Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Another PED case in Manitoba

Manitoba Pork is calling for stricter biosecurity after a second Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus outbreak this month.

Both outbreaks were in sow barns in the southeastern part of the province.

Surveillance and disease investigations into PED over the last nine months have turned up “several key components of biosecurity that need attention on many swine farms” in the province, Manitoba Pork says.

“In particular, biosecurity practices for service providers — such as feed and semen deliverers, meter readers and rendering collectors – are substandard,” the agency said.

For example, service providers are visiting multiple farms between car washes and not planning their visits to move from high- to low-health herds.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Hog cycle alive and boding ill

Record-high hog prices and profits are fuelling a huge herd expansion.

“Nearly every measure of the herd now and of expectations for growth in the near future came in higher than was expected,” says Meatingplace Magazine of the latest government survey results.

“As far as the industry’s concerned, they’re making money so one would expect farrowings to increase,” says agricultural economist Ron Plain of the Unviersity of Missouri.

“We were expecting hog farmers to make money, expand production and get more litters,” he said.

“The long-term health situation will determine how many more hogs we actually have,” Plain said, referring to Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus which killed about eight per cent of piglets born in the U.S. last winter and spring.

Whether the United States can stop the spread of the deadly virus this fall remains an open question.

If all of the expanded herd and offspring survive, there will be tremendous downward pressure on hog prices.

The hog cycle is alive and boding ill.

GMO wheat found in Montana

The United States Department of Agriculture says it has found a second case of genetically-modified wheat growing where it ought not be.

This time it’s on a university research plot where genetically-modified wheat was test grown more than a decade ago.

The first time it was on about 100 acres in Oregon and the discovery prompted some countries to temporarily ban wheat imports from the United States.

The herbicide-resistant wheat was found on one to three acres at a university research centre in Huntley, Montana, where GMO wheat was legally tested by Monsanto 11 years ago.

The plants in Oregon were found in a field that had never conducted such tests, prompting questions about how it got there.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Charlie Gracey wants beef grading updated

It's been 22 years since Canada's beef grading system has changed, and it's overdue for an overhaul, says Charlie Gracey, the guru of the Canadian beef industry.

Gracey says today's grading system puts too much emphasis on marbling - i.e. fat sprinkled throughout steaks and roasts - resulting in a reduced yield of lean meat per carcass.

Farmers gain if they hit the top grade - AAA - with adequate marbling, but then they lose by failing to hit the top yield - Y1 - category.

Gracey says there are some cattle that can manage to have adequate marbling for excellent eating quality and also achieve Y1 yield.

The agency that's in charge of Canadian beef grading has been calling for an overhaul for at least two years, but it seems the federal government is waiting for the United States to make its move first.

It has issued a proposal and has announced a period for consultations. The biggest change is yield calculations which have stayed the same for 50 years.

Both Canadians and Americans are interested in electronic grading to replace the judgement calls involved in visual grading by people.

Japan and U.S. fail to reach trade deal

Trade negotiators for the United States and Japan failed during two days of talks in Washington.

That means the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks are also at an impasse.

That spells disappointment for Canada’s pork, beef, grain and fruit farmers who hope to gain markets, especially in Japan.

But it’s welcome news for dairy and poultry farmers who once again escape steep tariff cuts that would force them to reduce their prices and cope with much lower profit margins.

Japan’s Economy Minister Akira Amari and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman met for two days, trying to strike a deal that would open the door for resumed progress with 12 nations involved in the Trans-Pacific negotiations.

The National Pork Producers Council in the U.S. wants a deal that will open markets for its pork and says the talks ought to continue without Japan unless and until it yields on agricultural trade.

It has said the same thing about opening Canada’s dairy and poultry markets by substantially lowering tariffs.

U.S. pork exports have quadrupled since 2000 as a result of other trade agreements, the national council said.

“The TPP could result in even greater gains for U.S. pork, but Japan is the key,” it said.

 After failing to make progress, both sides will consider next steps following consultations in both capitals,” the U.S. Trade Representative’s office said.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

CWB keeps financials secret

The numbers are missing from an annual report on the Canadian Wheat Board that Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz tabled in the House of Commons.

He cited a section of legislation that allows the Canadian Wheat Board to maintain secrecy about information deemed to be commercially sensitive – i.e. that would provide too much information to competitors.

That's a crock. The major grain-exporting companies have excellent intelligence networks and probably know more about the Canadian Wheat Board's sales volumes and prices that Ritz.

