Thursday, June 30, 2016

Sobeys parent loses $900 million

Empire Company Ltd., owner of Sobeys supermarket chain, has declared a fourth-quarter loss of $912.6 million.
 A year ago it had a profit of $55.4 million for the same quarter.
It’s the purchase of the Safeway stores across Western Canada that accounted for the loss.
The loss for the whole year amounts to $2.13 billion compared with a profit of $419 million the previous fiscal year.
The company says one reason for the poor results is the declining economic climate in Alberta and Saskatchewan where there have been massive layoffs by oil companies.
Despite the gloomy results, the company increased its sales by $690 million to $24.6 billion, but the fiscal year had 53 weeks, one more than the previous fiscal year.
Sobeys is Canada’s second-largest supermarket chain. The largest is Loblaws which last year bought the Shoppers Drug Mart chain.

Mites, not pesticides, the major bee killer

Mites, not pesticides, including neonicitinoid seed-treatment pesticides, are the biggest killer of bee colonies, a professor from Dalhousie University told the House of Commons Agriculture Committee this week.

Habitat loss and poor beekeeping practices are other major threats, said Chris Cutler, an associate professor in the department of environmental sciences at Dalhousie and also a beekeeper.

Pesticides are, indeed, a major threat, he said, but another challenge is a lack of information on wild bees, which are vital to food production. There are about 1,000 bee species in Canada.

“In terms of their population dynamics and long-term community distributions and prevalence of different species, we know next to nothing about many of them,” Cutler said. 

“This is just another cautionary message about making blanket statements about all the bees being in decline. We actually lack a lot of data.”

He said the issue isn’t just limited to those outside the industry, but that beekeepers themselves need to better understand what’s happening.

“Education is the issue that needs to be really tackled among beekeepers,” he said. 

“You can have hives in the exact same location and half of them will live and half of them will die, and I won’t really be able to understand why.”

There’s a strong sense in the apiculture sector that “beekeeper extension work is key in terms of improving the health of honeybees across the country.”

Kevin Nixon, an Alberta beekeeper and chair of the Canadian Honey Council, said bee issues have received a lot of misleading media attention.

“Unfortunately, most of the media has not been willing to present all the factors affecting bee health, but is aimed at only a single factor, being pesticides,” Nixon said. “There are many factors affecting bee health.”

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Wind-power critics dismiss study

The critics of wind turbines are dismissing a provincial government study before it has been completed and published.

Jane Wilson of North Gower, president of Wind Concerns Ontario, says the Ontario Ministry for the Environment and Climate Change, is taking too narrow an approach to investigating the health impacts of noises from the turbines.

“In short, by relying on testing for audible noise only, and only testing outdoors, the MOECC is not getting the whole picture on the reason for the hundreds upon hundreds of noise complaints throughout rural Ontario.

“The real culprit appears to be low-frequency noise which is a ‘sensation’ for many people.

“We believe the MOECC needs to take residents' noise complaints seriously, act, and report publicly on what they do,
 Wilson says in an e-mail to Ontario Farmer.

“The MOECC persists in the standard of using one form of noise measurement, the dBA, while the acoustics industry and even the Government of Canada has said this is providing only part of the picture on noise emissions,” Wilson says.
In news release, the organization says “the process of confirming turbine compliance with regulations is convoluted and complex — people have lost trust in the Ontario government.
“For example, the Enbridge project near Kincardine began operation in late 2008 but there is still no report that confirms the turbines are compliant.
“The MOECC also relies on information from the power developers, and predicted modelling — not actual noise testing. This has resulted in a loss of faith in the Wynne government as a protector of public health.”

New pork grading proposed

Canada Pork International has a technology to measure pork quality and if it’s adopted, could make Canada a world leader in export markets.

The technology builds on a colour-measuring device that launched in 2012 and is now widely used by Canadian pork packers.

“We want to create an actual pork grading system that will give Canada the edge as an innovator and allow us to select the absolute best product for the right market,” said Michael Young, vice-president for technical programs and marketing services with Canada Pork International.

