AIC Notes Issue 2012-24 June 21, 2012
|Federal Funding to Help Farmers Improve Water Management Practices|
The Centre Eau, Terre et Environnement of the Institut national de la recherche scientifique will receive an investment of more than $250,000 to improve an integrated computer model that examines the economic and environmental impacts of implementing beneficial management practices (BMPs) on the farm and on a broader landscape scale.
The investment for this computer model is part of the $14-million Growing Forward Watershed Evaluation of Beneficial Management Practices (WEBs) project. The WEBs project, established in 2004 as the first of its kind in Canada, operates within nine small agricultural watersheds across the nation in order to better understand the environmental and economic performance of BMPs. Previous to this study, the costs and environmental benefits of BMPs had seldom been measured on a broader landscape scale. Results from the WEBs projects are providing a foundation for understanding the broader applicability of these BMPs within a specific region. Farmers can use this knowledge to maintain high agricultural productivity, while minimizing the impacts of farming on the environment. Results can also be used in planning future agricultural policies and programming.
The refined computer model will help farmers and land managers decide which BMPs will be most effective in improving soil and water quality by providing a framework to maintain agricultural productivity while minimizing the impact of farming on the environment.
Over 70 other federal, provincial, academic and non-governmental organizations are also partners in this national project, which will run until 2013.
For more information about the WEBs project, visit: www.agr.gc.ca/webs.
AAFC Press Release, June 19, 2012
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|Vancouver's Kwantlen Polytechnic Launches New Bachelor of Applied Science in Sustainable Agriculture Program|
Kwantlen Polytechnic University is now accepting students for its new bachelor of applied science program in sustainable agriculture beginning September 2012.
The program combines classroom and field-based learning designed to prepare students for professions including small scale farming, community organization leadership, government staff, consulting and public service.
"The sustainable agriculture program is an innovative degree program unique to North America," says Dr. Kent Mullinix, director of sustainable agriculture and food security, Institute of Sustainable Agriculture at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. "We are very proud and excited to be offering this forward thinking program, and the level of interest from prospective students has been encouraging. We already have many students accepted into the program."
"The demand for healthy, locally produced foods and creating a robust regional food system is on the minds of the public and governments alike. This program offers a comprehensive perspective on sustainable food production, crop production, agro-ecosystems management, small farm business planning, and contemporary issues that face society and our food system," Kwantlen said in a media release.
Students will spend their first two years learning about fundamental dimensions of our natural and social environment, biology, ecology, geography, agriculture and food. The second half of the program emphasizes hands on learning where students will spend most of their time at a teaching and research farm. Through participation in crop and animal production and year-round agro-ecosystem management classes as well as community-based research and internships, undergraduates will become knowledgeable of the scientific, practical and business elements of sustainable small scale, human intensive, alternate market farming.
Country Guide, June 14, 2012
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|New Website Helps Consumers Understand Natural Trans Fats|
It's time for fresh thinking on trans fats - from health recommendations, to food choices to nutrition labeling. And now there is a new website to help.
New research has unveiled that not all trans fats are created equal. A growing amount of evidence continues to suggest that industrial trans fats are indeed a major threat and should be avoided, says Dr. Spencer Proctor, Director of the Metabolic and Cardiovascular Diseases Laboratory at the University of Alberta in Canada. However, research has uncovered new knowledge of a separate family of "natural trans fats," found in meat and milk from ruminant animals, which are not harmful and may in fact have health-enhancing potential.
What's the difference? What does this mean for food choices? The new website, located at www.naturaltransfats.ca, is designed to help consumers navigate these types of questions. It will also grow to include special sections for scientists, educators, nutritionists and health professionals - all updated regularly as the pioneering science in this area continues to progress.
"We are at a point with the science where there is important information to deliver to the consumer on natural trans fats and how they are different from the 'bad' trans fats they have so often heard about," says Proctor, a leading researcher on natural trans fats and a science advisor to the new website.
