Sunday, April 6

Regina-Based Venture Uncaps Gluten-Free "Beer"

Source: Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

A Regina-based company owned by over 200 Western Canadian seed growers is providing an alternative alcoholic beverage to people with celiac disease and wheat allergies.

Nubru Gluten Free, developed by FarmPure Beverages, is about to sell out of its first 6,000 cases of product that have been tested in the Manitoba market.

FarmPure uses an innovative, patented process. "We're making a clear, neutral concentrate out of protein sources, such as peas and soybeans," said Chief Operating Officer Carl Flis. "From that concentrate, we can do two things - we can formulate it to taste like any beer in the world, make coolers, wine coolers and fruit coolers; or we can license that technology out to existing breweries." FarmPure Beverages plans to pursue both options.

FarmPure Beverages production innovation will be attractive for other breweries. "By implementing the technology, they can reduce their production costs significantly, because we're reducing the traditional brewing time, which is 21 to 28 days, down to nine to 11 days," Flis said. "An existing brewery can increase the production of their plant without any capital investment."

The first test with FarmPure Beverages' own product line was the Nubru blend, which was a 50/50 blend of FarmPure's product and Fort Garry Lager. The advantages of blending are that it reduces costs and improves the head of the beer.

Since the original Nubru blend, FarmPure Beverages has developed the Nubru Gluten Free beverage, which is currently being distributed in the Manitoba marketplace. Upcoming products include Nubru Red, which is similar to Rickard's Red, and a cider.

The gluten-free market of food and beverage products promises growth. According to Flis, celiac disease is the fastest growing diagnosed disease in North America. An estimated one in 133 has the disease. "We're not there to build breweries around the world. It's a specialty market, and celiac patients and people with wheat allergies are looking for alternatives."

Although the target market for the Nubru line is people with celiac disease and other digestive disorders, the product has broader appeal. In its first round of market testing, Nubru was rated on par or better than traditional light beers. It scored especially well with the young female segment of the market.

FarmPure Beverages has an ambitious plan for the distribution of its products, but first, it will strive for brand recognition. "It's a new technology where the possible products we can generate are endless. At this stage, it's getting the first concepts out there, getting the name known, and then we can start further product development," Flis said.

Next, they plan to expand into Ontario and Quebec, then British Columbia. Europe already has a number of gluten-free products, based on rice and millet, using traditional brewing processes. Breweries there have tried to emulate the traditional European beer tastes.

The Nubru products have a North American taste. The market is attractive to FarmPure Beverages because there are fewer competitors. Flis names a Quebec-based company and Budweiser, with a product called Red Ridge, as the two main rivals.

"If Budweiser is getting into the market, I think we're on the right track," he said.

For more information, contact:
Carl Flis, Chief Operating Officer
FarmPure Foods
Phone: (306) 757-3663, ext. 111
E-mail: cflis@farmpurefoods.com
Website: http://www.farmpure.com/

Tricks of the Trade When Marketing Riding Horses

Source: Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

As the snow melts off the Prairies, many horse enthusiasts are turning their thoughts to the upcoming riding season. Equine enthusiasts from all disciplines and competitive levels will be marketing their animals to meet the needs of prospective buyers.

Adrienne Hanson, a Livestock Development Specialist with Saskatchewan Agriculture, says regardless of the training level, breed, discipline or pedigree of the animal, there are a few tips that will make the acquisition process smoother for both buyers and sellers.

"There are many websites and newspapers specializing in marketing horses that can maximize exposure to a specific target audience in an effective manner," Hanson noted.

The advertisement should be concise and accurate, outlining the horse's skills, ability, temperament, achievements and pedigree. "Potential purchasers will appreciate an honest and accurate assessment of the animal," she said.

Sellers will need to determine their asking price and tell buyers up front if they are willing to negotiate. Sellers should ensure they list a telephone number or Internet address at which they are readily accessible, and be available for questions or to co-ordinate viewing appointments.

Hanson says it is important that the buyers determine what they want and need in the horse. Assess the animal through e-mail and phone calls to define what is required in terms of purpose, breed, pedigree, training, temperament and price, prior to travelling for viewing and negotiations. The prospective purchaser should inspect the horse carefully and, in some circumstances, may want to arrange a pre-sale veterinary inspection for a full inventory of the horse's physical condition.

If the animal is not appropriate for the buyer's purposes at first glance, or if the mount appears ill or unsafe, the prospective purchaser should politely thank the seller and depart. "In most cases, the seller will respect your consideration in saving their time," Hanson said.

"The bottom line when buying or selling a horse is that honesty and openness is important, as in any arrangement where an item or service is being purchased," Hanson said. "The sellers maintain their professional reputation by properly presenting an animal for sale, and the purchasers obtain an optimal product to use and enjoy."

For more information, contact:
Adrienne Hanson, Livestock Development Specialist
Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture
Phone: (306) 848-2380
E-mail: mailto:ahanson@agr.gov.sk.ca

Barrel Racing and Pole Bending Clinic to Cultivate Skills

Source: Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

With rodeo season fast approaching, young barrel racers and pole benders will have an opportunity to fine-tune their preparations by participating in a clinic to be held in Fort Qu'Appelle on March 22 and 23.

The clinic, hosted by Clearview Stables, will be led by Kelley Byrne, a professional rider, with the assistance of Gloria Kadlec, who serves on the boards of the Saskatchewan Barrel Racing Association and the Saskatchewan High School Rodeo Association.

Although barrel racing is an event familiar to rodeo patrons, pole bending is restricted to high school and collegiate rodeos. The course setup has six poles spaced 21 feet apart. Like barrel racing, it is a timed event that begins with a sprint to the end, then a turnaround to weave through the poles, turn 180 degrees, another weaving sequence, ending with a final sprint to the timer line. Time penalties are applied for knocking over a pole.

