Champions of Agriculture meet

Meeting in Calgary as a group face to face for the first time, the Champions of Agriculture had a lot to discuss. At left is co-chair Jill Harvie from Olds and to her left is Magrath-farmer Gary Stanford. At the far right is the other co-chair  Nichole Neubauer.

Nichole Neubauer was on the phone with this reporter to discuss the first face-to-face Champions of Agriculture meeting held June 25 when another call came in. 

“Oh, this is Edmonton, I better take it,” she says and later confirms it is the premier’s office calling that Jason Kenney wanted to visit her Neubauer Farms near Medicine Hat. Amongst other things she wanted to get an understanding of her agriculture-education program Growing Minds which has been going since 2005.

Such is life with Neubauer and how busy she is. Hosting the premier at her farm aside, the co-chairperson for the Agriculture Industry Advisory Committee or the Champions of Agriculture, is busy collaborating ideas and was thrilled with the June 25 meeting held at CANA’s boardroom office in Calgary where eight committee members were on hand with a couple of people who were there virtually.

The Alberta government describes the Agriculture industry advisory committee as a “volunteer-based advisory committee to provide strategic advice and recommendations on opportunities to promote unbiased and science-based information about Alberta’s agriculture sector.”

“We need to engage the consumer; we have to have that public trust in ourselves and understand the business of agriculture,” says Neubauer about farmers and livestock producers. “We want to have an engaged client and engaged customers.”

Neubauer explains that because the committee is volunteer-based, everyone is passionate about agriculture in their own way. They are working towards and are cognizant of the importance of this group and each one can contribute to the advocacy and policy veins. 

“It was important we met face to face; you can meet virtually but there’s nothing better than being in the same room. All the travel time, it was important to get something out of it,” explains Neubauer of the June 25 meeting. “Prior to that, what we have been doing is establishing direction and have been doing that with video conferencing…work and collaborate toward sustainability is a pathway to excellence.”

The committee consists of Committee co-chair Jill Harvie: owner/operator of Harvie Ranching near Olds; Allison Ammeter Chair, Plant Protein Alliance of Alberta and farmer; Charlotte Hebebrand Executive Vice President Stakeholder Relations and Chief Sustainability Officer for Nutrien; Jeff Fitzpatrick-Stilwell Senior manager, Sustainability and Agriculture Lead, McDonald’s Canada; Bob Lowe President, Canadian Cattlemen’s Association; Jean-Marc Ruest Senior vice-president, Corporate Affairs and General Counsel, Richardson International Limited and is the chair of Cereals Canada and of the Western Grain Elevators Association; John Simpson, Chair, CANA group of companies and owner/operator of Simpson Ranching; Baljit Singh, Dean, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Calgary and Gary Stanford, Grain farmer in Magrath and past chair, Alberta Wheat Commission.

With such diversity in experiences, all facets of agriculture are covered. 

Had to decide on some objectives and came up with: “why is this committee important”; “how can we lend our support to the growing of agriculture”; “how can we capture some of the great things happening in agriculture.”

One of the key underlying aspect is the message that farmers and those in livestock are feeding the world in a “socially responsible, fiscally-viable way.” Not enough consumers understand completely or know what they do. 

Neubauer explains they need to have a way to explain to the consumer how farms feed people. This comes to having agriculture advocates going into a variety of conversations on various political, educational and socio-economic levels, advocating for their profession. They need to recruit more champions of agriculture.

“My vision, I would love to have agriculture champions for anyone and everyone who will listen,” says Neubauer who points to the importance of having storytellers and teachers of agriculture. . 

“Let’s support them give them to answer to the tough questions and so they have the information they need…We need to uphold our licence to farm… We need to leveridge that angle; going to have to be two way communication between producers and customers. Never before have we been able to communicate like we can now.

“There are three pillars of response: reactive pillar and developing communication strategies to topics which comes up; the proactive pillar where how does agriculture trumpet its redeeming qualities; positive and real facts and figures and the end piece the preemptive piece where education is involved on a variety of levels, where talking about consumers or those in school.

“Career opportunities will be there and students best and brightest, look at innovative ways to create partnerships with new industries,” says Neubauer. “Agriculture doesn’t just mean driving a tractor. Maybe we have enough drivers but there are new areas in agriculture that we can look at or haven’t been created yet.”

Besides co-chair with Chamber of Commerce Agriculture Education Task Force and is an interim board member with Results Driven Agriculture Research. According to her biography, in 2016, the Neubauers were recognized as the BMO Farm Family of the Year and in 2017, they received the Medicine Hat and District Chamber of Commerce Small Business of the Year Award. Since 2005, the Neubauer’s have hosted more than 20,000 students to their farm to provide an authentic, hands-on opportunity for children to learn all about where their food comes from…the Neubauers have multi-faceted operation with grains, oilseeds and pulses on both irrigated and dryland acres. They also produce dry forage and manage the native pasture that sustains their cow/calf operation.

That in itself is a lot of work hosting the tours but the farm stopped the tours in the spring once the pandemic hit.

“It’s been a twisted coincidence that with COVID and spring education there has been no school and no field trips. With this committee’s work now, it is the perfect justification to be able to do more… plus I have a tremendous support system with my family. All the activities can be handled by the people here. I now have a 16 year old so Logan has been seeding and my husband (Mark) is the great silent partner. It does get all overwhelming with everything here and before with the tour on I have an amazing team of facilitators who can do a better job of explaining because they are focused on this, I have more time. They do an amazing job.” 

She is also with the Medicine Hat Chamber of Commerce with a consultant role. Neubauer says she has infrequent meetings where she has time to prepare and can handle the time with them. She says the Chamber’s executive director Lisa Kowalchuk and her team are doing a great job with the agri-business advocacy.

Neubauer has also attracted attention within the urban area as she was nominated as one of the finalists for the Women in Business’s Inspire Award (winners will be awards July 9). Neubauer says that was and still is such an emotional moment for her. She says to be considered alongside some of the best leaders in Medicine Hat is an honour. 

She looks at this as not as personal triumph or glory but far more wide spread. She says this is a positive sign that her emphasis and drive to teach others about agriculture and where consumers’ food comes from is important. 

“It’s about the agriculture advocacy work: this really inspires me to keep going,” Neubauer, who’s farm is fifth generation since 1910. “It is incredibly affirmative for me that I am on the right path. It’s signalling from my communications (role) to please go forward; take it forward. We approve.

“You just have to surround yourself with good people,” adds Neubauer. “At 5 a.m. I am ready to take on the day. Fulfilling life’s purpose: agriculture is my passion.”

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