront of this emerging area will be presenting at the Banff Pork Seminar Jan. 12 to 14, 2016.

Graham Plastow, University of Alberta looks at genomics and swine health in Canada to date. Benny Mote, University of Nebraska-Lincoln looks at the impacts of moving "clean" gilts into "health challenged" commercial sow farms. And Nick Serao, North Carolina State University speaks on genetic improvement of sow and gilt reproductive performance via immunity.

Jack Dekkers, Iowa State University speaks on Genetics of PRRSV in the growing pigs.
John Harding, University of Saskatchewan examines PRRSV and the pregnant female.
Graham Plastow, University of Alberta returns with a provocative topic, "Learning to date and the way forward for genetics and swine health."

To close things off, Michael Dyck, University of Alberta will provide an overview of the innovative Genome Canada Project being launched.

Program details are available here. A Special Report produced by Meristem in partnership with the Banff Pork Seminar is available here.

Help for converting to loose sow housing

Across Canada pork producers are showing more interest in switching barns to group sow housing.

It's a major decision for producers and one where planning ahead can pay big dividends according to swine researcher Dr. Tom Parsons of the University of Pennsylvania who heads up a major research initiative in the area.

The National Sow Hosing Conversion Project (NSHCP) has been set up to help producers work through those decisions, understand the options available and even help with sourcing funding. It follows a number of producers through their conversion process providing a first hand on-the-ground analysis of their efforts including the construction process and costs.

NSHCP has a newsletter covering many aspects of the program. It is available free of charge by contacting project coordinator Yolande Seddon at 306-667-7442 or by email at . A complementary website www.groupsowhousing.com with extensive resources will be launched in early 2016. It will provide links to the latest resources in Canada and around the world.

Meantime, researcher Dr. Jennifer Brown of the Prairie Swine Centre is looking for producers in Saskatchewan or Alberta who are planning convert their barns to group housing but have not begun the process. The Centre would like to document the process and share that information with other producers. Dr. Brown can be reached by phone at 306-667-7442 or by email at




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Soil Health rises on the sustainability landscape

Data: The big opportunity for beef improvement

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Banff Pork Seminar digs deeper on welfare issue

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