New Regulations Designed to Preserve Biosecurity on the Farm

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Last month, the Ontario farm community was reminded to take firm steps to prevent unwanted trespassers from entering their farm because of the biosecurity threat they present.

Visitors to farms, both invited and not, are a growing trend in rural Ontario as consumers become more interested in understanding the source of their food.  In a recent survey of Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) members, more than half of farmers surveyed reported having unwanted visitors (aka trespassers) on their farm in the last five years. The majority of those surveyed had no biosecurity plan in place; not even signs about biosecurity or trespassing.

To protect Canadian food production, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has introduced legislation to ensure farmers take steps to protect their operations.  Farm-level biosecurity requires management practices that prevent and control the introduction of infectious disease agents onto a farm; their spread within a farm production operation; and the export of these disease agents beyond the farm.   It’s not just farms with livestock that are at risk.  Trespassers can unknowingly bring new diseases into fields and farm properties.  Infectious diseases and pests spread in many ways, including direct contact with an animal or plant, as well as indirect contact through contaminated soil, equipment, clothing and footwear, and the risk for loss can extend beyond the fence rows between farm operations.

As primary producers in the supply chain, Canada’s  roughly 12,750 dairy farms provide 7.66  billion litres of milk each year to dairy processors which transform it to more than 1,0000 products contributing almost $10 billion each year to the Canadian economy.  Maintaining confidence in the safety and quality of the milk and meat these farms produce is an important factor contributing to the sector’s performance which bears significant influence on the economy, the environment and human health

While dairy farmers have always managed the risks associated with their herd health and product quality, more intensive modern farm practices can make these operations more vulnerable to disease and other contaminants.   Today it’s not enough to keep their animals healthy: farmers have to have records that demonstrate the health status of their animals to guarantee consumer confidence both domestically and abroad.

Photo Karen Graham.
Farmers, like Melissa Harrigan, are being urged to prevent uninvited visitors to their fields and outbuildings to prevent the unintentional contamination of their corps and livestock as part of their risk management practices.

This month, mandatory biosecurity standards are being implemented in dairy farms across Canada.  With a registration renewal date of September 1st, Alona Farms owned and operated by the Carl and Harrigan families on Zion Line, will be one of the first in the area to be subject to the new legislation.

With a brand new dairy barn equipped with a robotic milking machine to service a herd of 40 milking cows, theirs is a particularly modern facility with cattle contained in close quarters.  The building, equipment and its occupants represent a huge investment the owners are very keen to protect.  According to Melissa Harrigan, Alona’s operation had already adopted most of the new requirements over the past few years.  The new regulations will require more organized records, but the most visible change is mandatory signs at every farm building entrance.

No Trespassing signs are the first steps to communicating with the public about accessing their property.  Invited visitors to barns or outbuildings should be prepared to don disposable booties or treat their footwear to a disinfectant bath.  It’s not personal; it’s cheap insurance for the owner and increasingly a mandatory component of risk management on the farm.

Farmers appreciate the growing interest in their industry, and most are happy to talk about their farm operations to the uninitiated when approached with respect.  Not all visitors have good intentions, and vocal activists represent a growing threat to farm operations.  Alona Farms receives notifications of activist activity from the Dairy Farmers of Ontario, and fortunately, activists have never posed a problem locally.

As we expand our network of trails throughout the township, residents and visitors will have more opportunity to appreciate the rolling fields and pastures throughout the township.  The proximity to farm property can tempt a passerby to get a closer look.  It may seem like an insignificant transgression to slip over a farmer’s fence or cut through a field, but farmers today view trespassers as more than an annoyance- they can actually threaten their livelihood.  Remember, good fences make good neighbours.  KG

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