Good horsemanship is the foundation of both barrel racing and pole bending. The clinic will develop the participants' horsemanship skills to facilitate agile movements. "The next level is to make a proper turn to come in and out of a barrel. The same goes for the poles, to get the horse to move off their legs without having a whole lot of face contact," Kadlec said.

Training and skill development are beneficial to a rider's success, but so are the unique characteristics of the horse. Speed and the ability to make a quick turn on its haunches are important. "You also want a horse that's going to listen and not fight with you," Kadlec noted, adding that the most successful barrel racing horses are level-headed.

The participants in the clinic are most likely to be teenagers. Racers typically start out during their teen years, although the activity certainly appeals to all ages. According to Kadlec, adults also attend clinics, but they are more likely to seek training in basic horsemanship clinics before progressing to a racing clinic. "You have to have horsemanship to be able to compete at that faster level," she stated.

Barrel racing also accommodates horses of varying age. Four and five year-old horses compete in futurity events, while top competitive horses range in age from 10 to 15 years.

Those who attend the Fort Qu'Appelle clinic will really benefit from the wisdom of an experienced professional like Kelley Byrne, Kadlec says. Byrne rides with the Canadian Professional Rodeo

Association and the Canadian Cowboys' Association circuit. She is also involved with the

Saskatchewan Barrel Racing Association, hosting and attending many jackpots around the province.

Anyone interested in participating in the two-day event should contact Gloria Kadlec or Kevin Smith at Clearview Stables. Stalls are available to board the horses overnight, and lunch will be provided. The cost to attend will be $150 to $200, depending on the level of participation.

For more information, contact:
Gloria Kadlec, Assistant Clinician
Phone: (306) 567-4295
E-mail: murray.gloria@sasktel.net

Kevin Smith, Barn Manager
Clearview Stables
Phone: (306) 332-1332

Cow Horseman Impresses Across The Continent

Source: Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

Cow horseman competitions are growing in popularity, largely because crowds are fascinated by watching a horse and rider work a cow in patterns and maneuvers.

Saskatchewan has one of the best in the business in Dale Clearwater of Hanley. At a competition in Stephenville, Texas this February, Clearwater earned top honours and over $17,000 for his efforts.

Clearwater was raised on a farm near Nipawin. At the age of 16, he began a career riding in pastures for eight years. Because pasture work is seasonal, during the winter he went to Alberta to work for horse trainers. In 2002, he spent a year working with a cow horse trainer before returning to Saskatchewan in 2004 to venture out on his own.

Clearwater has traveled North America with cow horse competitions. He entered his first show in 2001. Since then, he has earned approximately $100,000 from both cow horse and cutting competitions.

Critical to the success of cow horse showmen is a solid understanding of animals. Clearwater gained much of his knowledge from working in pastures. "I think being a good showman involves being able to do the cowboying end of things and working with animals all day," he said. "It makes you a better showman, because you understand how the cattle and horses think."

Saskatchewan riders will soon have an opportunity to learn from Clearwater's expertise. The Sandhills Stable near Saskatoon is hosting a Working Cow Clinic on March 29 and 30, with a repeat clinic on April 26 and 27.

These workshops will help participants prepare for cow horse shows and competitions. Rein work components include lead changes, stops and turnarounds. In addition, attendees will practice working cows down the fence and circling.

Bonnie DeWitt of Sandhills Stable expects participants to represent a mix of people, with some simply wanting an introduction to the sport, while more experienced competitors will be looking for tips and skill development.

Demand for cow horse training is increasing. The clinics Clearwater has held over the past two years have all sold out. While the March offering is already full, DeWitt says there are still a few spots open at the April workshop if prospective participants hurry.

Upon starting a clinic, it takes Clearwater very little time to earn the respect of any doubters, given the amazing ease with which he is able to move cattle.

"When you put a good run together, nothing feels as good as that," Clearwater said. At the competition in Texas, everything went perfectly for him, "but it can go the other way, too. You're humbled and you go home and work harder," he noted.

For now, Clearwater will enjoy his success, and enjoy teaching his skills to others interested in the practice.

For more information, contact:
Dale Clearwater, Clinician
Phone: (306) 544-2421

Bonnie DeWitt, Operator
Sandhills Stable
Phone: (306) 477-3508
Website: http://www.sandhillsstable.com/

Ukrainian Ag Entrepreneurs Seek Solutions In Saskatchewan

Source: Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

With the world's population on the rise, countries that export agricultural goods will become essential to meeting the increasing global demand for food. That reality applies to Canada, and it also applies to another country with which Canada has many connections: Ukraine.

"Ukraine is one of a few places on earth where real potential for significant increase of agricultural output exists," said Paul Ivanicky, a Ukrainian entrepreneur visiting the province. "There is almost everything to achieve it - wonderful soils, well-trained specialists, a large labour force and growing world demand for food."

Ivanicky and his counterpart Maxim Zakharov represent Kiev Atlantic Ukraine, a joint stock company with foreign investments. The pair recently came to Saskatchewan hoping to create long-term business contacts to expand their farming operation and agribusiness located just outside the Ukrainian capital.

Their efforts have taken them to universities, livestock operations, slaughter plants and abattoirs. So far, they have been overwhelmed by the positive results of their outreach to develop partnerships with industry and adopt Western agricultural production practices, innovations and technology.

"We cannot believe the hospitality of the people here and the willingness of others to help us," Zakharov said. "We have had countless offers from organizations and professionals to come over and assist us with our livestock operation, as well as our newest venture into the beef slaughter and processing sector. It's unbelievable!"

Part of the warm reception the entrepreneurs have enjoyed may be attributable to the strong ties that exist between Saskatchewan and their home country. Many of the province's citizens have some Ukrainian ancestry in their backgrounds.

However, according to Wendell Ebbert, a Livestock Development Specialist with the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture, when it comes to agriculture, Ukraine is also a nation with considerable opportunity and positive potential.

