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'ProAction': The next game-changer for Canada?

Farm animal care is a key part of the mix in this bold new proposed dairy sector program that many in in agriculture are watching closely as a model for other livestock industries

Posted: February 19, 2013

At the Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC) Policy Conference in Ottawa this February, delegates discussed the proAction Initiative - a bold new approach toward the integrated delivery of on-farm programs including farm animal care assessments.

For Canada's dairy farmers, the proposed approach represents a major step forward, poised to re-draw the blueprints for how on-farm programs are delivered. It also holds potential to dramatically improve how the industry meets a rising wave of new expectations all tied to sustainability. Many in agriculture are watching closely, as the dairy sector blazes a new trail that could become a model for other livestock industries.

"This is about integrating on-farm programs for a new generation, in a way that is efficient, works well for producers and addresses societal expectations," says Wally Smith, DFC President. "We believe we need to be proactive in addressing changing needs and responding to consumers' thirst for knowledge about their food. We also believe that we, the farmers, should design the program in a way that makes sense for farmers. The board and our members see the opportunity to streamline and coordinate various best management practices under one umbrella."


Wally Smith, DFC President

Taking proAction

ProAction would create uniform nationwide delivery of validation for milk quality, food safety, animal welfare, biosecurity, traceability and environment, by combining these components under the existing infrastructure for the Canadian Quality Milk (CQM) on-farm food safety program. While only a proposal at this point, proAction has gained traction through a series of consultations with producers across the country.

The positive comments at the Policy Conference have set the stage for continued development of the initiative leading up to the DFC AGM slated for July, where a more detailed version of proAction will be presented and DFC delegates will vote on whether or not to support implementation.

Farm animal care connection

The roots of proAction include a strong connection to farm animal welfare. The idea emerged when the dairy sector agreed to participate in a pilot program, based on the Draft Animal Care Assessment Model, which is currently under development by the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC). The dairy sector was already the first livestock sector in Canada to go through the development process for an updated Code of Practice for the care and handling of farm animals.

This experience has given DFC participants an appreciation for the new world of assurance demands in farm animal care, along with other societal questions related to origin and production of food. Smith says the Code is respected by various stakeholders, and its outcome-based approach is important for farmers. He says DFC has supported the concept of one approach to farm animal care for the dairy sector with uniform delivery across the country. That viewpoint helped the concept for proAction to start to take shape.

"Integrating our activity in animal welfare with the other practices was logical because, for example, animal care is connected to health and biosecurity, and these have an impact on food safety," says Smith.

Lessons from CQM

CQM, which started to roll out on farms in 2003 when it was recognized by Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), is recognized among the best programs of its kind in the world. However, Smith says farmers have been disappointed by differences in how the program is delivered from province to province, including differences in timeframes or penalties/incentives for inciting farmer participation.

"There are many advantages to a consistent, coordinated program across the country," says Smith. That's what the aim is with proAction.

Progress in the various areas proposed for integration under proAction is moving fast. During the DFC Policy Conference, DFC and the CFIA jointly announced the publication of the national biosecurity standard for dairy farms. Governments are starting to update regulations for mandatory traceability. DFC is benchmarking the farm practices that protect the environment and address broader sustainability issues, with the objective of encouraging more farmers to adopt them.

Signal of a new era

Other Canadian livestock sectors are also adopting a similar range of similar programs and initiatives. With concepts such as proAction leading the charge, many see this activity presenting a clear signal that a new era in managing sustainability issues is emerging for Canadian agriculture.

"The name proAction is reflective of dairy farmers' values, and works in both languages," says Therese Beaulieu, Assistant Director, Strategic Communications for DFC. "We see dairy farmers being proactive, progressive, interested in being recognized as professionals in their field."

Joe Dickenson, a young dairy and beef farmer is among them, she say. He farms in partnership with his parents and they were CQM-certified last year. Present at the DFC Policy Conference, Dickenson believes it is better and will cost less to be proactive instead of having to catch up in a rapidly changing world.

"There is a real practical rationale to all of this," says Smith. "Streamlining, simplifying, unifying – this all should make things more simple and practical for farmers. The feedback DFC has received from many producers is that this just makes sense. There are of course some producers who want to know more, want to see the details before they get on board with the idea. That's the next step: to flesh out the blueprint for this concept and have something producers can make a decision on this summer."

Smith remains optimistic: "We know we'll need everyone on the same page among the provinces and stakeholders for proAction to be effective. So far the feedback has been very promising."

Global momentum, brand impact

DFC acknowledged there are other multifaceted models in place in the world. The UK has its Red Tractor, Australia is working on a Dairy Sustainability Framework, and Global GAP is the food assurance program based in Europe. This program, broadly implemented, is easily recognized and understood. (Learn more about Global GAP in this NewStream Farm Animal Care article.

ProAction has that potential to provide more leverage for DFC's branding programs, says Smith. "Farmers adopting the proAction Initiative can prove to the public we are a modern, efficient industry that responds to societal values." The initiative further support a strong positive image for Canadian milk among consumers, he says.


Reprintable with credit. This article is available for reprint, with acknowledgement of the source as Meristem Land and Science, www.meristem.com.

Meristem is a Calgary-based communications firm that specializes in writing about western agriculture, food and land use. More articles at www.meristem.com.


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