AIC Notes Top         Issue 2012-09         March 1, 2012 
In This Issue
Opportunities for the Use of Agri Biomass
New Commercialization of Biochar Technology
Near Infrared Reflectance Spectroscopy Offers Digestible Energy Content Analysis of Barley
CFIA Maps Out Service Standards, Practices
Farmers Head to School for Ag Literacy Week
Strong Locally Grown Pull Bolsters Area Produce Scene
New Chair in Environmental Horticulture at Vineland
U.S., Canadian Ag Ministers Huddle on Trade and Biotech Issues
Experts: Linking Farmers to Markets Critical for Africa's Rural Development
Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food
Coming Events

Opportunities for the Use of Agri Biomass  

The federal government has announced an investment of up to $126,400 in Biofour Inc., through the Canadian Agricultural Adaptation Program (CAAP), to test an incinerator for agricultural biomass combustion.

"This project offers producers new opportunities and will generate positive economic benefits while reducing both greenhouse gas emissions and the contamination of the water table and soil," said Minister Minister of State (Agriculture) Christian Paradis. "The marketing of this technology in other industries could generate an interesting diversification of the sector. The green economy is creating jobs and shows promise for the entire country."

Biofour Inc. will use this investment to test a boiler incinerator that burns biomasses other than those derived from forest products. The goal is to verify its effectiveness and its economic value in the sector's daily applications. This trial will attempt to evaluate the energy potential of various biomasses. The project will supply a poultry house and will allow for use of the incinerator in a heating network supplied by crop residues and poultry litter.

This project will have a positive impact on the agricultural sector by giving producers new ways to profit from agricultural residues, either by marketing their raw materials in organized markets or by acquiring an oven and reclaiming the residues.

"These funds will help support our efforts to develop technologies that add value to agricultural and agri-food residual materials," said Marilou Cyr, Director of Marketing, Communications and Business Development at Biofour Inc. "Our goal is to provide an alternative heating and residue management solution for Canadian agricutural and agri-food businesses, thus helping to simultaneously reduce production costs and greenhouse gas emissions."

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Press Release, February 27, 2012


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New Commercialization of Biochar Technology  


The development of innovative biochar technology that will help generate new economic opportunities received a boost as a result of a collaborative initiative announced today.


Leon Benoit, Member of Parliament for Vegreville-Wainwright, on behalf of the Honourable Lynne Yelich, Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification, announced federal funding of $900,000 towards Lakeland College to acquire two mobile pyrolysis units to test, evaluate, and demonstrate biochar products for the agricultural and environmental marketplace. Additional support towards this project includes a contribution of $450,000 from Alberta Innovates Technology Futures (AITF).


Biochar is the carbon-rich residue produced by pyrolysis, a process of burning organic matter such as agricultural and forestry waste in a low oxygen environment. The substance can be used to improve soil texture and crop productivity, as well as accelerate re-vegetation of uncultivable lands. Further, preliminary studies also indicate that biochar has the potential to clean up wastewater in the petroleum sector.


"This biochar initiative contributes towards the emergence of a strong bio-economy in Alberta," said Richard Wayken, AITF General Manager, Bio & Industrial Technologies. "Alberta's rural-based, small- and medium-sized companies will be able to deploy this green, clean technology to unleash the value in agricultural and forest residues which were once considered waste, and make the most of Alberta's fibre resources."


The transportable pilot-scale pyrolysis units will enable Lakeland College's Centre for Sustainable Innovation and industry partners to evaluate the quality of biochar from various feedstocks. Lakeland will also coordinate field trials to assess the performance of biochar. This initiative is expected to develop and demonstrate technologies that will enable the large scale commercial deployment of biochar applications for the benefit of rural Albertans. Further, this initiative will help to establish new markets for biochar products, while also generating new employment and capital investment opportunities in the region.


"This investment and corresponding research partnership with Alberta Innovates Technology Futures is a perfect fit for Lakeland College as it relates to agricultural sciences, energy and environmental sciences - three of our four programming pillars," said Glenn Charlesworth, President of Lakeland College. "The funding from Western Economic Diversification Canada enables us to purchase the equipment needed to produce biochar and ultimately help determine the environmental benefits and applications of this product."