The secrets are not really being withheld from competitors, but from the Canadian public and farmers.

We can only speculate about why Ritz and the board won't come clean, and none of the speculation is flattering to either of them.

The lack of transparency has some farmers livid, including those who opposed the government’s legislation that stripped the wheat board of its monopoly over the export of Prairie-grown wheat and barley.

Stewart Wells, a former farmer-elected wheat board director and chair of the Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board (FCWB), says he is outraged. Then again, outrage seems to be a permanent state for the National Farmers Union, of which Wells is a prominent member.

“There is a legal and moral obligation to the taxpayers of Canada and farmers to publish their results from 2012-13,” Wells, who farms near Swift Current, told the Manitoba Cooperator newspaper in an interview last week.

“What would this minister have done if the farmer-elected board of directors had refused to publish an audited financial report?”

Before the wheat board was stripped of its monopoly, it published detailed information on export volumes and revenues for a number of classifications of wheat.

CN Rail faces reduced fines

The grain trade thought CN Rail could be fined up to $100,000 a day for its failure to haul minimum volumes of grain under the new Fair Rail for Grain Farmers Act.

It turns out the fine print changed to $100,000 per week.

Few seem to have noticed, but when they did, a storm of protest broke out in the industry and Parliament.

“Lovely. Old switcheroo,” Wade Sobkowich, executive director of the Western Grain Elevator Association is quoted in the Globe and Mail.

He called the change “disingenuous” and a “very small amount” given the billions in grain-hauling revenues CN Rail is paid.

In the House of Commons, NDP farm critic Malcolm Allen said the railway company executives put heavy pressure on the government to change the maximum fine from $100,000 a day to $100.000 a week.

He estimates the CN Rail fine will turn out to be between $300,000 and $500,000. The government has said CN Rail violated the law, but has yet to announce the amount of the fine.

CN Rail says it’s the fault of the gain trade for failing to put enough grain in place so it could meet the minimums in recent weeks.

Obama seeks global food production increase

The Obama administration has created a "global alliance" to develop ways for agricultural stakeholders to improve productivity — in order to feed the world's growing population — while addressing the challenges of climate change, the United States Department of Agriculture has announced on its blog.

Feeding nine billion people by 2050 will require at least a 60 percent increase in agricultural production, the agency said, and global warming trends are a barrier to meeting the need.

The Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture was conceived eight months ago, USDA said, when an international delegation of leaders met in South Africa for the Global Conference on Climate Change, Food Security, and Agriculture.

The group's mission is to find a "more sustainable" path to food security that "preserves the environment while driving broad-based economic growth."

Canadian Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz and his department of agriculture have said nothing about the meeting in South Africa and Ritz rarely mentions global warming.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Canadians may lose export protection

Canada’s fruit and vegetable exporters may lose payment default protection on sales to U.S. customers.

They hold the protection under the U.S. Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act, but competitors in the U.S. say that protection should be withdrawn unless and until Canada offers equivalent protection – i.e. top-priority status in the case of bankruptcy.

Recognizing that perishables can’t just be repossessed like other goods, the U.S. law gives suppliers of perishable produce “super priority,” even over secured creditors, to lay claim to a debtor’s assets directly related to sales of produce.

The Canadian coalition, dubbed the Fresh Produce Alliance, warned on Tuesday that “Canada’s special status may soon be revoked if the Canadian government does not implement a reciprocal payment protection program in Canada.”

Budget cuts revealed

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency aims to cut more than $54 million from its expenses this fiscal year, according to documents released under Access to Information.

The cuts come across a broad range of services, most of them dealing with quality assurance.

For example, there are cuts to research geared to inspection services, to seed inspections and to fertilizer-industry oversight.

The Seed Potato Quality Management Program, used mainly by growers in Alberta and New Brunswick, is one target outlined in an internal document stamped “Secret”. The savings for that cut are estimated at $1.2 million a year.

Another written by Sukhmander Sawhtiney, also marked “Secret” and headed “Alternative Service Delivery of Seed Crop Inspections – A Deficit Reduction Action Plan Proposal” makes a case for turning the job over to the private sector.

It indicates that 80 CFIA staff members, supplemented by 120 casual employees for seasonal work, have been doing the job.

It does not say how much the CFIA will save, but does say “the private sector is able to respond to change in the seed sector more quickly than government” and can step up service faster whenever there is a “sudden increase in demand”.

