Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Schmidt tangles with health unit – again

York Region Health Unit is apparently ready to re-ignite the raw-milk issue with dairy farmer Michael Schmidt.

The health unit’s inspectors tried to seize a van full of milk Schmidt was delivering to members of his “collective” farm in Maple, north of Toronto.

Schmidt objected and they then came with a search warrant, but instead of seizing all the milk, they took a few samples.

Schmidt told CBC News that “we are definitely prepared to not back down.”

In 2011 he faced 13 charges under the Ontario Health Protection and Promotion Act and the Milk Act, was convicted and fined $9,150.

He appealed up through the court system until August when the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear his appeal of his conviction.

The health units are concerned that unpasteurized milk contains bacteria that could sicken people.

Schmidt says there is no proof that anybody has been sickened as a result of consuming milk from the cows at the “collective” farm he operates.

He set up the “collective” so bout 120 people taking delivery of milk “own” the cows that produce the milk.

If they were to buy milk from cows owned by Schmidt, there would be an issue with the supply-management system that requires farmers to hold quota under the Dairy Farmers of Ontario milk marketing board.

Schmidt told CKNX News in Wingham that surveillance cameras have been set up near his farm and he wonders whether there is a connection between that and the events at Maple this week.

He said so far no charges have been laid and he wonders who might be charged, given that there are 120 members involved in the dairy operation.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Pork board’s flagging public concerns

The Ontario Pork marketing board is flagging the issues that the public has been raising about pork production.

Board chair Amy Cronin introduced two speakers who highlighted social responsibilities for 60 pork-industry delegates who met in Cambridge earlier this week.

Dan Tish of Argyle PR and Michele Roy of Groupe Ageco delivered a joint presentation on social responsibility, which was the focus of the day.

Dr. Leigh Rosengren, chief executive officer for Rosengren Epidemiology Consulting talked about antibiotics and what producers can do to make improvements and mitigate antimicrobial resistance.  

Christoph Wand, Livestock Sustainability Specialist at the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, talked about environmental government policies and how pork producers can improve on-farm practices and prepare for upcoming changes and regulations.

Peter Seeman from Grassroots Public Affairs provided information on government policies.  
The board says on its website that there was lively discussion throughout the day and that a summary report will be posted on the Ontario Pork website.

The news media and public were not invited to the discussions.

While the hog-farming leaders were meeting, DuBreton of Quebec was talking to CBC news about it's plans to significantly increase its processing of hogs raised to organic and animal welfare standards.

It's already the largest organic pork supplier in North America and is investing $30 million in its own barns and to help its suppliers meet consumer demands, such as conversion of stabling.

DuBreton looking for more organic pork

DuBreton says it intends to substantially increase its organic pork processing at its plant at Riviere-du-Loup, Quebec.
It buys a substantial volume of hogs from Ontario, including from Mennonites in the Milverton area who were organized by veterinarian Marty Misener, linked with a purebred supplier and coached on housing and management to meet DuBreton’s standards.
CBC news reports that DuBreton’s expansion plans have “the potential of opening up a new, growing market for hundreds of family farms.”
"As a family company, it's hard to compete against the big, international pork producers," said DuBreton presiudent Vincent Breton.
“We knew we had to do things differently. We saw that consumers have an interest in where the product comes from and how animals are raised."
The plan is to raise an additional 300,000 market hogs over the next three years to meet the certified organic and certified humanely raised criteria. DuBretont is already the largest producer and processor of organic and natural pork in North America.
Breton said the company will invest $30 million over the next three years to meet its target, including new pens on its own farms and working with family farmers to upgrade their facilities. Breton said he works with about 300 farmers in Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada.
The company is negotiating with Longo's in Ontario for shelf space for  its certified organic and humanely raised products and aims to generate interest in the humanely raised product across Canada.
Breton says the consumer market for the product is only just developing.
"The reason why is that it's quite expensive to go humanely raised and organic. You have to have time and commitment to make the investment."            

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Fonterra is stockpiling product

Fonterra Cooperative Group Ltd. of New Zealand is stockpiling dairy products in an effort to curb the rapid slide in prices.

It is holding products off the auction, but many wonder how long Fonterra can continue to do that.

China is one of the company’s biggest customers and turmoil in the Chinese stock market has reduced demand.