"With over 42 million hectares of arable land, a European-type climate with 24 inches of annual rainfall, and 180 frost-free growing days, Ukraine will be a major land of agricultural opportunity," Ebbert said. "Twenty-five per cent of the world's richest black soil and 27 per cent of Europe's tilled soil are found in Ukraine."

The agricultural sector represents about 10 per cent of the country's gross domestic product, and is viewed by many as one of the brightest prospects for Western trade and investment.

In addition, the country is situated within 2,000 miles of a billion people, three-quarters of whom do not produce sufficient food to feed themselves.

"The world will look to Ukraine to solve a variety of its feed, food and fuel problems, and agricultural production will play a monumental role," Ebbert said.

Livestock inventories in the country have increased on a small scale since 1991 on a few private farms, although a rapid recovery in beef production as a whole remains uncertain. The Ukrainian cattle herd is comprised mainly of dairy breeds, with a small share of dual-purpose animals and meat breeds.

The poultry sector of the livestock industry is the most likely to grow first - since it offers producers the quickest return on their investment - followed by hogs, and then cattle.

In order for the company to achieve its full potential, Kiev Atlantic Ukraine will need to improve the consistency and quality of the beef it produces. They are investigating the possible use of the antibiotics and growth hormones common in American and Canadian beef production but which are not generally accepted in Europe. The company is also considering castrating bull calves - another North American practice that is uncommon in Europe - to reduce animal handling stress and eliminate dark cutters in the carcass.

The Ukrainian agricultural community is researching alternative methods to increase productivity, efficiency and overall quality of the country's beef. Given the province's existing connection with Ukraine, this may present some real opportunities for Saskatchewan agricultural entrepreneurs.

For more information, contact:
Wendell Ebbert, Livestock Development Specialist
Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture
Phone: (306) 878-8847
E-mail: wendell.ebbert@gov.sk.ca

Value Chain Development Brings Western Provinces Together

Source: Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

Efforts to develop agri-food value chains are growing from a single province base to be delivered right across western Canada, with a new agreement between provinces.

"The Saskatchewan Agri-Food Value Chain Initiative was developed approximately seven years ago, originally funded by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada," says Agriculture Council of Saskatchewan (ACS) Value Chain Specialist Bryan Kosteroski. "Three years ago, the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture and ACS developed the second phase of the program, which was co-funded by both levels of government."

The program delivered an educational awareness program built around learning modules on subjects such as value chain development, marketing strategies, marketing intelligence, and category management. According to Kosteroski, the program has been well received here.

"Those workshops were very well attended, with over 400 people participating over a period of about 16 months," he says. "We have 14 value chain projects either in the process of development or completed in Saskatchewan. Alberta also has a value chain program, and Manitoba just started one last December."

The new Western Canadian Value Chain Initiative arose out of discussions between representatives of the four western provinces and the federal government.

"It was decided that there should be a consistent message across western Canada," Kosteroski says. "We are interested in creating awareness of the program itself, and the various strategies being employed by the agri-food industry. Many of the concepts are about working together in areas like talking to retail buyers, developing category plans, and communicating throughout the sector to make sure producers know what's going on."

The information developed on value chains will now have consistent content and the same look across the west, with the joint effort resulting in new material being made available in Saskatchewan.

"We have just launched an Internet marketing program," says Kosteroski. "Our companies have to take a look at website development, what suits their products, and the customers they are trying to attract. We just completed some organic livestock and vegetable workshops. It gives them more awareness of what potential markets may exist for them both domestically and for export."

The new co-operation between the provinces and federal government is a sign of the growing importance of this sector.

"You have small, medium, and large companies that are becoming players in the agri-food industry in Canada, and it's not an easy game," says Kosteroski. "It takes time to get into the retail markets, up to 16 months to get a product listed and on the shelf. Producers and companies have to be prepared to work through the process, to tweak their ideas to accommodate the needs of the retailer."

Among the new workshops to be offered in the next year, there will be an emphasis on marketing education, which is seen as a knowledge gap for emerging agri-food companies.

Anyone interested in what the Western Canadian Value Chain Initiative has to offer can get that information from the Agriculture Council of Saskatchewan on their website at http://www.agcouncil.ca/.

For more information, contact:
Bryan Kosteroski, Value Chain Specialist
Agriculture Council of Saskatchewan
Phone: (306)975-6851
E-mail: kosteroskib@agcouncil.ca

Grazing Mentors Are In Demand

Source: Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

Producers interested in improving their grazing management are urged to sign up for this year's "Grazing Mentorship Program." The program is operated by the Saskatchewan Forage Council with funding from the Canadian Cattlemen's Association and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

"The program is designed to hook grazing mentors up with individuals who are looking to take their grazing management to the next level, or even just the first level," said provincial co-ordinator Ross MacDonald. "It's a means of co-ordinating peer-to-peer grazing information and mentorship."

The idea is to allow individual producers to work one-on-one with experienced grazing managers in order to learn how to improve their profits, efficiency, forage productivity, and use of water and land resources.

"We have a number of grazing mentors across the province, so there's likely a mentor nearby," MacDonald said. "The majority of our mentors are quite experienced. A lot of them have dealt with intensive grazing, grazing large numbers of animals, grazing late into the winter season with both stockpiled forages and bale grazing, as well as alternative supply methods."

The program is partially subsidized, so producers pay only a fraction of the actual cost. Producers are asked to pay a $100 application fee, and the program kicks in an additional $600 to pay the mentor for his or her time.

"It is equivalent to about 16 hours, or two days, of mentoring. Depending on the individual's needs, those 16 hours can be split up however the two participants feel will work best," MacDonald said.

"Usually there is an initial visit, some discussion about where each is at, some things to think about, some correspondence in between, and possibly another meeting in the field season."