It also says “in some cases, seed companies may want to be licenced to conduct the inspection themselves.” There is no mention of the risks associated with conflict of interest.

No technology works forever in farming

No new technology will be the final, silver-bullet, answer to farming challenges is my way of summarizing the fourth and final instalment in Al Mussell’s series about common fallacies about agriculture.

He offers examples of technologies once thought to be great answers to challenges, but proved to have unexpected side effects – atrazine weed killer to grow corn, summerfallowing to preserve Prairie moisture for growing wheat and using feed additives in poultry rations to eliminate parasites.

Weeds with resistance to atrazine multiplied, summerfallowing increased wind erosion and parasites developed resistance to the chemical feed additives.

Mussell could have added that all plant breeding designed to provide disease resistance proved to be only temporary relief, triggering a renewed search for resistance genes. Rust-resistant wheat varieties for the Canadian Prairies are a prime example.

And so Mussell, who is senior policy analyst at the George Morris Centre at Guelph, has words of caution for those who support either extreme on the technology issue.

“The mainstream agricultural community needs to acknowledge that failures and unintended consequences can occur with agricultural technologies,” Mussell writes in a news release about his final paper.

“The sustainable agriculture movement must acknowledge that the solution to technological failures they highlight is not to restrict new technologies, but to accelerate the ongoing development of new, improved technologies. 

“Food marketers should appreciate the importance of technological innovation in agriculture, and understand how food marketing initiatives that restrict agricultural technologies inhibit this process”.

That’s an apparent reference to current retailer bans on pork from sows housed in gestation crates and laying hens housed in cages.

He says the concerns that are being raised “play out across a range of parameters, including carbon footprint, water use, pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics, hormones and growth promotants, animal welfare, labour standards, as well as others.

“In some cases, specific technologies or techniques related to the above have been targeted, such as genetically modified, specific pesticides, specific animal health products, certain livestock housing systems, etc.”

Mussell calls for a broader understanding of agriculture and the environment in which crops, livestock and poultry are farmed.

“important aspects of this movement are simplistic, misguided, or simply wrongheaded, and following these through to their logical extent presents the prospect of pitfalls for the agri-food system.

“The sustainable agriculture movement must acknowledge that the solution to technological failures it highlights is not to restrict new technologies, but rather to accelerate the development of new, improved technologies,” Mussell writes.

“Food marketers should appreciate the importance of technological development in agriculture, and understand how food marketing initiatives that restrict agricultural technologies inhibit this process.”

FDA launches $500,000 food-safety competition

The United States Food and Drug Administration has $500,000 to spark a competition for innovations that improve food safety.

The focus is salmonella, but the ocmpetition is open to a broader spectrum of food-borne diseases.

The money comes via the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 that grants all federal agencies authority to conduct prize competitions to spur innovation and solve problems.

Food safety experts such as scientists, academics, entrepreneurs and innovators should submit concepts to the FDA by Nov. 9.

A panel of food safety and pathogen detection experts from FDA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and USDA will judge submissions, determine finalists and select a winner or winners.

There is no indication that the competition is limited to U.S. citizens.

Three strikes and Black’s out

Glenn Black
Glenn Black has failed on his third and final attempt to persuade the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs to consider his far-reaching appeal against the Chicken Farmers of Ontario marketing board, and more specifically its 300-bird limit on the number of birds people who own no quota can raise every year.

Black has shared the tribunal’s preliminary ruling, indicating that it still thinks his latest version seeking an appeal is trivial and/or frivolous and is vexacious in that he has no reasonable chance of getting the tribunal to do what he seeks.

The tribunal says, for example, that Black defied its instructions to stick to the one issue – the 300-bird limit – and cited a dozen additional issues in his most recent appeal.

Lawyer John O'Kane, writing for the tribunal, says it has no power to make decisions on those 12 items.

Black’s original appeal resulted in a hearing on May 14 when and where lawyer Geoff Spurr, representing the chicken board, argued the tribunal does not have jurisdiction over most of the issues Black raised.

The tribunal agreed with Spurr in a decision it issued May 21, but rather than dismissing the appeal, it offered Black an opportunity to amend his appeal.

Black did with a 98-page document. Spurr again served notice that he would object if a hearing went ahead. The tribunal jumped the gun and wrote to Black, rejecting his amended appeal and inviting him this time to provide arguments why its ruling is trivial, frivolous and/or vexatious.