The New Zealand currency has fallen 19 per cent and the government has cut interest rates three times this summer in an effort to ride out Fonterra’s challenges.

Fonterra has monopoly on New Zealand’s dairy exports which are the mainstay of the national economy.

Fontera and New Zealand are lobbying hard for a reduction in Canadian and U.S. dairy-product tariffs so they can capture a bigger slice of those markets.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Mosaic cutting potash production

Mosaic Co. is cutting potash production at one of its Saskatchewan mines because it deems prices too low.

This is surely another case of agriculture-industry supply management.

Mosaic is one of three members of a cartel that managed potash export marketing from Saskatchewan. The others are Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan and Agrium.

Mosaic says in a news release that it will reduce output at its Colonsay mine by extending maintenance downtime.

It also plans to continue slower production in its phosphates business.

The company says the move is primarily because of delayed fertilizer purchases in Brazil and North America.

It says a volatile dollar, lower grain and oilseed prices, political and economic uncertainty, along with global equity market declines, have weakened prices.

Mosaic president and chief executive officer Joc O'Rourke says the long-term outlook for crop nutrient demand remains positive, but near-term challenges mean production and costs must be controlled.

Keep posted for the other two cartel members to announce similar cut-backs.

Parnell, the peanut guy, gets 23 years in prison

Stewart Parnell of Georgia has been sentenced to 28 years in prison because his peanut-butter customers got sick. He's 61.

Parnell ran a filthy operation and lied to investigators.

Nine people died and 714 who got ill had their food poisoning traced to Parnell’s operation.

Parnell’s sentence is the stiffest ever in the United States for food poisoning, but in China offenders have been executed.

Brother Michael Parnell got 20 years and assurance manager Mary Wilkerson got five.

Here in Canada, no executives have gone for jail despite a number of sensational food-poisoning outbreaks.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Chicken board rolls out niche-market program

Chicken Farmers of Ontario rolled out yet another program to address consumer demand for special chicken products, the third new program this year.

It's now obvious that the board is serious about meeting market demand. I've been critical of the board for decades, but now coming to realize that its future depends on satisfying customers.

The board says this one will ‘help fill evolving consumer demand for local Ontario chicken in niche markets and support smaller-scale commercial farmers looking for more growing options.”

It will, however, be open only to quota holders with between 1,000 and 10,000 units. That means the program is for farmers who have quota worth more than $250,000.

While that may seem greedy, it is, in fact, practical in that these are the farmers who have serious investments in the business.

The board says on its website that "the Local Niche Markets Program will allow chicken farmers to grow between 6,000 and 60,000 chickens annually targeted at a well-defined discrete and distinct local market through various means including geographic identification, marketing channels, products, brands, and/or business approaches."

For those not in the new programs, the current minimum number of production quotas units required to begin commercial chicken farming in Ontario is 14,000.
The Local Niche Markets program is intended to support those consumer markets in Ontario which are looking for new ways to access larger volumes of locally or regionally grown chicken, the board says;

"Our goal is to continue to ensure that evolving markets of all kinds are supported by well designed and well-regulated programs that are flexible enough to meet the ever changing needs of both Ontario  farmers and consumers," said board chairman Henry Zantingh.

“CFO continues to find new ways to respond to and support our Ontario consumers," said Rob Dougans, president and chief executive officer of the chicken board.

The Local Niche Markets Program fits between the Artisanal Chicken program, through which farmers can grow between 600 and 3000 birds per year without holding quota, and the new program open only to quota holders.

Production rights for the new growth programs will be supplied from a percentage of the future growth allocated to the Ontario market by the national Chicken Farmers of Canada agency.

The board also allows quota anybody, including quota holders, to grow birds to feed their family and recently introduced a Specialty Breeds Chicken Program, mainly aimed at filling demand from Asians living in Canada.

In addition to the Local Niche Markets Program the CFO Board also announced that it has revised its New Entrant Farmer and New Entrant Processor programs so both have more opportunity to take advantage of this new niche-markets program.

TPP meeting this week in Atlanta

The Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiators are meeting in Atlanta this week and hope to have a deal by Oct. 2.

The key issue, negotiators say, is an automobile trade agreement between the United States and Japan.

While these negotiations carry a threat of significant tariff cuts for Canadian dairy and poultry sectors, Quebec’s dairy farmers are focused on imports of U.S. milk for processing at Canadian plants that then export the products.