"There is no meat quality based grading system that I'm aware of in the world now.

Most grading systems that are out there are based on lean meat, basically the meat to bone ratio and lean meat.

"This would allow Canada, number one, to be first with a meat quality based selection system so we would be the first to have this and it would allow us to reduce inconsistencies in product quality and again get the right products to the right market.

"That's critical for supplying," said Young.

"The consistency of the quality is critical for our end user partners."

Young acknowledges the idea is still in its infancy but there is interest in the concept.

New non-neonic seed treatment launches

DuPont has a new corn seed treatment that is not a neonicitinoid.

DuPont Crop Protection announced Tuesday that the federal government’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency has granted approval for registration of DuPont™ Lumivia™ insecticide seed treatment.

The company says “Lumivia™ is a new seed treatment product for corn that delivers excellent broad spectrum pest protection and efficacy.
“It protects corn against early-season, below-ground insect pests such as wireworms and seed corn maggots, as well as foliage feeders including cutworms and armyworms.
“Lumivia™ is expected to be commercially available for the 2017 growing season.”

Kristin Hacault, seed treatment sales and marketing leader for DuPont Crop Protection Canada, said this new technology will help growers protect the genetic potential of their high-value seed corn.

"In Canada, Lumivia™ is the first insecticide seed treatment technology containing DuPont's active ingredient DuPont™ Rynaxypyr®, a novel, Group 28, anthranilic diamide insecticide," said Hacault. 

"It protects corn seedlings right from the start, supporting uniform, healthy stand establishment and early vigor for maximum yield potential."

Rynaxypyr®has minimal impact on beneficial insects and pollinators when applied according to the label. 

This selectivity, along with its robust control and favourable environmental profile, makes DuPont™ Lumivia™ a strong tool for Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programs.

Farmers need to seek mental health help

Farmers are among the most vulnerable when it comes to mental health, according to a new study from the University of Guelph.
Yet they are reluctant to seek medical help because of the stigma attached to fragile mental health.

Stress, anxiety, depression, emotional exhaustion and burnout are all higher among farmers than among other groups, early findings of the survey show.

As well, Canadian farmers are more stressed than those living and working elsewhere.

Prof. Andria Jones-Bitton, a professor in the Department of Population Medicine, analyzed more than 1,100 responses nationwide to an online stress and resilience survey, conducted on agricultural producers from September 2015 to this past January.

“Some of the producer comments leave little doubt about the impact their job and culture is having on them,” Jones-Bitton said.

“One said, ‘We are not invincible, but we feel we must be’. Another said, ‘What makes me the most upset is that I have everything I dreamed of – love, family and a farm – and all I feel is overwhelmed, out of control and sad.’”

The survey found 45 per cent of survey respondents had high stress. Another 58 per cent were classified with varying levels of anxiety, and 35 per cent with depression.

Overall, that’s two to four times higher than farmers studied in the United Kingdom and Norway, Jones-Bitton said.

Other signs of mental health problems revealed by the survey are equally concerning, she added.

For example, significant numbers of farmers had high levels of emotional exhaustion (38 per cent) and cynicism (43 per cent).

And resilience, popularly believed to be a strength among producers, is lower among two-thirds of the respondents than it is among a comparative U.S. population.

Indeed, in agriculture, a stigma is associated with mental health treatment, Jones-Bitton said.

So it follows that the survey showed 40 per cent of respondents said they’d feel uneasy getting professional help “because of what people might think.”

Another 31 per cent said seeking professional help could stigmatize a person’s life. Fewer than half believe there is adequate mental health support from the industry.

At the same time, more than three-quarters of those surveyed said professional mental services can be helpful in times of struggle, and almost as many said they would seek out such help.

Jones-Bitton sees that as good news. She is building a team of producers, industry representatives, veterinarians and mental health professionals to create, deliver and evaluate a mental health literacy training program for farmers.

This program would train people to recognize and respond to mental distress, and reduce stigma around mental health issues in Ontario’s agricultural sector.

“We need to do something,” she says. “Farmers want help, and we’re going to find ways for them to receive it.”

