Agricultural producers from across the Commonwealth descended upon central Alberta ahead of the 28th Royal Agricultural Society of the Commonwealth (RASC) conference Nov. 5-8.
Last Thursday, over 40 delegates from five countries – Scotland, England, Australia, New Zealand and Kenya – as well as RASC Chairman Lord Samuel Vestey, Master of the Horse to the Royal Famly, visited Rock Ridge Dairy Farm north of Lacombe, and Doef’s Greenhouses near Gull Lake as part of a set of pre-conference tours.
The tours aligned with the conference them of “Connecting the world through food,” showcasing a variety of Canadian agricultural value chains and practices across the cropping, beef, vegetable and dairy industries.
The stop at Rock Ridge Dairy, however, one of only about 10 goat dairy farms in the province, may have been amongst the more unique of the pre-tours, and delegates and Lord Vestey alike were impressed by the operation owned and operated by Cherylynn and Patrick Bos.
“A lot of people like doing (the pre-tours) and seeing different parts of agriculture – I’m sure most people have never seen a goat farm before, which is wonderful,” Lord Vestey said.
“It’s incredible. We’ve all seen goat’s cheese – personally, I’m very fond of it, but I don’t think many of us have drank much goat’s milk. There’s not much of it available. It’s very interesting to see and they’re Canada-wide – they send it from Toronto to Vancouver, which is fantastic.”
The tour began with a walk through of Rock Ridge Dairy’s processing plant, beginning with the pasteurization of goat’s milk, to the process of making goat cheese products, and the packaging of it all. Delegates also got to view the barns the goats call home, as well as the equipment used for milking. They had the chance, too, to sample both milk and cheese produced, which both got positive reviews.
Lord Vestey said it’s the RASC pre-tours and post-tours, like the one given at Rock Ridge Dairy that make coming to the four-day conference worthwhile for many of the delegates, and give them the ability to really see how agricultural producers work in different parts of the world.
They also create more opportunity for delegates to network with others – which is precisely how the RASC first came to fruition.
Vestey said when the Queen and Prince Philip toured the Commonwealth and Britannia in 1954, they went to a number of royal shows and discovered those involved often didn’t know each other. In 1957, he founded the RASC and 12 international agricultural societies, with the initial aim to promote their work and provide a network and forum for discussion about techniques, experiences and ideas.
Now a not for profit, the RASC is building on that original aim and keying in on passing knowledge and experience on to the “Next Generation” group, which are members and delegates under the age of 35.
“The thing about farming is the people are much older so we’re trying to get young people interested. This helps tremendously,” he said. “It’s quite a thing to come to Canada, have a talk and pay it forward. It’s a chance they wouldn’t normally get.”
Paul Richardson, who works for land agency Bell Rural Solutions in Scotland in addition to working at his wife’s family farm where they deal with cows and lamb, was one of the Next Generation delegates. The opportunity was given to him through a local ag show, and he was able to visit thanks to an RASC subsidized bursary.
He said it was a great opportunity to experience new sides of the agricultural industry and how things are done outside of Scotland.
“With the trip here to Canada, there’s such a variety. We’ve been able to see the whole value chain from farm to fork,” he said. “Getting to meet people from all over the Commonwealth, hear their experiences – we just wouldn’t get opportunities like that in the U.K. Hopefully we can pick up on things that are different and take that home, share it with our peers and make improvements from there.”
He was particularly impressed with the ingenuity of the Bos Family in creating some of their own equipment and processes.
“Goat milk, goat cheese is complete new to me. It’s fascinating to see what they can produce and how they can do it. Effectively, they started from nothing and decided to go into goats and they’ve just gone and done it, and all off their own back,” he said.
“That’s quite inspiring – to know it can be done. You don’t need huge amounts of money or experience behind it, you just need some passion an entrepreneurial vision.”