This trade has been steadily increasing and even though the terms call for none of the processed products to remain in Canada, Quebec’s dairy farmers are planning a major demonstration in Montreal to pressure politicians to put a stop to the program.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Avian flu pressures egg, turkey prices in the U.S.

Restaurants and retailers are facing a shortage of turkey-breast meat, with prices at a record high, reports Bloomberg News.

Avian influenza is to blame. The virus resulted in death or culling of eight million turkey, reducing slaughter to the lowest total in 15 years.

But there will be enough frozen hens to meet Thanksgiving demand, say industry people quoted by Bloomberg.

Hormel Foods Corp. said last week sales volumes at its Jennie-O Turkey Store will be down by 20 percent in the second half because of the flu.

Jersey Mike’s Subs, a franchise chain with more than 1,500 stores in 40 states, is carrying signs apologizing for being out of turkey.

The egg industry is short of supplies, especially for processing because multi-million-bird farms in Iowa that fed those plants have been wiped out. Iowa’s total egg production dropped by 40 per cent and retail egg prices have soared.

Wholesale prices for fresh turkey breasts increased by Monday to a record high of $5.70 a pound, up by 41 per cent from a year ago. That’s still far less than in the supply-managed turkey markets in Canada.
Prices for frozen turkeys are up 17 percent at $1.36 a pound, also a U.S. record.

“The prices for turkey-breast meat are so far above the previous record, it could be that some suppliers aren’t willing to pay enough to get it,” said Tom Elam, the Carmel, Indiana- based president of consulting firm FarmEcon LLC.

About two-thirds of the nation’s flock are raised for breast meat from toms that can weigh up to 50 pounds (22.7 kilograms), according to Elam.

It was those birds, rather than the smaller hens popular for Thanksgiving, that were disproportionately affected by the outbreak, he said.

Frozen whole hens are as plentiful as they were last year, said Keith Williams, a spokesman for the National Turkey Federation. Butterball LLC, the largest U.S. supplier, said it expects to meet all of its whole-bird orders for Thanksgiving.

It’s been months since the outbreak peaked, but the after-effects are still very real.

Affected farms are taking up to 12 weeks to return to normal following culls and the disinfecting. Getting production back to normal could take a year, Whitman said.

Domestic output will drop by 8.7 percent to 1.35 billion pounds (612,000 metric tons) in the third quarter, the lowest for the period since 2000, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Production was also down last year to the lowest since 2010 after high feed costs stymied profits.

Finding enough poults to repopulate barns is now a problem, Whitman said. Turkey eggs in incubators at the start of September were down 15 percent from a year earlier, USDA data shows.

Bird flu could soon return as the weather gets colder. The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service on Tuesday sent out training materials to prepare turkey farmers.
Josie Capozzi, a spokeswoman for Jersey Mike’s sub chain, said chicken took pressure off the demand for turkey.
The chain introduced the Oven Roasted Chicken Club sub.

“It took a lot of pressure off of turkey, selling chicken,” said Dan Shanahan, the company’s Chicago area director.

Global companies highlight world hunger

Global companies such as McDonald's Restaurants, McCain Foods and Mastercard are sponsoring advertising to draw attention to global hunger and the United Nations’ World Food Programme.

“As the world’s refugee crisis grows and humanitarian resources are stretched, this multi-industry effort championed first by McDonald’s represents a powerful, tangible way for people to make a real difference toward peace and support refugees and displaced people struggling daily to feed their families,” says a news release from the World Food Programme.

“Supporting companies include Burger King, Cargill, DreamWorks Animation, Facebook, Google, MasterCard, McCain, McDonald’s, OMD, Twitter, TBWA and United Airlines. 

“Today is about people coming together across regions and cultures to take action for a hunger-free and peaceful world,” said WFP executive director Ertharin Cousin.

“Food assistance plays a powerful role in times of conflict by saving lives and alleviating suffering.

“Food brings and keeps families together.

“Food security gives families hope during desperate times while eliminating the need for families to resort to extreme and harmful measures as the only option for survival,” he said.

Several companies are using donated media and social channels on the internet and television highlighting a 30-second WFP-branded commercial called “Symbols.”

TBWA developed the creative for the commercial with funds provided by McDonald’s.