The discussion can range right across the grazing management spectrum, including fencing, watering systems, plant growth, forage species selection, dormant season grazing - just about anything a producer might have questions about. There is no limitation on the size of operation that can become involved.

"We've had a range of mentorships, from individuals who are just getting started with small numbers and smaller land bases, to those who are going from a small operation to a larger operation," MacDonald said. "Mentors say they sometimes learn as much as they teach when dealing with more experienced operators."

There are currently 12 mentors available in the province, with space for approximately 55 producers to receive their assistance, so it is advisable to sign up as soon as possible. Interested producers should contact the Saskatchewan Forage Council by visiting their website at http://www.saskforage.ca/, or by calling MacDonald directly at (306) 447-4600.

MacDonald is an animal and range agrologist who is also an active rancher, running a herd of some 400 custom-grazed yearlings and a small cow-calf herd. He says the mentorship program is just a case of well-organized networking with peers.

"The intent is not necessarily to prescribe any sort of management, but to provide a producer sounding-board for ideas or innovations, and hopefully to save people some mistakes and some time," he said.

"If nothing else, it's a great opportunity to get some outside ideas or just confirmation that you're on the right track."

For more information, contact:
Ross MacDonald, Co-ordinator
Grazing Mentorship Program
Phone: (306) 447-4600
E-mail: rossmacdonald@xplornet.com

2008 Grasshopper Forecast Shows Few Pockets of Concern

Source: Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

It appears that most of Saskatchewan should be relatively safe from major grasshopper infestations for 2008, although there are some pockets of concern around the province.

That's the prognosis contained in the "2008 Grasshopper Forecast" compiled by the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture in conjunction with Saskatchewan Crop Insurance.

The forecast, along with a corresponding colour-coded map showing the projected infestation risk across the province, has now been posted on the ministry's website at http://www.agriculture.gov.sk.ca/.

"Overall, it looks like the majority of the province falls into the ‘none to very light' category, where the grasshopper population should not be a problem," said Dale Risula, the Integrated Crop Management Systems Specialist with the Agriculture Knowledge Centre in Moose Jaw.

"There are a few isolated regions that have the potential for large populations of grasshoppers in 2008, but those are very small, particular areas," he added. "It appears that there may be three or four specific zones that could encounter some difficulties."

The forecast is based on the adult grasshopper counts observed during August and early September 2007 by Saskatchewan Crop Insurance field staff. The survey includes more than 1,100 sites throughout the province. The forecast is based on adult grasshoppers capable of reproduction. This provides an estimate of the number of eggs that may hatch the following spring and present a risk to crops in 2008.

"The forecast is not an absolute certainty," Risula noted. "It is just to say what the probability or the foundation is for grasshopper numbers in the upcoming growing season."

The primary factor determining actual grasshopper numbers will be the weather next spring.

"The hatch in the springtime is going to depend on growing degree days, which is a measure of accumulated heat units. If it's a dry, warm spring and the soil heats up fairly significantly, you could see an increase in the hatch numbers that take place. If it's a cold, wet spring, you will probably see populations kept at bay."

Populations can be affected by several other factors, including the presence of predatory insects, as well as the incidence of disease.

According to Risula, just about every crop grown in Saskatchewan is at some degree of risk from grasshopper damage. With cereals, grasshoppers generally consume the leaf material, which reduces the photosynthetic ability of the plant. With crops like lentil or flax, they usually attack the pods or bolls, which directly impacts yield.

In other crops such as canola, mustard or pea, grasshoppers may present an additional problem. "If they are present when the crop is being combined, their body parts can get picked up in the harvest and contaminate the sample, lowering the seed quality and requiring further processing," Risula said.

"Even in those areas where projections are low, producers would be well-served keeping a close eye on the situation, since infestations can vary widely on a field-by-field basis."

More information and advice on grasshopper projections and control methods can be found on the Saskatchewan Agriculture website or by calling the Agriculture Knowledge Centre at 1-866-457-2377.

For more information, contact:
Dale Risula, Integrated Cropping Management Systems Specialist
Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture
Phone: (306) 694-3714
E-mail: drisula@agr.gov.sk.ca

Forage Selection Made Easy With New CD

Source: Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

The Saskatchewan Forage Council (SFC) has developed a new forage management tool that is available free of charge to producers, agrologists, conservationists and any other interested parties.

The "Dryland Forage Species Adaptation" CD provides valuable technical information to assist in planning the use of forages.

According to SFC Executive Director Janice Bruynooghe, the CD was developed to assist users in selecting the forage species best suited to their land. "It's an interactive tool that enables them to access comprehensive data on different forage species in order to choose the best one for their particular needs."

Information on 45 forage species, both tame and native, legume and grass, has been compiled in the CD. Photos and a detailed description of each species are provided, including yields, recommended stocking rates and other management information.

The data is organized to allow producers to input specific factors related to the type of soil in which the forage will be seeded and the purpose for which it is intended. This may include soil zone, soil texture, soil pH, salinity, moisture conditions, desired use, expected timing of use, stand longevity and many other variables.

"They can basically enter their criteria, and this tool will sort through the huge database of information that's built in on the back-end and identify the species that would best suit their specific conditions," Bruynooghe said.

The tool can also be used in reverse. Users looking for information on any particular forage species can simply click on its name, and the CD will display all the details, including an overview of nutritional feed quality, if available.

According to Bruynooghe, among the most useful features incorporated in the CD are seeding rate and cost calculators for producers. Users are able to select specific forage species or mixtures and input information such as germination or purity percentages. A program then automatically calculates the number of pounds per acre they would need to seed in order to produce an optimal stand. When costs are subsequently entered, the tool will also calculate the cost-per-acre of seeding a specific mixture.

"It's a common question that producers often have. Working through those calculations [on paper] is a bit cumbersome at times, and this is just a really slick, quick way to go in and determine seeding rates and cost-per-acre," Bruynooghe said.