Western Economic Diversification Canada works with the provinces, industry associations and communities to promote the development and diversification of the western economy, coordinates federal economic activities in the West, and advances the interests of western Canadians in national decision making.



Agriculture and Agri-Food Press Release, February 23, 2012



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Near Infrared Reflectance Spectroscopy Offers Digestible Energy Content Analysis of Barley 


Researchers with the University of Alberta have successfully harnessed Near Infrared Reflectance Spectroscopy to determine the digestible energy content of barley.


Near Infrared Reflectance Spectroscopy, a non-invasive technique that uses light to analyze the chemical bonds in feedstuffs, has been used for quite a while in the grains industry to provide simple feed quality analysis and analysis of other quality parameters such as moisture content.


The University of Alberta, in collaboration with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development, has focused on digestible nutrient profiles, particularly digestible energy in cereal grains, and has developed a calibration to predict barley digestible energy.


University of Alberta Animal Science Professor Dr. Ruurd Zijlstra says NIRS analysis is both quick and accurate.


The actual analysis itself, once you have a calibration in place, takes one to two minutes so you have to sample in front of the instrument and two minutes later you have a prediction of the energy quality of the next sample of cereal grain that you scan.


Obviously there is time involved in getting the sample to the lab but then, once we have the data in the lab, the lab and the computer in the lab is linked up to the internet so the data can be returned to the person that sent the sample the same day.


The accuracy for predicting digestible energy is about 60 to 70 kilocalories digestible energy and, to put that into a percentage, that's an accuracy of two to three percent so that is quite similar to the accuracy for a lot of the lab analysis that are based on chemical analysis.


Dr. Ruurd Zijlstra says NIRS can be used to analyze the quality of any cereal grain and researchers are now working on a calibration for wheat digestible energy., February 28, 2012


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CFIA Maps Out Service Standards, Practices 

Processor and producer groups are hailing the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's launch of a "statement of rights and service" and guides to inspection as a way to better understand their own roles in the process.


Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz on Monday said the move is meant to "strengthen communication and interaction between the agency, consumers, producers and the entire value chain."


The broader document, the Statement of Rights and Service for Producers, Consumers and Other Stakeholders, lays out the responsibilities and functions of the agency and its staff in general terms, such as

- protecting Canadians from preventable health risks;

- implementing food safety measures;

- managing risks and emergencies regarding food, animals and plants; and

- promoting food safety and systems.


Among other points, the statement noted agency staff are "dedicated to the consistent and impartial application of the legislation for which we are responsible" and that "our reputation and credibility are vital to our ability to deliver our mandate."


Monday's release also includes six guides to the inspection process -- including one for producers, laying out the CFIA inspector's legal authority, types of inspections performed at farms and agribusinesses, and the producer's legal obligations.


Keystone Agricultural Producers, Manitoba's general farm organization, said in a separate release that the guidelines for inspection for farmers "are very clear and will serve to assist producers" in the process.


The agency on Monday also announced plans for a new complaints and appeals mechanism, which Ritz said will "provide a more transparent and accessible way for businesses to register complaints and appeals on CFIA's decisions and service quality."


The new mechanism, the agency said, is meant to complement the CFIA's processes already in place by using a "single window" approach to register concerns or appeals dealing with "quality of service, administrative errors and regulatory decisions."


The single window, to be run through a new CFIA Office of Complaints and Appeals scheduled to be up and running by April 1, will allowing regulatory decisions and service quality issues to be "more thoroughly addressed," CFIA said.




Spokesmen for the Canadian Meat Council, Canadian Poultry and Egg Processors Council and Further Poultry Processors Association of Canada said in a joint release Monday that the CFIA's moves will "provide a strong foundation for future consultations on the development of a modernized food safety system."


"The CFIA is the competent authority in Canada for federal regulatory compliance," Canadian Cattlemen's Association president Travis Toews said in a separate release. "The fact that there will now be a standard in place to ensure the CFIA is accountable for the service they provide will help to elevate stakeholder confidence in the process."


CCA vice-president Martin Unrau predicted in the same release that the planned complaints and appeals mechanism "will be well-received by industry and particularly producers who have experienced frustrations with the CFIA inspection process in the past."


