Laura Bodell got a chance to see agriculture from a new perspective when she won a scholarship to attend the Commonwealth Agriculture Conference in Singapore this fall.
“I had a particular interest in attending this conference since I’m chair of the International Agricultural Business Centre during Farmfair,” said Bodell.
The Sherwood Park resident, who has a background in the beef industry, also runs Bella Spur Innovative Media, a company that provides communication services to agricultural and rural businesses.
It was her first trip to Asia, and gave her a perspective you don’t get in a country where farming is increasingly a million-dollar enterprise.
“One of the things that I learned was that only 30 per cent of the world’s food production is produced by modern agriculture in developed countries — 70 per cent is grown by small holders in developing countries,” she said. “I thought it (modern production) was a much larger percentage, so that was an interesting stat for me.”
Bodell and Clayton Schafers, an accountant from Edmonton involved with the Canadian Finals Rodeo, both won scholarships from Northlands and conference hosts, the Royal Agricultural Society of the Commonwealth. Northlands will play host to the next conference in November 2018 during Farmfair.
One of the highlights for Bodell was attending the Next Generation summit pre-conference, which brought together about 70 participants under the age of 40 from a variety of Commonwealth countries. Participants all had connections to their local agricultural shows.
The Next Generation’s initiative has a knowledge-sharing and information exchange programs, and further exposes members to global agriculture. Last year, several members toured farms in Papua New Guinea, and ended up doing some on-the-fly agricultural extension work.
“They stopped at a farm that had had their sweet potatoes hailed out, and taught the guy how to silage it so he could feed his livestock,” said Bodell. “I hadn’t considered the opportunity to do extension in agriculture in developing countries; to go and assist with learning. Something as simple as teaching them to silage a crop that has failed makes all the difference to their bottom line at the end of the day or their ability to feed their family.”
The Commonwealth Agricultural Conference, which drew about 250 participants, also gave Bodell a chance to learn about initiatives being undertaken by agricultural societies around the world. The National Western Stock Show in Denver, has revitalized itself by partnering with the municipal government and Colorado State University to rebuild its centre as a year-round agricultural education facility. The agricultural society in Brisbane, Australia, partnered with an urban developer and has a parkade that can be converted into cattle barns for shows.
“I think there are some really innovative things going on to keep agriculture at the forefront in urban centres,” said Bodell. “This is something that is at the forefront of discussions for both Edmonton and Calgary right now.”
Participants also toured an organic vegetable producer, Singapore’s first urban farming rooftop project, and a goat farm that incorporated water treatment and waste recycling.
A special highlight for Bodell was getting to hear Princess Anne, who is president of the Royal Agricultural Society of the Commonwealth.
“She’s funny and well educated on agriculture and asks intelligent questions,” said Bodell. “If you were a speaker, you had to present to Princess Anne and then field her questions afterward. She was really incredible.”
The society, founded in 1957 by Prince Philip, is the only organization representing agriculture across the Commonwealth. It is a confederation of more than 50 national and regional agricultural show societies, agricultural associations and research bodies working in 24 Commonwealth countries. The Singapore conference was also attended by Northlands representatives Stacy Felkar, Heather Shewchuk, and Laura Gadowsky, now the deputy president of the Royal Agricultural Society for the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth Agriculture Conference is held every two years.