"Everything comes down to economics, and a key to this information is that it can help producers through that decision-making process on the financial side."

Above all, Bruynooghe says the greatest advantage offered by the CD is convenience. "Much of this information is currently available, but it is very scattered. Producers often have to talk to extension agrologists or cross-reference many fact sheets to get what they need," she stated.

"What this tool provides is a nice, neat compilation of information. It's very user-friendly and easy to navigate."

Funding to undertake the project was provided by the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) Greencover Canada Program. Project partners include AAFC, the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture, Ducks Unlimited Canada and the Saskatchewan Crop Insurance Corporation.

Anyone interested in obtaining a free copy of the "Dryland Forage Species Adaptation" CD can contact the SFC by phone at (306) 966-2148 or by e-mail at jbruynooghe@saskforage.ca. The material is also available on the SFC website at http://www.saskforage.ca/ in both high-speed and dial-up versions.

For more information, contact:
Janice Bruynooghe, Executive Director
Saskatchewan Forage Council
Phone : (306) 966-2148
E-mail : jbruynooghe@saskforage.ca
Website: http://www.saskforage.ca/

Agri-Tourism Answers Demand for Real-Life Experiences

Source: Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

A group of farm buildings and a herd of cattle may look pretty ordinary to Saskatchewan residents, but they could be a tourist gold mine, according to Claude-Jean Harel.

Harel should know. He's the owner of Great Excursions of Regina, and a specialist in agri-tourism development.

"The time has never been better to look at agri-tourism opportunities," Harel said. "People are realizing the value of locally grown products. Behind every product there is a story, and authenticity is key."

Harel has been in the industry since 1998, beginning his company by showcasing Saskatchewan destinations and since expanding to offer experiences right across Canada.

"Our offerings in Saskatchewan are centred around authentic activities, like stays on guest ranches where people raise livestock and are willing to share that experience with guests from other parts of the world," he stated. "Our clients are usually people who are well-traveled, who have been to other parts of the world, and who want to find out about the grasslands environment and what comes with that. We are using an agricultural resource like ranching to stage value-added experiences and create new products for these producers."

It's not just recreational tourists who are interested in agriculture-based experiences. There is also a corporate market.

"We can use these experiences as team-building activities," Harel said. "There are opportunities for enterprises to take their staff outside their comfort zones and discover new relationships that they can work with."

Great Excursions and its partners in Saskatchewan have created tourism programs for guests from as far away as South Korea, which sent a group of 4-H students to the Beaver Creek Ranch near Lumsden.

"They needed some help to create a program for them that involved not only staying at the ranch, but doing the other activities available here, like visiting a Hutterite colony or taking in the RCMP-themed attractions in Regina," Harel said.

Great Excursions has also hosted visitors from the U.S., Scotland, Belgium, France and England, and are getting increasingly more interest from Asia.

Harel has translated his passion for the agri-tourism industry into a second career as a facilitator of workshops on agri-tourism development. He will soon be visiting Nebraska, at the invitation of the governor of that state, to participate in a rural tourism conference.

"It's a way to preserve dedicated lands for agriculture," Harel stated. "We try to work with them to develop and market tourism products that make it more attractive for producers to stay engaged in agriculture."

Harel recommends that any producer considering entry into the tourism market start with local or regional tourism associations.

"The first step is to carry out an inventory of the resources that you have, to understand what kinds of knowledge and skills you have, as well as your physical facilities. The next step is identifying potential partners, such as your local tourism organization and other partners that may be willing to work with you," he stated.

"When they market an event, they want to know what other products they can bundle together to create packages that will allow visitors to benefit from the richness of the experiences we can offer in Saskatchewan."

Many farmers and ranchers may not realize that what they do to produce food and make value-added products is of great interest to others who do not share this province's heritage. According to Harel, our secret ingredient is ourselves. "Being who you say you are and trying to develop something that's unique to you is the formula," he said.

Harel welcomes new entrants to the agri-tourism sector. "Come to Tourism Saskatchewan events and meetings. Get engaged and become active stakeholders in the industry, and together we will make Saskatchewan shine on the world tourism scene."

For more information, contact:
Claude-Jean Harel, President
The Great Excursions Company
Phone: (306) 569-1571
E-mail: cj@greatexcursions.com
Website: http://www.greatexcursions.com/

Canada's West Marketplace comes of age

(Originally published in TOURISM)

The 20th Annual Canada’s West Marketplace (CWM) trade show took place in Whistler, BC, in late November. Each year, this marketplace brings together in one location British Columbia and Alberta tourism suppliers with tourism buyers from across the world. The event is the product of a unique collaboration between Alberta and British Columbia tourism industry stakeholders. TOURISM met with two key people who make it all happen to look at the journey thus far; Christine Jones is manager of marketplaces and special events at Tourism British Columbia and Cassandra Graves is director of marketing services at Travel Alberta:

Tourism BC's Christine Jones notes the special partnership CWM has allowed BC and Alberta to develop over the years: “Sometimes Cassandra and I have worked more closely together than we have with people in our own respective offices!” she quips. “The relationship, and the benefits that stem from it, extend to both BC and Alberta, and they are reflected in our in‑market initiatives also.”

“Our representatives work together in Japan, Korea, Germany and the UK,” Jones notes. “They work with tour operators to get them to come to Canada’s West Marketplace, and this year we have 36 new buyers who have never attended before. That is a huge opportunity for the industry to build those relationships and build tourism, knowing these new buyers may not be aware of the products here.”

When asked what advantages she sees in staging a marketplace that focuses exclusively on Alberta and BC products, Jones answers she believes there is added value for the tourism suppliers “because the buyers are there to meet with Alberta and British Columbia suppliers. It is very focused; we try to have the personal touch as much as possible, and we listen to what our delegates say – the changes they would like to see – and as a result we have been evolving every year.”