Jones-Bitton and the Ontario Veterinary College AWAR2E group – an acronym for Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Research and Education — started out studying mental health among veterinarians. The scope grew as it became clear producers also had issues.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Mexico lifts ban on Canadian beef

Mexico has lifted the ban in imposed on Canadian beef in 2003 after an Alberta cow died of Bovine Spongiform Enchephalopathy (BSE, or mad cow’s disease).

Mexico is one of the last countries to maintain the ban.

Canada, in turn, has lifted its requirement that all Mexican visitors obtain a visa before being allowed into Canada.

"This move will make it easier for our Mexican friends to visit Canada, while growing our local economies and strengthening our communities," said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The policy had been imposed by the previous Conservative government to stem the flow of asylum claims from Mexico which nearly tripled from 2005 to 2008, when Mexicans accounted for more than 25 per cent of all refugee claims filed in Canada.

The Canadian Meat Council and the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association welcomed the announcement.

“Averaging more than $130 million annually during the past five years, Mexico has ranked consistently as one of Canada’s top three export markets for beef and veal products,” said Canadian Meat Council Executive Director Jim Laws. 

“Nevertheless, the Mexican market has been closed to Canadian beef products derived from animals 30 months and older as well as for ground meat and several specialty meats. Today’s announcement will allow trade to resume for all beef and veal products,” Laws said.

“The full normalization of trade in beef products with Mexico has been a high priority for the Canadian beef industry” said Canadian Meat Council President Joe Reda.

It is estimated that the resumption, effective October 1, of full access for beef and veal products to the Mexican market will result in an increase of $10 million a year in revenues for farmers and meat packers. 

The increase comes from anticipated price increases because Mexico will be paying more than the current Canadian price for the beef it imports.

Dan Darling, president of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, said the timing is particularly welcome because fall is when most ranchers cull their cow herd and now there will be improved market demand for those older than 30 months.

Monday, June 27, 2016

NDP proposal for GMO labeling

Now that the United States Senate has passed a bill setting out GMO labeling standards, it’s time for the Canadian Parliament to grapple with the same issue.

NDP MP Pierre-Luc Duseault of Quebec has introduced a bill, but unlike the voluntary approach in the United States, his bill would make GMO labeling mandatory.
He has support from the Organic Council of Ontario whose chairman, Tom Manley, said that if genetic engineering is such a good idea, then food companies should be glad to put it on their labels.

But opponents say there is no health or safety reason to label GMO ingredients in foods because they are no different than other ingredients that have not been genetically engineered. 
Indeed, one of the Health Canada requirements is that GMO crops be equivalent in nutrition and safety.

I think it would make just as much sense to require that ingredients be labeled a grown with the help of sunshine and rain.
Canada Organic Trade Association spokesperson Tia Loftsgard says they’re working with the MP to ensure the proper wording is used in the bill to reflect the need for mandatory labelling of genetically engineered ingredients.

Purdue sets chicken welfare standards

Purdue Farms is setting high standards for chicken welfare, claiming the high ground in the North American market.

The list of changes it announced Monday will no doubt challenge the chicken supply-management industry in Canada, particularly since it has the power to force a nation-wide standard.

Purdue said it will improve care for birds on its farms, trucks and slaughterhouses, from installing windows in 200 barns within the next18 months to using controlled-atmosphere stunning before unloading chickens at processing plants.

Animal activist groups, such as Mercy for Animals, are praising Purdue and challenging others to match it.

Perdue said it will adopt controlled atmosphere stunning at all of its slaughterhouses and stop shackling them. This means the birds will be rendered unconscious before being unloaded. 

Perdue uses this method at one of its turkey plants, will be using it at one of its chicken plants by the end of 2017, and will apply it at all of its plant over the next several years, company officials said.

Purdue has windows in its organic-standard barns and said it will add 200 of its other barns by the end of next year to provide birds natural light. It will also add “enrichments” such as hay bales and perches,  and provide more space per bird.

The company also said it will start to test slow-growing birds to determine impacts on animal welfare and product quality.