"Taken together, the steps announced today help to address gaps in the process that needed to be improved," Unrau said.


"It is refreshing to see government to rectify some of the issues we faced during the 2009 anaplasmosis investigation that put our 15,000 cattle under quarantine unnecessarily," Joe Gardner, general manager of the Douglas Lake Ranch about 90 km south of Kamloops, said in a release Monday from the British Columbia Cattlemen's Association.


"I see these new guidelines as a way to avoid unnecessary quarantines that have a huge impact on ranch businesses."


Marilyn Braun-Pollon, vice-president for agribusiness with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), said in a separate release that the agency's moves are "a positive first step and we hope the CFIA ensures this culture of change is reflected in their daily interactions with producers and small businesses."


CFIB, the federal government noted, played a leading role in "making sure these documents help businesses better understand their own role and responsibilities as well as what service standards they should expect from CFIA."


The CFIB said its 2007 report card on the CFIA found significant "room for improvement" and that "only one in five agribusinesses believed the CFIA provided good overall service."


Country Guide, February 28, 2012


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Farmers Head to School for Ag Literacy Week

It's often said farmers speak their own language, but schoolkids in nine provinces might soon understand it a little better thanks to Canadian Agricultural Literacy Week.


Hundreds of farmers will be going back to school Feb. 26 to March 3 to talk to children and read from selected books telling stories about food and farming as part of a first-ever initiative put on by Agriculture in the Classroom (AITC) and funded by Farm Credit Canada.


It's a week to strengthen the relationship between schoolchildren and the people who produce food, said Johanne Ross, executive director of AITC-Manitoba, who's co-ordinating the national program.

AITC develops agriculturally themed teaching resources for schools, but this initiative is different, she said.


"When you think of literacy you automatically think of reading books, but in this day and age literacy can mean so many things. We want it to be beyond the books and about making that personal connection and putting a face behind agriculture."


In Manitoba, for example, 20 schools and about 40 classrooms of Grades 3,4 and 5 students were expected to open their doors to Manitoba farmers. Canada-wide, as many as 400 classrooms are expected to take part.


"We've had a wonderful response from our producers and our ag industry contacts to get in there and tell the agricultural story," said James Perkins, interim executive director for AITC-Saskatchewan.


With most families now two or more generations removed from the farm, organizers are expecting some lively classroom discussions.


"Someone is bound to raise their hand and ask a question," said Perkins. "We're really encouraging farmers to tell their story. They have a story to tell that goes far beyond the books."


Other provinces will take different approaches. Ontario Agri-Food Education doesn't have the same kind of volunteer base among farmers so they've arranged for newly graduated teachers, not yet in teaching jobs, to visit classrooms, said Jan Robertson, marketing and communications manager for OAFE. They'll be bringing books as well, but also a game called Agri-Trekking Across Ontario to teach about different types of production throughout the province.


Uptake by schools has exceeded their highest expectations, Ross said.


"We want (students) to get curious about it, and see agriculture as something beyond the farm, and the role they can play in giving back to agriculture as consumers," she said.


Organizers said they hope the event spurs Canadian writers to create agriculturally themed books for children. Many provinces have gone with U.S. titles because they couldn't find Canadian ones, said Ross, noting many U.S. books focus on types of production not used north of the border.


"It's just not on writers' radar screens," said Ross. "We really need Canadian books about agriculture and we're hoping maybe this week will start to build on that."


Farmers will read two specially selected books in Manitoba classrooms, for example: Where Beef Comes From, by Saskatchewan producer Sherri Grant, and Seed Soil Sun - Earth's Recipe For Food, by American writer Cris Peterson.


Ontario's titles include Alfalfabet A-Z, The Wonderful Words from Agriculture by B.C. author Carol Watterson and How Did That Get in My Lunch Box? The Story of Food by U.S. writer Chris Butterworth.

Sherri Grant's book is also on their list for Saskatchewan, said Perkins. So is another by Cris Peterson entitled Fantastic Farm Machines. They're also reading Farm by Elisha Cooper, a U.S. author who writes about growing corn in the Midwest.


