Nearly 300 agriculture journalists, broadcasters and communicators arrived in Canada last week for the 2011 International Federation of Agricultural Journalists annual congress.
Held in Guelph and Niagara Falls, the congress’ theme was “Experience New World Agriculture” and featured delegates from 30 member countries.
The honorary Chair, Lyle Vanclief, former minister of agriculture welcomed visitors to Canada and Pierre Lemieux, the Secretary of State for Agriculture, presented introductory remarks on behalf of Agriculture Minister, Gerry Ritz.
After a day of annual meetings, and a session entitled Canada 101, delegates boarded coaches and participated in three different agriculture tours of southern and eastern Ontario.
The Lake Huron tour (the tour I was part of) visited the St. Jacob’s Farmers’ Market – Canada’s largest year-round farmers’ market, the Martin Family Fruit Farm – one of the largest fruit farms and fruit packers in southern Ontario, the Hensall District Cooperative – the largest independent farmer-owned agricultural cooperative in Ontario and one of the world’s largest processors and suppliers of edible beans, Danzel Holsteins a free-stall dairy operation with 100 cows, FGC Inc. – a hog and poultry barn builder with construction sites around Ontario and some new projects in Russia, the 2nd largest cattle feedlot in Ontario – a 10,000 head operation owned by the Van Osch family, and finally a tour of one of Canada’s largest wineries, Jackson Triggs.
Delegates, both international and those from Canada, were very impressed with the stories these farmers and businesses had to tell. There were many, many stories to take in and the journalists took the opportunity to ask their own questions of the producers. Every visit felt a bit like a media scrum but without the tension or pointed questions.
Delegates on other buses also toured the Lake Erie and Lake Ontario regions. Some had a fair distance to cover which put into context the distances that Canada’s food producers, and products, must travel on a daily basis as part of doing business in such a large country. There were many references to how big Canada was in comparison to the home countries of the delegates. The CEO of Hensall District Cooperative, Earl Wagner, added context to explain how geography is an added dimension or challenge here in Canada. “Our vehicles cover 3 million km per year which is the same as 75 trips around the earth” he said.
The three tours met up again in Niagara at the end of the week and the visitors had time to compare notes, and ask more questions, about all the things they had seen along the way. This included some pre-congress tours in British Columbia and Alberta as well as workshops and a boot camp for winners of the 2011 IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders in Agriculture Journalism award. This boot camp provided participants with expert training and feedback through on-site writing or broadcasting assignments and further developed their leadership skills through formal in-class training.
Before, during (and it’s still going on after) the four-day congress, there was a significant amount of Twitter and Facebook chatter between delegates, about the tours, about the congress itself, and about the 2012 congress in Sweden. Organizers provided a portal on the congress website at www.ifaj2011.com to harness all the messages on Twitter that used the #ifaj hash tag. In many cases, the journalists were filing stories and blogs on the fly so the content was coming out “as-it-happened”.
Over the days since the event, it was clear that all participants thoroughly enjoyed the exposure to Canada’s “New World Agriculture” and their chance to meet Canada’s agriculture communicators in their home setting. The organizers did a bang-up job and were saluted at the closing ceremonies and the handing over of the IFAJ flag to the Swedish delegation.
With promises of seeing each other next year, delegates left Niagara Falls to either head straight home to recover from the whirlwind week or went off to even further Canadian agriculture adventures on the Atlantic coast in New Brunswick.