Perdue Farms, already about 14 years into efforts to remove antibiotics entirely from its products, is effectively transferring practices it has learned from organic chicken production, which it began five years ago after its acquisition of Coleman Natural Foods. 

Those have included feeding more probiotics and natural herbs such as oregano and thyme to strengthen the birds’ immune systems, allowing natural light to prompt activity, and providing play apparatuses, among other things.

“We would have said we were doing a pretty good job taking care of chickens based on their needs, but once you look at organic husbandry and understand it … you realize there’s more to it than just those needs,” Dr. Bruce Stewart-Brown, Perdue’s senior vice president of food safety and quality, said today in a news teleconference.

On transparency, chairman Jim Perdue said “we expect people to hold us accountable. This is going to be a long-term process, and we think it’s important that people know exactly what we’re doing on this journey.”

Mercy For Animals president Nathan Runkle said in a statement for news media that “it’s now time for Tyson, Foster Farms, and others to stop dragging their feet and reduce the needless pain and suffering animals endure on factory farms and in slaughterhouses.”

Horsemeat found in hamburgers

CBC reports that horsemeat has been detected in hamburger marketed by Maison du Rôti at Plateau-Mont-Royal in Montreal.

Its report is based on an analysis of samples it submitted to a lab at Trent University in Peterborough.
DNA testing found that the beef patties, marketed as entirely made of beef by Maison du Rôti, contained between 37 and 46 per cent horse meat. Radio-Canada tested beef patties bought on May 9 and May 16, 2016.
Beef accounted for about 38 to 53 per cent of the patty, and pork made up anywhere between seven and 18 per cent.

Based on the CBC report, the Humane Society of Canada to call for a ban on horsemeat slaughter.

No plant is certified to slaughter horses in the United States, so most of their horses are slaughtered at Canadian plants in Alberta and Quebec.

CBC says Maison du Roti supplies about 400 customers which are hotels, restaurants and in the foodservice sector.

It is a violation of federal and provincial government regulations to market meat that is improperly labelled.

Visas for beef deal with Mexico

It seems likely that Mexico will lift its ban on Canadian beef this week in return for Canada lifting its visa requirement for Mexican visitors.
Mexico banned Canadian beef in May, 2003, after the first case of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE, or mad cow’s disease) was confirmed in Alberta.

Most other countries have lifted their ban on Canadian beef from cattle younger than 30 months.

Mexico has been Canada’s third-largest buyer of beef.

Ironically, Canadian beef prices that were plunged to huge loss levels for farmers in 2003 are now near a long-term peak as supplies are tight.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Crow writes seven-generations farm history

Marilynn Crow has written a book about the seven generations that have farmed in Puslinch Township, between Guelph and Cambridge, beginning with those who cut fields out of the forest to her husband, Bill, who has exported purebred pigs around the world. 

It’s titled “To the Seventh Generation: The evolution of the family farm in Canada 1823-2015”.

She has done a thorough job of researching the earliest settlers and their descendants, including many neighbours of Ardyne Farm, which backs on Highway 401 near Highway 6 that runs between Hamilton and Guelph.

She and Bill recently built a retirement home on the farm and have stocked it with furniture and memorabilia saved by ancestors. 

The book will obviously be of interest to Puslinch Township and Wellington County farmers, but there is much that will resonate with any Ontario family that has been farming here for more than two generations.

Copies can be ordered from Marilynn at .

Friday, June 24, 2016

New hatchery coming in Woodstock

Sargent Farms and Boire & Freres of Quebec will be building a new hatchery in Woodstock.

We are pleased to see this kind of investment in hatchery capacity and infrastructure in the Ontario chicken industry value chain,” said Henry Zantingh, chairman of Chicken Farmers of Ontario.

Our chicken farmers have a strong relationship with their local hatcheries and depend heavily on the quality and service we receive from our chick suppliers in order to ensure that our production meets the evolving needs of our customers and our consumers.”

Chicken board president and chief executive officer Rob Dougans said Ontario’s chicken industry has been experiencing significant growth over recent years, and CFO has been working to ensure that all stakeholders including chicken farmers, chicken processors and hatcheries understand the importance of meeting local consumer markets by continuously improving our business standards, assets and production practices.