"The aim of the website is to help consumers, and nutrition advocates, recognize the difference between industrial and natural trans fats and the basics of what this means for their health and for making good food and dietary choices. Over time, it will also include more in-depth information for people involved in interpreting the science and providing nutritional and health advice."
Natural trans fats are a natural part of milk and meat from ruminant animals, such as dairy and beef cattle, bison, goats and sheep, says Proctor. "These fats are not a health concern as part of a healthy, balanced diet."
With trans fats in general now widely viewed as a health concern, this may be an inconvenient truth for the task of relaying simple health messages to the public, he acknowledges. But really the new knowledge should be welcome news for consumers who enjoy meat and milk products from ruminant animals. "Through efforts such as the new website it will become easier to recognize the difference between good and bad trans fats," he says.
The website it entitled "Natural Trans Fats: The Natural Choice." It includes sections on "What are They?" "Natural and Industrial" and "Your Health," along with features such as "NTF's and You," "Facts & Figures," and "NTF's News."
One unique interactive feature is a scrollable, virtual menu of foods with natural trans fats, which includes per serving information on calories, daily value and natural trans fats content.
"Currently, nutrition labels on food products do not differentiate between natural and industrial trans fats, which is a challenge for consumers who want more specific information," notes Proctor. "The interactive feature on the website is a good tool to find out which food products have natural trans fats and what level of natural trans fats they contain."
Several of the leading scientists investigating the health implications of natural trans fats presented findings at the recent 10th Congress for the International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids & Lipids (ISSFAL) in Vancouver. They noted that the scientific knowledge points to the need to clearly differentiate between natural and industrial trans fats on food labels and in health recommendations. Proctor and colleagues are exploring approaches for international collaboration among researchers as well as health and food regulatory authorities to address this need.
More information on the ISSFAL progress and the latest knowledge on natural trans fats is available at www.naturaltransfats.ca.
Meristem Land and Science, June 14, 2012
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|Farmers Provide Input on Growing Forward|
Farmers are making a final push to influence the next Growing Forward agricultural framework agreement, scheduled for ratification this summer.
The Manitoba government has set up a website for producers and others to offer priorities for the federal-provincial program.
"We're asking industry stakeholders to provide input about the best ways to build on our past achievements and what's needed to ensure the Manitoba-based agriculture industry becomes even more competitive," says Ron Kostyshyn, the province's agriculture minister.
Keystone Agricultural Producers also encourages farmers to provide their comments.
"We're always open to individuals bringing forward unique ideas and their own perspectives because you learn more that way," says Doug Chorney, KAP president.
The Canadian Federation of Agriculture says it wants Growing Forward to continue offering business risk management programs that deliver timely assistance to farmers in need.
"We want a group of programs that respond when a crisis occurs," says Ron Bonnett, CFA president.
Ottawa, the provinces and territories are in the final stages of completing a new five-year Growing Forward agreement to succeed the current agreement, which expires March 31, 2013.
The cost-shared program is wide-ranging and covers areas including: business development, risk management, environment, food safety, markets, trade and science.
Agriculture ministers hope to sign the new agreement at their next annual meeting in September in Whitehorse, Yukon.
Programs that mitigate income risk are high on farm groups' priority list.
Chorney says KAP wants to see continued support for crop insurance, especially in Manitoba, where 86 per cent of farmers -- the highest rate in Canada -- take out annual crop insurance contracts.
"It's a fantastic example of a good program working well for producers," he says.
Bonnett says disaster assistance is central to a strong business risk management program. A prime example occurred in 2010 and 2011, when millions of dollars in emergency aid flowed to Prairie farmers whose crops were wiped out by spring flooding.
Producers also support programs that enable them to develop environmental plans for their farms, said Bonnett.
"Those programs have been widely used by farmers. They need to be a key component."
Bonnett also listed research and food safety initiatives as priorities.
The new Growing Forward agreement comes at a time when agriculture is looking up in Canada.
Hog and cattle producers are profitable again after years of suffering the effects of low prices and market disruptions. Prices for grain and other commodities also remain strong.