"As consumers, our personal connection with agriculture can affect our food product selection," Ross said in a release Wednesday. "Knowledge of local farm communities positively impacts public support for a viable agricultural sector in our province."


All books read in the classrooms will be donated to the schools.


February is designated I Love to Read Month across North America, promoting early childhood interest in reading and highlighting the importance of literacy skills.


Lorraine Stevenson, Manitoba Co-operator, February 23, 2012


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Strong Locally Grown Pull Bolsters Area Produce Scene 

The demand for local produce is so strong, it affects every corner of Toronto's food industry.

"When I put 'product of Ontario' on the shelf, it moves, even if it doesn't look as good as the U.S. product," said Tony Di Marco, founder of the Harvest Wagon, one of Toronto's oldest upscale retailers.

"As soon as local asparagus comes in, we stop importing," Di Marco said, echoing other retailers.

"Same with broccoli. If broccoli starts June 26, I have to make sure I'm out of imports or else it won't sell.

"We still support Ontario even if we have to sell it for three or four times the price."


Every new restaurant, from the smallest hole-in-the-wall to the brand new Trump International Hotel and Tower, now trumpets a locally inspired menu.

Across the province, 158 weekly markets are preparing to open their umbrellas at the end of May, said Catherine Clark, executive assistant at Farmers' Markets Ontario in Brighton.

To weed out resellers who arrive from the food terminal with everything from U.S. beans to Costa Rican pineapples, Clark said there's a been a push for MyPick certification.

Growers who join the program are inspected by Farmers' Markets Ontario and given promotional materials to prove they're selling only what they produce, Clark said.

To give customers a taste of the farmers market experience, Canada's largest supermarket chain offers direct-store delivery of fresh produce where possible.

Ontario-grown corn and strawberries are a natural for direct-store delivery, especially in rural stores far from the company's distribution centres, said Eric Biddiscombe, senior director of Field 2 Fork for Brampton, Ontario-based Loblaw Cos. Ltd.

The challenge, Biddiscombe said, is ensuring direct-store delivery produce meets all Loblaw specifications and is delivered on time, in the right quantity and at the agreed-upon price. Cooperation from Mother Nature is also appreciated.

At Milton, Ontario-based distributor Gordon Food Service Ontario, cases and sales of local products are up over last year, but demand has not met expectations, said Steve Crawford, category manager for produce and dairy.
"When you talk to customers, they all believe in local," Crawford said.

"Are they all doing it? No, but they do believe it's the right thing to do."

A one-year government grant allowed Gordon Food Service to set up a team to source more Ontario-produced food for institutions such as hospitals and schools.

Customers now receive a list of local items along with the origin of each product and profiles of the producers.

Like Loblaw, Crawford said his team has traveled around the province educating growers and processors about what it takes to work with a large distributor, from food safety and traceability to consistency in packaging.

"Last fall we got phone calls from farmers driving down Highway 401 with a load of peppers asking if we wanted them, could they drop them off," said Cindy Palmer, who oversees fresh produce, dairy and local Ontario products for Gordon Food Service.

"They're excited about it, but they have no clue how to do business with us," Palmer said.
With 60,000 pieces being shipped out and received nightly, Crawford said it's hard to make room for a farmer with 15 to 20 cases.

To solve that problem, Gordon Food Service now works with distributor Cohn Farms in Bradford to consolidate loads from a number of growers.

There have been other successes, Palmer said.

Gordon has switched all its apple orders from Washington to Ontario-grown, and salesmen now automatically fill orders with local produce in season when the price and quality are right.

Palmer said some customers are overwhelmed by the thought of putting together an all-local recipe.
"We're getting them to focus on one seasonal item, perhaps a beautiful chioggia beet, and make it the star of the plate without being über-concerned about everything on that plate being local," she said.

Marketing local products year-round and treating them as a category, rather than as individual items, would help take local to the next level, Crawford said.

"It's going to take time, but as we increase volumes it's going to make better efficiencies and it's going to be good for everybody," he said.


The Packer, in AgriLink, February 27, 2012


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New Chair in Environmental Horticulture at Vineland  


Vineland Research and Innovation Centre (Vineland) and the University of Guelph have announced an important new research partnership for the Canadian horticulture industry. Well-respected researcher Dr. Youbin Zheng of the School of Environmental Sciences (SES) has been named the Vineland/University of Guelph Chair in Environmental Horticulture. This position, which begins immediately, will improve collaboration across Canadian research networks and speed access to new technologies and innovations for industry.

