Monday, April 30, 2018

Allan Dawson wins a big award

Allan Dawson, a veteran reporter for the Manitoba Cooperator newspaper, has won a prestigious U.S. award.

Manitoba Co-operator reporter Allan Dawson (r) placed first in the “news” category of the North American Agricultural Journalists’ (NAAJ) 2017 writing contest. He received the award from NAAJ president and 
Western Producer reporter/analyst Ed White April 9 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

And John Morriss, retired publisher and veteran reporter and editor for the Manitoba Cooperator, is going to be inducted into the Manitoba Agriculture Hall of Fame in June.

I am honoured to call them both friends.

Hutterites face $15-million food-poisoning lawsuit

An Edmonton law firm has filed a $15 million class action lawsuit against a Hutterite colony that markets pork at the Meat Shop of Pine Haven.

James H. Brown & Associates filed the lawsuit after at least 36 people fell ill, 11 were hospitalized and one died of E. coli 0157:H7 food poisoning.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency traced the pork products to the Pine Haven Hutterite colony, 12 kilometres southeast of Wetaskiwin. It sells from a retail shop on the colony and also distributed to at least four retail outlets involved in the recall.

The lawsuit is on behalf of people who suffered damages as a result of buying or consuming pork products that may have been contaminated with E. coli, the firm said.

Among other things, the statement of claim alleges that Pine Haven was negligent with its quality control, monitoring, processing, storage, distribution and sale of the recalled pork.

It also states the company failed to recall all of its tainted pork immediately upon learning that customers were becoming sick.

BASF buys more Bayer assets

BASF is paying about $2.65 billion to buy more assets from Bayer, including seed treatments Poncho, LLeVO, VOTIVO and CoPeO.

In October it bought Bayer’s LibertyLink technology package.

In this deal, it also gets Bayer’s Nunhems global vegetable seeds business, its Xarvio digital farming platform, its hybrid wheat research and development program, its canola-quality juncea research, some non-selective herbicide and nematicide research, its oilseed rape business in Australia and some glyphosate-based herbicides used mainly for industrial applications in Europe.

Bayer had to sell some of these assets to win approval for its takeover of Monsanto.

Sargent Farms revamping Milton plant

Sargent Farms is investing $10 million to upgrade its halal chicken processing facility at Milton.

It plans to replace all of its equipment over the next three years, primarily during off hours, reports Food in Canada magazine.

The same article says Boire & Frères Inc. of Quebec is a partner with Sargent Farms in the new $15-million Thames River hatchery at Woodstock.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Nutrien lays off 1,300 employees

Nutrien Ltd. is laying off 1,300 employees at two potash mines in Saskatchewan, partly because the railways haven’t been able to deliver to export ports.

The length of the layoffs might be only a few days or weeks, but depends on whether Canadian Pacific’s unionized employees go on strike and how long the strike lasts.

Nutrien is the combination of Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan, which is the world’s largest potash producer, and Agrium, the world’s largest fertilizer retailer.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Bavarian meat shop loses licence

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has suspended the operating licence of Bavarian Link Meat Products Limited of North Bay.

“The licence was suspended because the operator failed to meet regulatory requirements as required by the Meat Inspection Regulations, 1990.” said in an online notice.
There is no recall associated with this suspension.

One dead, 11 in hospital

One person has died, 11 are in hospital and lab results indicate that 36 people have been sickened with E. coli 0157:H7 food poisoning after consuming raw pork.

The Meat Shop in Pine Haven is the source of the food-poisoning outbreak in the Edmonton area.

Alberta Health Services said some of the contaminated pork was by K&K Foodliner and by Irvings Farm Fresh of Edmonton.

The public is at least getting information from Alberta Health Services which is more than you can say for Public Health Canada.

Stein banned from owning pigs

The son of a famous purebred hog breeder has been banned from owning pigs after being convicted of animal cruelty.

Ben Stein, 28, and one of the heirs to Thames Bend Farms of Tavistock, was found guilty of allowing more than 1,000 pigs to starve in a manure-filled barn.
The sentence came Thursday after Stein pleaded guilty in January to four counts of animal cruelty:
  • permitting an animal to be in distress;
  • failing to provide adequate and appropriate sanitary conditions;
  • failing to provide adequate and appropriate ventilation, and
  • failing to provide adequate and appropriate medical attention.

The charges stemmed from an investigation in February, 2017.

Dairy doom looms

The Canadian dairy farmers who need current incomes are facing doom.