"The attitude of farmers is more optimistic than it's been for some time," Bonnett says.
FCC Express, June 15, 2012
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|Climate Models Missing Key Component of Temperature Changes: Prof|
Climate models used to study temperature change from greenhouse gases are missing a key ingredient - economics, according to a new study by a University of Guelph professor.
Economist Ross McKitrick, an expert in environmental policy analysis, says most models ignore the effects of socioeconomic change on land use changes, making those models inaccurate.
The study, co-authored with Lise Tole of Strathclyde University, was published online in the journal Climate Dynamics.
McKitrick has studied how land use changes from urbanization, agriculture and other surface modifications affect temperature trends around the world. Past research suggests these effects might account for some of the warming patterns in weather data. Climate modelers assume that the effects are filtered out at the data processing stage, he said.
"As a result, when researchers look for explanations of regional patterns of climatic changes, they rule out things like urbanization by assumption and give greater weight to global factors like greenhouse gases and solar variations," McKitrick said.
The study examined data from 22 sophisticated climate models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The researchers compared how accurately those models would have predicted spatial warming patterns over land between 1979 and 2002 with predictions from a much simpler model using data on regional industrialization and socioeconomic growth.
"The contrasts were striking," McKitrick said. Twenty of the IPCC models made predictions that were no better than random guesses or that contradicted the observed patterns, he said.
"Only two of the 22 models showed any explanatory power for the temperature changes over the same period."
By contrast, the simple economic model made much more accurate predictions.
Using various statistical techniques to compare modeling approaches, the researchers found that usually the economic model was essential and the climate model could be dropped, but never the other way around.
One technique involved searching more than 537 million combinations of climate model outputs and socioeconomic data for the best possible mix. The research team found that combining three of the 22 climate models and a small number of socioeconomic indicators best explained the spatial pattern of surface temperature trends.
"By assuming the socioeconomic effects are not there, a lot of climate researchers are ignoring a key feature of the data," McKitrick said.
The researchers also found that the best climate models aren't necessarily the most well-known ones. The best models came from labs in China and Russia and from one American institute; models from Canada, Japan, Europe and most U.S. research labs lacked explanatory power, either alone or in combination.
The study has important implications for policy-makers, McKitrick said. "Computer forecasts of regional climate changes between now and 2030 can look impressive in their detail, but it would be wise not to make major policy decisions without first looking into the model's forecast accuracy."
The findings are also important for researchers, especially those using climate data sets. "A lot of the current thinking about the causes of climate change relies on the assumption that the effects of land surface modification due to economic growth patterns have been filtered out of temperature data sets. But this assumption is not true."
University of Guelph Press Release, June 20, 2012
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|Weed Scientists Sound Caution on Crops Grown for Biofuel|
The Weed Science Society of America (WSSA) is warning the biofuel industry to be careful not to introduce new energy crops that turn into invasive weeds.
"We don't yet have sufficient research and risk models to predict the environmental impact of these new crops in the field," Jacob Barney, Ph.D., assistant professor of Invasive Plant Ecology at Virginia Tech says in a WSSA release. "In many ways it's a large-scale experiment, with few regulations or policy guidelines. Voluntary precautions taken by stakeholders are virtually our only line of defence."
The WSSA says a recent report from the U.S.National Wildlife Federation cites several examples of species cultivated for biofuels that have the potential to become harmful invaders. Among them are:
* Giant reed (Arundo donax) an invasive weed known for crowding out native plants in fragile riparian areas.
* Reed canarygrass (Phalaris arundinacea), a great threat to America's wetlands, rivers and lakes.
* Cylindro (Cylindrospermopsis raciborskii), an algae associated with toxic blooms in the Great Lakes region.
* Napiergrass (Pennisetum purpureum), an invasive plant known as one of the most problematic weeds in the world.