"This is an exciting opportunity made possible by establishing a new type of partnership" said Robert Gordon, Dean of OAC. "As we look at increasing challenges to research funding, it is important to explore creative options for partnerships to support this type of important work."

Zheng was an adjunct professor and manager of the Controlled Environment Systems Research Facility at SES. He will be working side-by-side with Dr. Michael Brownbridge, Vineland's research director in horticultural production systems. Together these researchers bring decades of combined experience in green roof technology, greenhouse and nursery plant production, and urban agriculture.

"Dr. Zheng will be splitting his time between Vineland and the University of Guelph where some of the country's best work in greenhouse 'intelligent irrigation' systems, water treatment for re
-circulation, plant environment interactions, and biocontrol is being led for the greenhouse and nursery sectors. No surprise to anyone but rapid delivery of results is the focus here, and of course the key to industry competitiveness globally," said Dr. Jim Brandle, CEO, Vineland.

Vineland Research and Innovation Centre is an independent, not-for-profit organization that was created to be a world-class centre for horticultural science and innovation. In its capacity to enable and foster relationships with industry, academia and government, Vineland works to deliver premium product and production innovations. Aligned with industry needs, Vineland's research priorities and outcomes are focused on the growth of the entire horticulture industry.


University of Guelph Press Release, February 28, 2012


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U.S., Canadian Ag Ministers Huddle on Trade and Biotech Issues 


It wasn't on his public schedule, but Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack huddled with Canadian Ag Minister Gerry Ritz ahead of the USDA annual outlook conference last week.


Ritz told reporters that he and Vilsack had a frank and wide-ranging conversation about the $33 billion a year Canadian-U.S. ag trade relationship.


"Tom and I know that our agricultural industries are integrated and interdependent," Ritz said. "At this stage of our economic recoveries no one can afford a thickening of the border. That's why our two countries are committed to reducing duplication and streamlining regulation. It is unnecessary red tape that adds to the cost of producers and processors and prevents cross-border trade flows."


Ritz said the two ag leaders also discussed the role of biotechnology in feeding a growing global population.


"Countries and their consumers need to understand that the only way to achieve a sustainable food supply is through innovative, science-based technology," Ritz said. "Canada continues to work closely with our like-minded trading partners like the U.S., to develop a globally-accepted, science-based approach to low level permits for GM material."


Vilsack mentioned his meeting with Ritz during an appearance later in the day and said both countries agree that science holds the key to increasing agricultural productivity.


"They also agree that we need to have more partners in the international community," Vilsack said. "So most of our discussion was how do we get the Europeans, the Chinese, folks from Africa, folks from South America to understand and appreciate that this science is the way in which we are going to feed an ever increasing world population and the way in which we are going to continue to figure out ways to do stuff in a sustainable, renewable way with less water, less pesticides, less chemicals and be able to adapt to a changing climate."


Ritz also said he lobbied Vilsack on the benefits to U.S. agriculture of having Canada join the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiation., March 1, 2012


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Experts: Linking Farmers to Markets Critical for Africa's Rural Development 


As a food crisis unfolds in West Africa's Sahel region, some of the world's leading experts in agriculture markets say the time is ripe to confront the "substantial inefficiencies" in trade policy, transportation, information services, credit, crop storage and other market challenges that leave Africans particularly vulnerable to food-related problems.


"We can't control the weather or international commodities speculators, but there are many things we can do to improve market conditions in Africa that will increase food availability and help stabilize food prices across the continent," said Anne Mbaabu, director of the Market Access Program at the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), which has invested US$30 million over the last four years to improve market opportunities for Africa's smallholder farmers.


AGRA and the Nairobi-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) have just released a book that features a range of studies that collectively make a compelling argument for embracing agriculture-oriented market improvements as crucial to not only avoiding future food crises but also for establishing a firm foundation for rural development and economic growth. The research was originally prepared for a conference in Nairobi in which 150 experts from around the world discussed how to "leverage the untapped capacity of agricultural markets in Africa to increase food security and incomes."