The commercial highlights the connection between war and hunger, the magnitude of current needs and how a donation to WFP can make a difference.

Many of the companies are also supporting the effort by amplifying the message from their social media pages with related artwork including a call to support affected families by donating to WFP, the agency says.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Ethical meat retailers hit ethical challenges

The leading U.S. food retailers who stake their claims on ethics are having difficulty finding farmers who live up to the image they’re marketing.

Whole Food Markets is on the hot seat after one of its pork suppliers in the Lancaster area of Pennsylvania was found out radically changing operations from the video Whole Foods uses in marketing.

And Chipotle restaurant chain had so much trouble sourcing antibiotic-free pork that it turned to a supplier in England. Now it turns out that the supplier uses antibiotics, albeit not as a growth promotant.

Whole Foods’ video shows chickens, cows and hogs roaming fields. However, the farmer has dropped everything else to concentrate on pigs, has built four hooped structures and has increased his herd from 80 to 3,000 sows.

They no longer roam outdoor pastures, although the owner told reporters he hopes to soon do that.

Whole Foods is standing behind its supplier, probably because there’s nobody else who could fill in if his pork supply is cut off.

The demand for organics has increased by 11 per cent again this year, but while that’s more or less the normal annual increase, it’s now coming on top of a much larger volume.

There are also signs that egg suppliers are having difficulty meeting cage-free standards.

The widespread promises to buy only hogs from farms that no longer use sow gestation crates will begin to bite in 2017 and hog farmers whose profit margins are being squeezed – some to the point of losses – will be hard-pressed to find the funds to finance sow housing that will meet their customers’ public promises.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

OFA wants rural money, study says it’s needed

The Ontario Federation of Agriculture is letting rural communities know they could apply for a share of $15 billion of Ontario investments in infrastructure outside of the Toronto area.

And on the same day, the University of Guelph issued a news release about a report by three of its professors who say rural Canadians have been neglected and “it’s time to reinvest in rural Canada.”

 “Without question, we’ve been ignoring rural Canada,” said Al Lauzon, a professor in the School of Environmental Design and Rural Development (SEDRD), who helped write the “State of Rural Canada” report. SEDRD professors Wayne Caldwell and David Douglas are also authors.

The report was produced by the Canadian Rural Revitalization Foundation (CRRF) and the Rural Policy Learning Commons, an international network funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

The study – issued during the Building Community Resilience conference in Summerside, P.E.I. – is intended for policy-makers seeking to better understand and work with rural regions and people. “We also hope it will help get rural on the federal election agenda,” said Lauzon, who is the president of CRRF.

The Ontario Federation of Agriculture’s news release says “there are endless ways for how and where this $15 billion dollar investment should be divided to build up communities all across the province.

“OFA’s formal submission to the Ministry of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure contains two key parts -- four guiding principles for any new infrastructure project, and OFA’s specific recommendations for how the dollars should be allocated outside the GTHA.

 “The four guiding principles are: minimize the loss of prime agricultural land, ensure rural Ontario businesses and farms have access to comparable services and infrastructure as their urban counterparts, use the proceeds from the sale of Hydro One to fund infrastructure in rural communities, and consider the needs of modern agricultural equipment with transportation infrastructure.

“We believe these important principles should be addressed with any new infrastructure funding program, ensuring agriculture does not pay the cost for community improvements.”

Rural Canada is vital to the nation’s economy, the university report says, citing food production, resource extraction, energy generation, clean water and air, and carbon sequestration.

But Canada has run down capital invested earlier in rural regions and has allowed community development to erode, the report says. Rural areas have also taken a back seat in policy development.
“Fundamentally, we have forgotten to invest in rural areas and small towns,” Lauzon said.

“We have work to do, at all levels, if we want a sustainable future for rural Canada in the 21st century.”
Challenges in rural Canada include an aging population, workforce shortages, and gaps in human and financial capital, says the report.

But rural Canada responds in innovative ways to low-cost global competition, and is addressing such issues as sustainability, food security, and balancing resource development and economic diversification.

Rural communities are re-imagining themselves to fit new aspirations and service needs, and they lead in reconciliation and wealth-sharing with aboriginal communities.

“There is a lot to learn from rural Canada,” Lauzon said. “People often forget how rural communities and regions contribute economically and culturally to Canada.