It's highly likely that the negotiators will reach a deal on the North American Free Trade Agreement and that the deal will force dairy farmers to take a cut in pay.

The cut could come in several ways.

One way would be an increase in the volume of imports that are allowed at relatively low tariff rates.

Another way would be the loss of exports to the United States,  especially products made from the new Class 7 price category.

A third way would be the loss of quota value.

And then there's the likelihood that the whole Class 7 setup will be put to a World Trade Organization complaint where Canadians would lose because the creation of this new class would be deemed an attempt to raise a new impediment to trade.

Canada previously lost a World Trade Organization case over pricing dairy products for export at the lower prevailing world price. It was deemed to be cross subsidization, using high prices for milk used for the Canadian market to offset losses on exports.

It's in this context that my friend and Ontario Farmer colleague Ian Cumming notes that Agropur, the largest dairy co-operative in Canada, is building its largest cheese plant in South Dakota. 

Nothing like using investments by Canadian dairy farmers to build a plant on our stiffest competitor's territory.

Hog manure odours cost $50 million

Smithfield Foods has been ordered to pay more than $50 million to compensate for odours and other nuisances associated with its hog farms in North Carolina.

A jury awarded 10 neighbours of a 15,000-hog farm $750,000 in damages and $50 million in punitive damages.

But state law limits payouts per complainant to $250,000 in damages and $75,000 in compensation.

Smithfield said it intends to appeal the award.

On the other hand, Smithfield won an award during this week’s annual meeting of the North American Meat Institute.

The Edward C. Jones Community Service Award goes to a company which makes significant contributions to the sustainability of local communities by providing hunger relief, education and veterans support, and through other initiatives that address the specific needs of the communities in which it operates.

Smithfield has been plagued by manure complaints for decades. 

When large-scale hog farming began in the area, Smithfield donated millions to researchers to seek a way to reduce manure odours that annoy neighbours.

Complaints about manure odours have also prompted Ontario to fund research, but not much has been accomplished on the issue in Canada, the U.S. or Europe.

NAFTA failure would hit currencies

A failure of the North American Free Trade negotiations would likely reduce the value of Canadian currency by 10 per cent and Mexico’s by 15 to 20 per cent, predicts Rabobank.

That would, in turn, increase United States imports from both countries, including imports of meat, fruits and vegetables.

But negotiators are working around the clock in Washington, trying to reach a deal before the U.S. deadline of May 1 when, if there is no deal, tariffs on steel and aluminum will kick in.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Land prices continue to rise

Ontario’s land prices rose by 9.4 per cent last year, but the market here is not as hot as Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia, reports Farm Credit Canada.

Ontario prices rose an average of 9.4 per cent in 2017, Saskatchewan by 10.2 per cent and Nova Scotia by 9.5 per cent.

Ontario’s increases were, however, from a much higher level than in Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia.

“Ontario’s farmland value increases continued to be fuelled by the strong demand from supply-managed farm operations and cash crop producers competing for a limited amount of available land,” the FCC report says.

Ontario farmland prices increased by 4.4 per cent in 2016 and by 30 per cent in 2012.

The increases were 24 per cent in the northcentral region of the province, 15.6 per cent in the southeastern region, 15.1 per cent in south central and 11 per cent in the northwestern region. Prices were unchanged in the north region.

J.P. Gervais, FCC’s chief economist, said last year’s increases are “a sign of a stable and strong farm economy.” 

The FCC has become the main mortgage lender for farmland.

Strange that the federal government has so often issued cautions about the housing price increases, but not farmland. Maybe it's because FCC doesn't lend to Toronto and Vancouver house buyers.

China’s tariff will drop hog prices

China’s recent 25 per cent tariff on U.S. pork could cost U.S. hog  producers between $6 and $8 per head, according to Rabobank analysts.

The situation would be similar for Canadians, but without any promises of help from the federal or provincial governments.

U.S. President Donald Trump has promised farmers he will compensate them for any losses related to China’s tariffs, imposed in retaliation to Trump’s tariffs, first on steel and aluminum, then a threat of tariffs on $50 billion worth of imports from China.

African swine fever in Europe is another challenge for the global pork industry that Rabobank has commented on.

China bought 12 percent of all U.S. pork and pork variety meat exports in 2017. 

Rabobank said it’s uncertain whether China will crack down on U.S. pork variety meats shipped via Hong Kong. 

That market alone could knock $2 to $3 per hog off of U.S. prices, Rabobank says.