Its publication comes as international aid groups are rushing assistance to Niger and other nations of the African Sahel - a narrow but long belt of arid land south of the Sahara that stretches across the continent - where a combination of high food prices and poor weather has left some 14 million people without enough to eat. The food problems in the Sahel are emerging just as African governments and aid groups say they have stabilized a food crisis in the Horn of Africa that at its peak in Somalia had left 58 percent of children under the age of five acutely malnourished.


But while volatility in international commodities markets is being widely cited as a major cause of the food shortages in the Sahel, there is growing evidence that at least some of the food price fluctuation in Africa is caused by domestic factors.


Recent research - led by Joseph Karugia, Coordinator of the Regional Strategic Analysis and Knowledge Support System for Eastern and Central Africa (ReSAKSS-ECA) at ILRI, and colleagues at the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA) - examining food price volatility in Eastern Africa suggests domestic factors are playing a role as well. The researchers found that over the last few years, even when global prices have receded, domestic prices in the region have remained high. For example, while global maize prices declined by 12 percent in the last quarter of 2008, in Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Zambia and Rwanda, they increased.


The study finds food price volatility in these countries is at least partly due to barriers and policies impeding the flow of food among markets in the region and between the region and global markets.


"We need to consider what can be done within Africa to reduce our vulnerability to food-related problems," said ILRI's Interim Deputy Director General for Research Steve Staal, an agricultural economist with expertise in smallholder farming systems. "Improving regional and sub-regional agriculture markets is one way we can increase food security and the impact of even minor improvements could be impressive. Just as it doesn't take a big rise in food prices to tip millions of Africans into poverty, it does not require a sharp move in the other direction to generate huge benefits."


The book from the markets conference outlines a number of "high-payoff, low cost" initiatives that combine "innovative thinking" and "new technology" along with policy reforms to give farmers an incentive to boost production - and the means to make their surplus harvests more widely available and at an affordable cost.


For example, the Smallholder Dairy Project, a collaborative project between ILRI and research and development partners in Kenya, catalyzed some 40,000 small-scale milk vendors to generate an extra US$16 million across the Kenya dairy industry by seeking policy changes and providing practical training that made it easier for them to comply with national milk safety and quality standards. Prior to the initiative, smallholder dairy farmers were not realizing either their production or income potential because complex and costly food safety standards reduced participation in formal milk markets.


"Smallholder farmers and herders in Africa need a combination of investment in infrastructure and services, along with regulatory changes to take full advantage of growing agriculture market opportunities," said Staal. "And since smallholders produce most of the milk, meat, vegetables and grains consumed in Africa, improving their participation in agriculture markets - particularly as populations gravitate away from rural areas to urban centers - is key to the continent's food security."


Read more here.


Burness Communications, February 29, 2012


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Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food


The Committee met on February 27 to hear witnesses on Growing Forward 2 (Meeting Consumer Demands) from the Canadian International Grains Institute, Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association, Consumers' Association of Canada and Humane Society International / Canada.  On February 29 witnesses appeared representing the Alberta Food Processors Association, Bioniche Life Sciences Inc., and Food Secure Canada.


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Coming Events


6th Annual Growing the Margins: Rural Green Energy Conference and Exhibition and 4th Annual Canadian Farm and Food Biogas Conference and Exhibition, London, Ontario, March 5-7, 2012


Canadian Society of Soil Science and Association Québécoise de Spécialistes en Sciences du Sol Joint Conference, Lac Beauport, Quebec, June 3-7, 2012


Joint Annual Meeting of ADSA - AMPA - ASAS - Canadian Society of Animal Science - WSASAS, Phoenix, Arizona, July 15-19, 2012


Joint Annual Meeting of the Canadian Society of Agronomy, Certified Crop Advisors and Canadian Society for Horticultural Science, Saskatoon, July 16-19, 2012

5th World Congress of Agronomists and Agrologists, Quebec City, September 17-21, 2012 


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AIC LogoAIC Notes is a weekly update provided as a service for AIC members.  Please do not circulate or post.  The content of AIC Notes does not represent official positions, opinions or support of AIC or its members. 

Frances Rodenburg, Editor