One of the most popular biofuels crops is giant miscanthus. It is a fast-growing hybrid is unable to produce seed, making it less likely to spread unintentionally than other miscanthus species. However the WSSA says it too can represent a threat if planted in the wrong location and that weed scientists are concerned about a now-abandoned miscanthus farm located in Kentucky, on the flood plain of the Ohio River. Any plant fragments washed into the river could travel hundreds of miles, spreading miscanthus well beyond the planted fields, the WSSA said.
Country Guide, June 18, 2012
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|Eat Less Meat and Farm Efficiently to Tackle Climate Change|
We need to eat less meat and recycle our waste to rebalance the global carbon cycle and reduce our risk of dangerous levels of climate change.
New research from the University of Exeter shows that if today's meat-eating habits continue, the predicted rise in the global population could spell ecological disaster. But changes in our lifestyle and our farming could make space for growing crops for bioenergy and carbon storage.
Though less efficient as an energy source than fossil fuels, plants capture and store carbon that would otherwise stay in the atmosphere and contribute to global warming. Burning our waste from organic materials, such as food and manure, and any bioenergy crops we can grow, while capturing the carbon contained within them, could be a powerful way to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide.
Published June 20, 2012 in the journal Energy and Environmental Science, the research suggests that in order to feed a population of 9.3 billion by 2050 we need to dramatically increase the efficiency of our farming by eating less beef, recycling waste and wasting less food. These changes could reduce the amount of land needed for farming, despite the increase in population, leaving sufficient land for some bio-energy. To make a really significant difference, however, we will need to bring down the average global meat consumption from 16.6 per cent to 15 per cent of average daily calorie intake -- about half that of the average western diet.
The researchers argue that if we change the way we use our land, recycle waste, and dedicate enough space to growing bioenergy crops we could bring down atmospheric carbon dioxide to safe levels. Not doing this means we would lose our natural ecosystems and face increasingly dangerous levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide.
The research team generated four different future scenarios, based on dietary preferences and agricultural efficiency up to 2050: 'high-meat, low-efficiency', 'low-meat, low-efficiency', 'high-meat, high-efficiency' and 'low-meat, high-efficiency'. The different agricultural options looked at the type of livestock being produced, with beef being the least energy-efficient and pork being the most. They also looked at how intensively animals are farmed and examined options for reducing food waste and making better use of manure to make livestock farming more efficient.
They used established mathematical models to forecast the effects of each scenario on atmospheric carbon dioxide. By 2050, a 'high-meat, low-efficiency' scenario would add 55 ppm of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, whereas a 'low-meat, high-efficiency' approach with carbon dioxide removal could remove 25 ppm. A 25 ppm reduction could mean we avoid exceeding the two-degree rise in global temperatures that is now widely accepted as a safe threshold.
Lead researcher Tom Powell of Geography at the University of Exeter said: "Our research clearly shows that recycling more and eating less meat could provide a key to rebalancing the global carbon cycle. Meat production involves significant energy losses: only around four per cent of crops grown for livestock turn into meat. By focusing on making agriculture more efficient and encouraging people to reduce the amount of meat they eat, we could keep global temperatures within the two degrees threshold."
Co-author Professor Tim Lenton of the University of Exeter said: "Bioenergy with carbon storage could play a major role in helping us reduce future levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide. However, we only stand a chance of realising that potential, both for energy and carbon capture, if we increase the efficiency of agriculture. With livestock production accounting for 78 per cent of agricultural land use today, this is the area where change could have a significant impact."
Professor Tim Lenton is leading three consultation workshops as part of his review of Sustainability Research at the University of Exeter. Colleagues from all disciplines are invited to attend to contribute their ideas on the key Grand Challenges in Sustainability Research. Workshops are on 21 June and 5 July in Exeter and 3 July in Cornwall.
The above story is reprinted from materials provided by University of Exeter.
University of Exeter (2012, June 19). Eat less meat and farm efficiently to tackle climate change. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 21, 2012, from sciencedaily.com /releases/2012/06/120619225934.htm
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|IDRC and CIDA Announce New International Research Projects|
Canadian and developing-world scientists are working on the front lines of hunger to make food more sufficient, safe, and nutritious around the globe. Six groundbreaking research projects worth a total of $16.5 million were announced today by Canada's International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), under the Canadian International Food Security Research Fund (CIFSRF).