In its current preliminary decision, it rejects Black’s arguments.

Black said, "I am disappointed by the tribunal's decision. 

“It appears the tribunal has strained the limits of justice to find some manner to dismiss the appeal. 

“Both the third and fourth versions of the appeal contained none of the material complained against by the tribunal, yet the tribunal refused to consider any of these revised versions."

The tribunal notes in its preliminary decision that Black has admitted that he is raising only one bird at a time and says “his appeal reflects a personal and political manifesto.”

Milk board pondering quota policy reforms

The Dairy Farmers of Ontario milk marketing board is consulting its members on policies governing quota sales.

The most controversial option is to make 5.161 per cent of quota non-saleable and an associated option is to reduce the price cap from $25,000 to $23,710 per unit to take into account the non-saleable 5.161 per cent.

The consultations come five years after the board banned farmer-to-farmer quota sales, including deals to buy entire farms and merge operations on one of them.

It also capped quota transfer prices at $25,000 per unit, which is roughly equivalent to the year-long production of one cow.

All quota transfers must go through the monthly exchange run by the milk board. Since the price cap began, hardly any quota has been offered for sale.

That has made it extremely difficult for families that want to expand operations, such as to bring a child into the company or partnership.

It has even made life difficult for the new entrants, undermining a board policy to encourage newcomers to dairy farming. 

A select few get top priority for quota from the board, but what they get is not enough to generate a comfortable family income. And because so few farmers are selling quota over the exchange, these newcomers can't get any to expand.

The milk board has developed a questionnaire for its members to register their preferences for a variety of policy options, such as a wide-open market for quota sales, a continuation of the existing policies, allowing whole farm purchases to be merged to one location and putting any quota increases from the national supply management system through the exchange rather than distributing it on a pro rata basis among all existing quota holders.

Al Mussel, senior policy analyst at the George Morris Centre, has been critical of the cap on quota prices because he says it has frozen the dairy-farming industry into a position that will become progressively less competitive.

He argues that the most efficient farmers ought to be able to bid whatever they wish to acquire more quota to become even more efficient and that as prices rise, the least efficient and least profitable farmers will sell.

Maple Leaf shareholder sells stake

West Face Capital Inc., which led a shareholder rebellion in 2010, has sold its 16 million shares in Maple Leaf Foods Inc.

Rather than dismiss chief executive Michael McCain and the entire board of directors, Greg Boland persuaded McCain to transform the company by selling non-core assets and investing in centralizing and modernizing its meat processing business.

McCain, who bought the shares held by Ontario Teachers Pension Plan when it wanted out, owns 33 per cent of the shares.

Since Boland became a director on the board, Maple Leaf has sold it Rothsay Concentrates Rendering, its turkey farms and processing plant at Thamesford, its Canada Bread division to Bimbo Bakery for $1.8 billion and its Oliviera pasta business.

The plan unveiled in 2011 called for an investment of $560 million in a new meat-processing plant at Hamilton. Those costs have since topped $1 billion and the company has lost money in five of its most recent six quarters.

McCain says the company’s costs have been high because it’s opening the new facility while continuing operations in some of the old facilities, chief among them the Schneider Corp. plant in downtown Kitchener which is scheduled to close in December.

West Face is now investing in Globealive Wireless Management Corp. which is trying to buy Wind mobile.

Merger talks underway between fertilizer giants

Yara International ASA of Oslo, Norway, is in the early stages of merger negotiations with CF Industries Holdings Inc. of Deerfield, Ill.

Yara, which has annual sales of $13.4 billion and an international distribution network, wants to increase its presence in North America, mainly to gain access to cheap natural gas to manufacture nitrogen.

CF Industries, which has annual sales of $5.4 billion, wants access to the international markets Yara serves.

If they do merge, they would be the world’s second-largest fertilizer company, second to Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan.

Yara is a partner with BASF SE of Germany to build an ammonia plant at Freeport, Texas.

Another PED case in Manitoba

There is frustration in Manitoba that a third outbreak of Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus has been identified his week.

The first case was in February and the second in May. One of those barns had a repeat outbreak in July.

Manitoba’s chief veterinary office (CVO) confirmed Friday and announced Monday that a sow farm in the province’s southeast is the third to have animals with the PED virus (PEDv).

 “Although it is disheartening to see another case arise, we should use this as a lesson learned and elevate our biosecurity practices, especially with cold, wet weather looming,” Manitoba Pork said in a statement Tuesday.