Jones is particularly pleased that the Canadian Tourism Commission makes a point of participating at CWM: “The CTC delegates, as well as Air Canada, Tourism BC and Travel Alberta staff, get to meet with both buyers and sellers. They find out what new products have emerged, and the sellers can look at developing itineraries for FAM tours with our DMO representatives.”

For her part, Travel Alberta’s Cassandra Graves points out how CWM provides an opportunity, especially for smaller operators who can’t make it overseas on an annual basis, to meet and conduct sales calls with these operators in a cost‑effective way. “It is really a one‑stop shop for them. We have over 150 buyers attending this year, so it is a fantastic opportunity for them to meet one‑on‑one with those buyers and get some business done.”

“There is a real intimacy to the show,” she goes on, “because the two provinces have sellers who have been attending the show during all its years of existence. They know the buyers very well. Christine and I have only been working on the show for the past seven years, but prior to 1999, the show actually alternated between Alberta and British Columbia. Buyers spent two days in one province, then they travelled to the next province and spent two days there. In 1999, in Victoria, we decided to begin to host it at one location and to alternate between Alberta and BC, and in 2003 we changed to a buyer‑seated format.”

Graves says her team reads every comment in the evaluation participants fill out “and we have a 99% satisfaction level, which is wonderful. When we implemented all the technology that we did in 2004, it was in response to delegate wishes. We were leading‑edge at that time, and I think in many areas we still are, from a technology aspect. People are very curious about the services we include; it means we are doing our job and that we are successful in maintaining the quality of the show.”

Needless to say Graves looks forward to CWM coming to Calgary in 2008. “We haven’t been there for some time, and we are very excited about hosting the show,” she concludes.

The CTC can help with media FAMs

(Originally published in TOURISM)

The Canadian Tourism Commission, traditionally active in bringing international media to Canada, is now extending this role to Canadian media as well, says CTC travel media relations manager Carol Horne.

“It was always a source of frustration for the provinces that they could easily request CTC support to bring American journalists to Canada to cover Canadian stories, but there wasn’t a comparable program of support in Canada for domestic media. Fortunately, this has changed since. Last year, we supported nearly 200 Canadian members of the media to travel across the country.”

On top of that, Horne says, the US program continues with 410 media representatives having been supported under that program in the last year, and the international program is also on‑going. If private sector operators wish to take advantage of this kind of opportunity, Horne advises that they approach their local tourism marketing organization.

“That is the level at which we prefer to work. This is a good way for us to find out how much the provincial department of tourism is in support of that journalist coming to the region. There is added benefit in approaching a provincial or territorial travel media counterpart, because an operator might find there some additional support in the form of a car rental or hotel cost contribution.”

Horne says the provincial travel media contact may also help an operator guide the story idea development and assess its validity. “Operators should make sure that, if they have a journalist in mind, they are qualified and can publish or produce the intended story, and that they have a good publishing record.”

Horne believes destinations should give some thought to what their stories are. “Are they really intriguing? Is it something newsworthy? Is it something that the media hasn’t heard about before? Is it consistent with some of the trends that are popular right now? Is it about SPAs, outdoor adventure? Or something which taps into concepts like voluntourism? Destinations and attractions must think in terms of what is already being talked about out there in the media. They should assess how they fit into this.”

Of course, it is not guaranteed exposure; even with the best of journalists, editors change their mind. Publications change, magazines fail. All kinds of things can happen.” But when things go well, the impact can be phenomenal. “Articles, especially in long versions, in magazines for instance, can provide much greater detail. You can tell so much more than in a short ad or a 30‑second TV commercial. It really allows the destination to shine and provides the in‑depth first‑hand experience.”

The real value of this kind of media exposure goes much beyond the advertizing value equivalency. It is really about the power of influence. “If somebody sees a story in the New York Times, they might also say: ‘here is a valid concept that I should follow up on.’”. Given today’s world where bloggers and social media outlets pick up so readily on traditional media content, the influence wielded could be greater than ever. And, concludes Horne, “exposure anywhere often leads to more exposure.”

Aurora tourism operators expand markets

(Originally published in TOURISM)

Northern News Services’ Jennifer Obleman reports that Northern lights could be dancing above more Korean faces this spring as aurora tourism operators expand their markets.

Aurora World has signed a contract with a Korean tour operator in December, said board chair Darryl Bohnet: “We're doing this on a trial basis this year to see how it goes. We hope to expand from the Japanese market to Korea,” he said. “The tour operator has already launched a significant ad campaign, so we're waiting to see how it pays off.”

The Korean contract was partly prompted by the decline in Japanese visitors, which Bohnet attributes in part to Alaskan competition: “I think we bottomed out last year due to the Alaskan government underwriting charters for tour operators in Alaska,” he said.

According to data from the NWT department of Industry, Tourism and Investment, there were just over 7,000 aurora visitors in the NWT in 2006‑07, down from approximately 10,200 in 2004‑05 and 13,000 in 2000‑01, and close to the 6,500 visitors in 2001‑02 – a year when tourism dropped dramatically following significant world events such as the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and the war in Iraq.

NWT operators are hoping to recapture a portion of the Japanese market this year. According to Bohnet, November numbers and indications from Japanese tour operators are pointing to a 15% to 20% increase over last year.

Aurora World is also planning to diversify its clientele to include other Asian markets. The company sent a representative on the GNWT's trip to China in 2007, and has made preliminary contacts there, said Bohnet. He said Aurora World plans to focus more on the Chinese market in about three to five years, following the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. Bohnet said the company's board is “cautiously optimistic” about the future of Aurora tourism in the NWT.

He said the introduction of Air Canada's direct flights from Vancouver to Yellowknife in December was a positive development for the industry. “We want to be able to eventually fill those planes and encourage the use of bigger planes,” he said.