The introduction of a new modern hatchery to the Ontario system will further enable the quality, service, flexibility, and sustainability of the Ontario chick supply.”

The new hatchery, called Thames River Hatchery, is expected to be open by the third quarter of 2017.

It costs about $10 million and will have an initial capacity of 20 million chicks per year.

CFO farmer-members are expected to grow almost 220 million chickens this year.

Finisher barn in Waterloo Region has PED

A finisher barn in the Waterloo Region has had an outbreak of Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus this week. It’s the 98th case in Ontario since the first one in January, 2015.

It came just as the Ontario Pork marketing board posted a caution on its website to remain at high biosecurity, despite the hot weather.

The virus thrives in cold weather and can usually die in temperatures in the low 20s.

Brexit will impact Canadian exporters

Canadian food exporters, especially cheese exporters, face an uncertain future with sales to the United Kingdom following its vote to pull out of the European Union.

All hopes of increasing exports to the United Kingdom as a result of the free trade agreement Canada reached last year with the European Union are also now in question.

There will no doubt be tough negotiations with the Brits to maintain Canadian exports. It has always been Canada’s chief agriculture market in Europe.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

U.S. Senate has a GMO bill

The United States Senate has a bill that would regulate labelling of foods containing genetically-modified crops.
It still faces a few hurdles before it becomes law, such as meshing it with a different bill passed by the House of Representatives
Nor will it undo the Vermont legislation, the first in the nation to make GMO labelling compulsory.

But no other states will be allowed to pass GMO labelling legislation and regulations, meaning food-processing companies will have one set of standards to follow for distribution and sales.

Unless we act now, Vermont law denigrating biotechnology and causing confusion in the marketplace is the law of the land,” Republican Senator Pat Roberts from Kansas who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, said in a prepared statement.

Our marketplace--both consumers and producers--needs a national biotechnology standard to avoid chaos in interstate commerce,” Roberts said.

The Vermont law takes effect July 1, which has been a looming deadline for months for food manufacturers and lawmakers.

As many consumer groups advocated, the proposed Senate bill would require food manufacturers to say if a food contains genetically modified ingredients. However, consumers who are concerned about GMOs may have to do some extra sleuthing when they read a product’s label, which can disclose the GM foods through text, a symbol, website link or QR code.

There are a few exceptions to the labeling proposal. Foods that consist primarily of beef, poultry, pork or eggs would not be required to have a GM label, even if they ate GM corn or soybeans. “The legislation prohibits the Secretary of Agriculture from considering any food product derived from an animal to be bioengineered solely because the animal may have eaten bioengineered feed,” the Senate statement noted.

The bill also does not apply to foods created with emerging gene editing technologies such as CRISPR, but rather focuses on foods that have been developed through conventional recombinant DNA techniques.

Liberals stall the decline in foreign workers

The Liberal government is stalling a planned reduction in the number of temporary foreign workers employers can import.

Ron Davidson, speaking for the Canadian Meat Council, welcomed the decision, but said it does not solve the problem of chronic shortages of workers willing and able to take jobs in packing plants.

The Harper administration put a 20 per cent cap on the number of jobs a company can fill with temporary foreign workers and that was scheduled to decline July 1 to 10 per cent. The Liberals are holding it at 20 per cent, awaiting their review of the whole program.

Labour Minister MaryAnn Mihychuk said the controversial temporary foreign worker program needs an overhaul and will announce her plan for more changes later this year.
"I believe this is a prudent step to take as we work to develop a better temporary foreign worker policy and fix some of the problems with the program that emerged under the previous government," Mihychuk said in a statement Thursday.
The previous Conservative government started phasing in a cap on low-wage temporary foreign workers — low-skilled employees paid less than the provincial or territorial median hourly wage — in June 2014, as part of reforms that also included disallowing use of the program in regions of Canada with high unemployment rates.
Those changes followed a series of controversies dogging the program, including reports of fast-food franchise restaurants favouring temporary foreign workers over local employees.
Employers who first began hiring low-wage temporary foreign workers before the cap came into effect will still be able to use it for 20 per cent of their workforce.
Those who started using the program after that point, or who are hiring temporary foreign workers for the first time, are subject to a 10-per-cent cap.
All the other program requirements — including having employers ensuring that Canadians and permanent residents have the first opportunities to apply for available jobs — will remain in place while the cap is frozen.