 “As we know, the risk of the virus spreading increases exponentially in colder seasons.”

Ontario has had 60 outbreaks, the most recent ones in June and July.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Why Harper is targeting supply management

Harperism, a new paperback book written by Donald Gutstein, does a good job of examining Stephen Harper's approach to politics, including why he's slowly setting the stage to clip the wings of the dairy and poultry marketing boards.

Step by step, Gustein says Harper is taking Canada to a far-right economic and ultra-conservative social society. 

Gutstein says he’s doing this by following the lead of think tanks set up to “research” and promote these policies, think tanks that are funded by wealthy and powerful people. They also make excellent use of Canada’s leading news media organizations and columnists to give widespread public exposure to their proposals.

Harper’s economic policies are rooted in the philosophies of Friedrich Hayek and the members of the Mount Pelerin Society he founded and his social politics in the writings of Leo Strauss whose followers are called Straussists or neo-conservatives.

Gutstein makes a convincing case that Harper is devoted to these two philosophies, that he pursues principles rather than pragmatic and well-researched solutions, and that he is determined to so radically change Canada that it will be difficult to turn back.

For example, he cuts taxes at every opportunity, starving the treasury so he can eliminate social programs, including foreign aid, services for refugees, labour unions and research and statistical data (i.e. from Statistics Canada) that might challenge the policies he wants to pursue, such as exploiting Canada’s oil and natural gas resources and increasing prison terms.

Gutstein says Harper is rewriting Canadian history by silencing references to peace keeping and glorifying war, including the war of 1812 and World War I. He cites the example of the rewritten booklet for immigrants and refugees, Discover Canada, and says it deals with Canadian history and culture in radically different ways than the booklet, A Look at Canada, that it replaces.

Whether you are, or are not, a supporter of Stephen Harper, this is a book well worth reading before you cast a ballot in the upcoming federal election.

It's published by James Lorimer & Company Ltd. and costs $22.95 for the 288-page paperback edition.

Chicken pricing up for change

The Ontario government is proposing to change the way chicken is priced by the Chicken Farmers of Ontario marketing board.

It’s not clear from its posting on the internet whether the proposal originated with the government or the marketing board.

The main change is to develop a so-called “model farm” as the basis for determining the cost of production.

That will be blended with a survey of production costs.

That, then, will become the basic information used to determine the minimum prices processors must pay members of the chicken marketing board for chickens.

This formula would, as is the case now, be updated each quota period with current data on chick and feed costs.

The public has until Nov. 6 to submit comments to John Fitzgerald, marketing analyst for the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission at 1 Stone Road West, Guelph, N1G 4Y2 or john.fitzgerald@ontario.ca .

Last year the commission intervened to force the chicken board to reduce prices to reflect much better feed conversion rates that were being used.

One of the most significant improvements the commission could make is to change feed pricing from the current survey of feed mills to using transparent market prices for corn and soybeans as a proxy for feed costs.

That would eliminate any possibility of hanky lanky which seems to occur now, given the unusually higher price increases for poultry feed costs in the chicken pricing formula as compared with dairy, beef and hog rations. Poultry, beef, dairy and hog rations all use corn and soybean meal as the main ingredients. 

Milk madness

First it was grass-fed beef.

Now it's grass-fed milk.

Leslie Beck, who writes a Food For Thought column for the Globe and Mail, can't say enough good things in today's column about grass-fed milk.

I can understand that grass-fed beef could be significantly different from cattle finished on grain corn or barley in a feedlot.

But I have a hard time imagining there's a significant difference between milk from cows fed grass and those fed typical rations.

A typical ration will have plenty of hay and silage, either grass or corn silage.

And even dairy cows on grass pasture are going to be fed a grain supplement, else they won't produce enough milk to be profitable.

But it seems that today's wealthy consumers can be duped into believing anything is better than the normal fare.

Trade pact signed with South Korea

South Korean president Park Geun-hye was in Ottawa Monday to join Prime Minister Stephen Harper in signing the final text of a trade agreement.

Canadian beef and pork producers expect the deal will increase their markets in South Korea.

South Koreans expect it will increase sales of Hyundai and Kia cars in Canada.

Harper said the deal opens the door to other trade deals in the Pacific region. Canada has started direct trade talks with Japan and both are involved in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations that include the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam and other Asian nations.

Later this week European leaders will be in Ottawa to sign that trade agreement.