CIFSRF, a five-year, $62 million fund, brings Canadian and developing-country researchers together to produce lasting solutions to combat hunger and food insecurity in the developing world. This fund is also an important part of the Government of Canada's commitment to doubling its investment in sustainable agricultural development, a commitment made by Canada at the 2009 G8 Meeting in L'Aquila, Italy.
"Canada is a world leader in the fight against hunger and our partnership with IDRC plays a strong part in our efforts. Food and nutrition security remains a key priority of our government's development assistance," says Bev Oda, Minister of International Cooperation. "Our contribution to CIFSRF demonstrates Canadian leadership in assisting developing countries fight hunger through innovative practices and supports private sector growth in agriculture."
The six research projects team up the brightest scientific minds from Canada and developing countries to deliver practical solutions that help the poor and expand Canada's scientific base. In some instances, they are also of direct benefit to Canadians.
These projects range from the development of state-of-the-art vaccines in Africa and the use of nanotechnology to reduce fruit loss in South Asia, to increasing productivity and nutrition in Southeast Asia, Latin America, and Africa though aquaculture, home gardens, improved crops, and better soil management.
"Around the globe, farmers face many food production challenges," says IDRC President, David Malone. "This research looks for practical solutions that support development and can be effectively scaled up and used elsewhere in the world. That's very much in keeping with what IDRC is all about."
Among the project highlights:
- Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan and the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute are developing a vaccine for bovine pleuropneumonia in Africa, a highly contagious bacterial disease in cattle that can significantly reduce the incomes of small-scale farmers.
- Researchers at the University of Alberta and the Agricultural Research Council in South Africa are developing inexpensive, safe, and easy-to-use vaccines using a novel delivery technology to combat a host of livestock diseases in sub-Saharan Africa. This will contribute to food availability, nutritional security, and higher incomes for rural families. The delivery technology being developed could also be useful to Canadian farmers.
- Researchers at the University of Guelph, India's Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, and the Industrial Technology Institute in Sri Lanka are using nanotechnology to develop a packaging system that reduces post-harvest losses of mangoes. The system will contribute to higher incomes for farmers and increased consumption of this highly nutritious fruit. Canadian soft fruit farmers should also benefit.
- Researchers at McGill University and the Universidad Nacional de Colombia are working with indigenous communities in Colombia to produce, select, and introduce nutritional, high-yielding, and disease-resistant potato varieties for the most food-insecure communities. Potato is their staple food crop and a main source of income.
- Researchers at the University of British Columbia and Helen Keller International in Cambodia are studying ways to integrate home gardens and aquaculture systems to increase and diversify food production. This will provide poor households with affordable, nutritional food and new income-earning opportunities.
- Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan and Ethiopia's Hawassa University are testing ways to combat micronutrient deficiencies and malnutrition in three different regions of Southern Ethiopia. Using plant-breeding and improved soil management, they are working to increase the zinc and iron content of pulse crops.
Today's announcement brings to 19 the number of projects funded under CIFSRF since 2009 and includes researchers from 11 Canadian universities and 26 developing-country organizations.
IDRC Press Release, June 20, 2012
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|US$5 Billion Agricultural Research Portfolio Unveiled|
The CGIAR Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centers has formally presented its new US$5 billion research portfolio at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20).
The CGIAR is a global network of research centres working to help foster food security, poverty reduction, and sustainable natural resource management.
In 2009, the consortium - which was formerly known as the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research - announced it would radically reform its research activities and focus donor funding on 15 research programmes to enable better collation and integration of global research.
Its first research program was launched in late 2010, followed in mid-2011 by another ten programmes, and the remaining four a few months later.
All 15 had their official Launch in Rio de Janiero yesterday at the 4th Agriculture and Rural Development Day, which was hosted by CGIAR and the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa).