Aurora Village manager Hideo Nagatani said the company does have clients coming into Yellowknife on the direct flights. The Yellowknife tourism operator is also looking at Asian markets such as Korea, Taiwan and China as well as other markets, but Aurora Village will maintain its focus on Japan, said Hideo.

“Developing other markets, it's so small compared to what the Japanese market has been and will be for years to come,” he said. Japanese tourists make up about 75% of Aurora Village's clientele. According to Nagatani, last year was the first year the company did not see growth in the Japanese market.

How to stage FAM trips that resonate with participants

(Originally published in TOURISM)

The use of FAM – or familiarization – trips is a key tactic destination marketing organizations and tourism operations rely upon to educate tour operators about products and destinations. They represent a substantial investment of time and money for both buyers and sellers. So how can FAM stagers and participants make the best of these opportunities to make an impression? Inbound operator Great Excursions took part in Canada’s West Marketplace Pre and Post FAM trips hosted by Banff Lake Louise Tourism and Tourism Vancouver Island. Great Excursions' owner Claude-Jean Harel, associate editor at TOURISM, had the following observations:

One of the first considerations would be to coin a theme with the potential to lure participants to the destination: something seasonal, perhaps, which exudes authenticity and a definite sense of place. You then illustrate the theme with tourism products which make it more vivid through the right choice of partners, accommodations, dining, attractions and entertainment – all the while never forgetting the importance of a well‑focused experience to make the whole FAM as compelling as possible.

“Celebrate Life. Discovering Banff” might not have resonated so engagingly with participants if they had not been treated to a series of site visits which left them a chance to interpret the destination and titillate their curiosity about what makes the place tick. These included subtle program elements, like attending an evening blues concert in the intimate setting of The Banff Centre.

FAMs are about more than sites; they are about context. This is something the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise has understood for quite some time, as evidenced by the availability of an in‑house heritage interpreter who will take guests on guided hikes. The ability to break away from the hotel facility to gain greater understanding of how it is associated with the landscape (and the Lake Louise centrepiece) adds both meaning and memorability to the experience.

Heidi Wesling looks after travel trade relations at Tourism Vancouver Island. She knows these program elements well and believes that planning the FAMs down to the finest details is the best way to prepare for the unplanned: “In the case of the Canada’s West Post FAM, the program had to be prepared prior to the event itself, so you don’t know who is going to be signing up, their interests or background. I tried to choose a wide range of properties to give each person who signs up for the FAM something they could take away from the experience. We also chose activities that are relevant to the featured area of Vancouver Island, the cultural experience behind it and activities that clients of our FAM participants might enjoy when they come to the region.”

Wesling says different trade shows will warrant different programs to fit the audience. A National Tour Association audience might look for different experiences than a Canada’s West Marketplace or Rendez‑vous Canada audience. Timing, of course, can sometimes be problematic, she says: “You try to choose activities which are accessible to as many people as possible; maybe a hiking tour that doesn’t involve very much exertion or a boat tour. It is very important to be flexible. You might not be able to host a group at the time you are making the itinerary – it is a fine line between getting what the participant wants and working with stakeholders after everybody leaves the Island. It is a juggling act in a way, and hopefully you are able to accommodate everybody’s needs.”

One of the most useful resources for FAM host organizations is the survey participants are asked to fill out following the trip. “It is a way for us to determine how we are doing and how the properties are doing (we do share survey results with the properties as reference points for them). Participants put down their thoughts on the properties and suggest ways to improve various experiences. There is extreme competition between accommodations and different attractions; if they can get feedback from people in the industry who experience many properties and many activities, that is invaluable.”

FAM tours: a buyer perspective

“For me it is about being able to know and understand what we are selling to our clients,” says Marina Voak of Made to Measure / Lakes & Mountains Holidays in the UK. “It's about the places, whether they be actual cities, towns, hotels; just knowing where they are matters. It allows us to understand important little details that you can pass along to your clients. I had never been to Vancouver Island, so to get a good understanding of how long it takes to go from place to place is useful because FIT travellers will ask how long it takes to drive from Nanaimo to Tofino. To actually experience it yourself and pass on your first‑hand knowledge is really useful.”

Siegfried Gutsch, sales manager, leisure at Air Canada in Germany, says FAMs help his people understand what is possible in the destination: “You can always sell it much better when you have experienced it, and have developed your own opinion about it. From my past experience, it is not always about seeing hotels; it is the elements of an incentives tour that matter – things you can’t buy for money. You need to leave with an impression, to create memories.”

“FAMs are a really important element of the travel industry,” says John Simos, managing director of SevenOceans Cruising in Australia. “They are almost like the tools of our trade, like a carpenter’s saw and hammer, so we are in a better position to construct packages and advise clients on the best options to suit their needs. Certainly when it comes to a familiarization tour, it is very important for the DMOs to recognize that we are there to experience the destination as well as the accommodation and the facilities. It is also absolutely vital to see the accommodation you are likely to be selling to your customers; hotels are understandably very proud of their most opulent suites (which only rock stars and the Queen and King of England can generally afford), but the reality is that we should be shown the standard accommodation that will be included in brochure product.”

Third of Brits spend over 10 hours researching annual holiday

(Originally published in TOURISM)

Here is a bit of insight on how consumers in one of Canada’s key markets go about making their holiday decisions: according to TravelMole’s Bev Fearis, Brits spend almost twice as long planning their annual holiday as they do considering a mortgage.

Fresh data from research which polled over 2,000 UK adults found 36% of Brits spend at least 10 hours selecting their ideal holiday, but only 21% would put the same time into choosing a mortgage. Just 11% would show the same level of commitment when selecting a bank loan.

The research was commissioned by independent personal finance website Fool.co.uk. "Who can blame people for wanting to spend more time planning their holiday than pouring over financial products?" said David Kuo, head of personal finance at Fool.co.uk. "But while a good holiday will recharge your energy levels for a few weeks, healthy finances can boost your bank balance for a lifetime."