These changes do not apply to the seasonal foreign worker program many farmers use.

Spray extends fruit freshness

CBC reports that Jay Subramanian and his team of scientists at the University of Guelph has developed a spray that can extend the shelf life of fresh fruits by up to 50 per cent.

The spray uses a nanotechnology-based application of hexanal, a natural plant extract that prevents fruit spoilage. 

"Before [fruit] rot, they start to shrivel. The shrivelling is the way fruit shows its age," said Subramanian, a professor of plant agriculture at the Ontario Agriculture College.

The hexanal inhibits the enzyme that breaks down cell walls, which causes shriveling and rot, Subramanian explained.

"Once the walls are protected, the cells are intact and so the whole fruit stays intact," he said, meaning the fruit stays fresh longer.
The product is applied one and two weeks before the fruit is harvested. Alternatively, fruit can be dipped into the solution after harvest, then gently washed off.

The result is fruit that lasts up to 50 per cent longer after harvest, Subramanian said. Mangoes, he said, keep fresh for up to 23 days, bananas for up to 40 days and peaches and nectarines – which normally only keep fresh for a week – can see their shelf life extended for another 10 days.

Egg agency claims good environmental performance

The Egg Farmers of Canada national marketing agency claims it’s doing a good job of environmental stewardship.

A study done for EFC suggests the environmental footprint of the country’s egg production supply chain declined by almost 50 per cent from 1962 to 2012.

The study also indicates that the farm gate impact for eggs produced in conventional housing systems dropped by a third.
Tim Lambert, chief executive officer for the agency, says the egg industry’s impact on the environment declined even as production increased by more than 50 per cent.

One of the biggest factors is a change in feed rations; others are improved health and productivity.

Farm technology company raising $11 million

Resson Aerospace Corp. has raised $11 million US for research into technology that will improve farming, especially under drought conditions.

Resson works out of a National Research Council laboratory in New Brunswick. It raised $3 million in a previous round of funding.
This time it’s backed by a number of venture-capital firms and will use the money for research and development, to build sales operations and to open an office in San Jose, Calif., hoping both to partner with Californian agricultural universities and to leverage its technology to assist with the state’s drought problems

This is truly global,” said Jeff Grammer, Resson’s executive chairman and an early investor through his firm Rho Canada Ventures. “If you look at McCain (Foods Ltd.), they basically have potato acreage worldwide. They’re looking at this as a much wider program than just New Brunswick.”
The $11-million figure, worth about $14-million Canadian, would make the deal one of the biggest early-stage funding rounds in the Atlantic region since the financial crisis, according to data provided by Thomson Reuters.
Contributing to this round are Rho Canada, McCain, Halifax’s Build Ventures, Saint John’s East Valley Ventures, the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation, BDC Capital, and lead investor Monsanto Growth Ventures, the venture-capital arm of seed company Monsanto.
We were quite impressed by the drive that they have, the uniqueness of what they’re trying to do, and the level of sophistication they’re trying to get to,” McCain chief executive officer Dirk Van de Put told The Globe and Mail.
Using photos of crops – from tractor cameras, drones or satellite imagery – the company has developed image-processing technology that, combined with ground-sensor data, uses large-scale cloud-based data processing to help farmers assess crop production and field conditions. “Using their algorithms on the imaging side and what’s happening in the dirt itself, they’re able to do predictive analytics,” Mr. Grammer said. “It helps a farmer understand what diseases could be coming to their farms.”

Eventually, he said, the technology could be harvested to help farmers achieve maximum return on investment for their businesses, such as by helping farmers figure out how much water or herbicide they should use on a given field.