The programmes are organised into five themes: improving yields and profits of crops, fish and livestock; improving sustainability and environmental integrity, and climate change adaptation and mitigation; improving the productivity, profitability, sustainability and resilience of farming systems; improving policies and markets; and improving nutrition and diets.
Frank Rijsberman, the new chief executive officer of the CGIAR consortium, said that the organisation had made a deliberate decision to shift its strategy to focus on outcome-driven research.
"Outcomes are a critical concept for bridging the very difficult gap between carrying out research and seeing impacts," Rijsberman told SciDev.Net.
"It is very difficult to link research activities directly to impacts. But we believe it is possible."
From 2013, the CGIAR will invest around US$1 billion a year in agriculture research over five years. Rijsberman said that figure, which is around 20 per cent higher than CGIAR's current annual investments, derives from a 2010 International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) report, which concluded that significant annual investment would be required to ensure food security through to 2050.
Funding will be provided by the governments of 60 countries, and organisations including the World Bank, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Rijsberman said funding would not necessarily be allocated to organisations with "big reputations or big needs," but to programmes which could demonstrate firm research outcomes.
Daniela Hirschfeld, Scidev.net, June 20, 2012
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|Expert Assistance Sought for Sustainable Agriculture Assessment Tool|
Peter Dixon is working with Left Coast Naturals towards a sustainable agriculture assessment tool and has requested AIC assistance in identifying experts who could help in their project. They have developed a list of the top 45 issues in sustainable farming and are now seeking expert review to narrow the list down to the most important 15 issues.
His summary of the project and next steps:
Specifically, what we are looking for in this phase of review is:
1) Review the list of 45 issues in sustainable farming provided by us.
2) Identify the top 15-20 issues in sustainable farming from the list of 45 issues, adding any additional issues as deemed necessary.
3) Provide brief justifications for the selections/order; include references where applicable.
4) Provide a point/value rating system for the top 15-20 issues.
The next stage:
We are seeking expert review from multiple sources. Once we have collected all the reviews we will develop a finalized 15. From that we will be making a questionnaire designed to capture the required information to see how sustainable our farmers are. This will be a separate round from what we are currently engaged in.
Here is a list of the main foods we purchase: Almonds (US), Walnuts (US), Pumpkin seeds (China), Sunflower (US), cashew (Brazil, Vietnam), Beans (soy, etc.), Quinoa (Bolivia), Cranberries (Quebec), Mango (Mexico), Oats (Canada/US).
We are hoping to develop a simple survey so it does not become time or cost prohibitive to our suppliers. For many of them English is not their first language, and we are rarely the exclusive purchaser. For these reasons it must be a short survey, while delivering meaningful results.
Our goal is to both educate and improve transparency, not shame or punish farmers in any way. Once completed this will be open source as it is not being developed for competitive advantage.
If you would like more information, or to assist with the project, please contact Peter Dixon directly. Participants will be compensated.
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|New Positions Available|
McGill University, NSERC-Novalait Industry Research Chair in Longevity of Dairy Herds
McGill University's Department of Animal Science invites applications for an Industry Research Chair (NSERC-Novalait) in the area of Longevity of Dairy Herds. The Chair will play a key role in the department's growing group of researchers with international leadership in the area of dairy-herd management.
CUSO International - Volunteer Position
Livelihoods Development Advisor, Ghana
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|Standing Committees on Agriculture and Agri-Food and Environment|
Canadian Society for BioEngineering (CSBE-SCGAB) Annual Technical Conference, Orillia, Ontario, July 15-18, 2012
Joint Annual Meeting of ADSA - AMPA - ASAS - Canadian Society of Animal Science - WSASAS, Phoenix, Arizona, July 15-19, 2012
Joint Annual Meeting of AIC, 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
Growing the Bioeconomy: Social, Environmental and Economic Implications, Banff, Alberta, October 2-5, 2012
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|AIC Notes is a weekly update provided as a service for AIC members. The content of AIC Notes does not represent official positions, opinions or support of AIC or its members.
Frances Rodenburg, Editor