A Canadian tourism pioneer

(Originally published in TOURISM)

As Chairman of the Board of the Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC) since 2002, the Honourable Charles Lapointe has made his mark on the organization in charge of selling Canada as a tourist destination to the rest of the world. During his five-year term, he has charted a positive course through the challenges facing the CTC and Canada's tourism industry. TOURISM discussed some of these challenges during a recent interview with Lapointe, whose term of office ended December 1, 2007:

TOURISM: The challenges Canadian tourism industry stakeholders face today, whether in terms of the funding of projects, marketing or human resources, seem to indicate that the industry has a less‑than‑favourable profile. Do you agree with this view?

Lapointe: It is always an uphill battle to convince the private sector to invest in this industry, which creates substantial spin‑offs. At the same time, it is always difficult to convince public players of the significance of tourism as a key industry in terms of revenue generation and job creation in Canada.

Recently, Secretary of State (Small Business and Tourism) Diane Ablonczy announced an additional $26 million to promote Canada for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games. That is a victory. The Government of Canada has also injected funds into promoting the French presence in Canada for the 400th anniversary of Québec City.

I think that, with good projects, sustained efforts should allow us to forge alliances with more private players which will bolster the interest of the authorities in increasing their commitment to the tourism industry. The Massif project in Charlevoix is a very good example with regard to Quebec; the governments of Canada and Quebec are both investing in it, together with a private investor, who is providing over $200 million. As soon as there is a major private investment, projects seem to move forward; this is what happened at Mont Tremblant and Whistler.

TOURISM: Now, let’s talk about CTC achievements during your term. Which ones do you consider particularly noteworthy?

Lapointe: I think our greatest accomplishment was to create a new brand image for Canada. What was exciting was that the exercise took place in a framework that allowed us to consult with all regions of the country from British Columbia to Newfoundland and Labrador, and with some of our key markets. It was very useful for consolidating the ties between the CTC and Canada’s tourism industry. Canada. Keep exploring is a slogan that permeates the CTC's whole strategic approach to supporting the industry, and increasingly all the parties are getting onboard.

The second achievement worth noting is the CTC’s new strategic direction. At the beginning of the second year of my term, the board of directors and all of our committees started carefully reviewing each of our target markets. After long, and sometimes agonizing, discussions, we agreed to cut the number of markets targeted by the CTC from 15 to 8. It was a very difficult decision, because we had established ties with Italy, Holland, Switzerland, Taiwan and Hong Kong. But this turned out to be the right decision in terms of strategy because it gave us a greater impact on the markets that provided the best returns.

The same year, we also made a firm decision to adopt internet communications. This decision does not seem very original at first glance, but it was a decision which had to be made. The fact that strategies could be developed to build a direct relationship with consumers on the internet led us to change course so that the CTC no longer depends solely on the conventional range of print, radio and TV advertising media.

The third achievement, which demands constant effort, is the strengthening of the CTC’s leadership role. We had a number of opportunities to demonstrate our importance during the last five years in the wake of September 11, 2001 and SARS in Toronto, which threatened the prosperity of the tourism industry across the country. During those two crises, I think that the CTC successfully played its unifying role.

TOURISM: Which key element do you consider as basic to this leadership role?

Lapointe: There’s not much wizardry about leadership. It takes a modicum of listening skills and the ability to seek the best from our partners. Leadership also means being able to inspire confidence and encourage people working for you to be the best they can be.

TOURISM: What, in your opinion, are the most urgent challenges facing the CTC at present?

Lapointe: The first challenge, which concerns the entire Canadian industry, is obviously the steady decline in the number of tourists from the US, a phenomenon which may be observed in all regions of Canada. Our largest volume of foreign visitors is from the US, so we are trying a number of things with our partners, focusing on the largest cities because we have realized that the decline is much less for Americans travelling by airplane from California, Washington, Texas, Florida and New York.

In those cases, there was even a slight increase in 2007. We have not found the formula for attracting all of the border areas. However, I believe the CTC’s decision to cease activities in border areas was wise, because Vancouver is already active in Seattle; Toronto and Niagara Falls are active in Buffalo. They are neighbouring destinations: Windsor will be active in Detroit; and Montréal invests in Montpelier, Plattsburgh and Burlington.

Moreover, this allows us to turn our attention to other markets, such as Mexico, France and England, which perform well. The number of visitors from China is increasing. However, China represents another challenge, and I must say that the fact we did not obtain approved destination status in 2007 leaves me very perplexed. It is all the more frustrating because the US has just obtained this highly sought‑after status.

On another level, we are facing much fiercer international competition than before. New tourist destinations are being created. There is currently strong interest in Croatia and Eastern Europe in general. Laos is beginning to open up. These new destinations mean that the tourism pie is being divided into ever‑smaller slices. We must maintain our market shares and showcase Canada’s advantages as a tourist destination. By appealing to the consumer’s imagination and sense of adventure, we may have found the right tool with Canada’s new brand image; however, this will only be confirmed after testing it for around 10 years.

TOURISM: How can the tourism industry prepare itself better for the challenges ahead?

Lapointe: I am not pessimistic at all. There is definitely more work to be done to make the industry more uniform. We are a long way behind the agriculture sector, which has a much stronger lobby than we do. We are all working hard on this. The Hotel Association of Canada, regional hotel associations and the Tourism Industry Association of Canada are involved. But we still have work to do so we can eventually speak with one voice. By that I also mean being able to go into markets – not in a piecemeal way – but as a part of Canada as a whole.

Does adversity encourage us to form alliances? We have already included the importance of the role of non‑traditional partnerships in our priorities for the 2008‑2012 strategy. We would like to focus on them more. I am convinced that, of all the resources at our disposal at this time, non‑traditional partnerships constitute the best means for internationalizing the Canadian tourism industry. It is up to us to build those partnerships..

TOURISM: Thank you, Mr. Lapointe.