Organic bill back at Queen’s Park

New Democrat Peter Tabuns of Toronto and Tory Sylvia Jones from Dufferin-Caledon say they, will re-introduce a co-sponsored private member’s bill today to create the framework for organic-products regulations.

The bill was originally introduced in September, but died when Premier Kathleen Wynne prorogued the legislature in March.

Two weeks ago all parties said they would support legislation when they were attending the Organic Council of Ontario’s annual meeting and policy forum.

Despite support from backbench Liberals, the party has yet to announce its support.

Gasoline ethanol content to double by 2020

The Ontario government is doubling the percentage of ethanol in gasoline/

Effective the beginning of 2020 the ethanol content must be at least 10 per cent.

Most ethanol in Ontario is distilled from grain corn.

“Our farmer-members harvest more than two million acres of grain corn annually and we are pleased to see this commitment to renewable fuels and their benefits for the environment,” said Markus Haerle, chairman of Grain Farmers of Ontario.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Flour recall was a massive effort

The release of 759 pages of mostly e-mails indicates there was a massive effort involved in a recall of flour milled in Saskatoon that was contaminated with E. coli 0121.

Twenty-two Canadians were identified as sickened by the flour, including one key case where the person consumed raw dough.

With hindsight, health officials were able to determine the first person sickened was Nov. 13, 2016. The others sickened and linked to the flour were between then and Feb. 26.

Robin Hood flour was identified as the source in March and on March 26 the Canadian Food Inspection Agency began a recall that eventually grew to scores of brand-name products across Canada and even an export shipment to Guyana.

The recall involved a number of major companies, such as Smucker Foods of Toronto and the Sobeys supermarket chain.

There were some unusual difficulties, including the challenge of contacting Mennonites who have no telephones.

The investigation and lab results eventually traced the source to flour milled at Ardent’s Saskatoon plant on Oct. 15, 16 and 17.

A high percentage of packages of flour milled on those dates turned up with E. coli 0121.

But even then it’s not clear where the wheat originated.

Ardent Mills said it was probably spring wheat, but it could have also contained soft wheat, and that it probably was from the 2016 harvest, but might have had some wheat from the 2015 harvest.

That’s reflective of the amount of blending that happens both with the wheat used in milling and the flours that are blended into products for sale.

The documents were released under Access to Information at the request of a woman who spent time in a hospital in Medicine Hat, Alta.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Consumers sceptical about eating crickets

Cricket powder became available this month at Loblaws, but it’s apparently a bust in the United States.
Only a third of the consumers responding to the April Food Demand Survey (FooDS), conducted by Oklahoma State University’s Department of Agricultural Economicss said they’re willing to try cookies made with the product.
PepsiCo is testing for use as an ingredient in snack foods such as Cheetos and Quaker Granola Bars.
In the FooDS survey, half of the participants answered the questions about cricket flour after viewing pictures, while the other half of participants answered the same questions without pictures.
About one-third of the participants who were given text-only description of cricket flour said they would try them once, while 57 per cent said they would not try them. 
Of the group shown a picture of the cookie made with cricket flour along with the description, 42 per cent said they would try them at least once, and 48 per cent said not at all.
Less attractive was the idea of cricket flour in a milkshake. Among the group shown a picture of the milkshake about 39 per cent said they would try it at least once. 

Antibiotic-free dairy herd costs $61 US per cow

A study at Cornell University in upstate New York estimates that it costs about $61 US per cow to manage a dairy herd without using antibiotics.

The research team used a hypothetical herd of 1,000 cattle for its analysis and the industry averages for the incidence of bacterial diseases such as mastitis, displaced placentas and dry cow treatments.

The main cost factors are cow replacement costs, cow slaughter prices and milk prices.

They found a range of increased costs for eliminating antibiotics – from a low of $46 US to a high of $73 per cow.

The authors say that more than money is involved, including the ethical issue of human health related to antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Cookie giant gets Ontario subsidy

The Ontario government is giving Mondelez Canada bakery in East York up to $22.6 million for a plant expansion.
The company makes cookies and snack foods, including Oreos and Peek Freans.
Mondelez is an American company that employs about 107,000 people around the world.
The day before Ontario announced its subsidy, Mondelez held an official opening for its $90-million plant in Bahrain in the Middle East.
It's an outrageous waste of taxpayers' money to subsidize Mondelez.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Farm group seeks alliance with Gray eggs

Three Ontario egg farmers are heading an effort to develop an alliance with Bill Gray and his Gray Ridge Eggs egg-grading business.

They have e-mailed a number of egg producers, inviting them to meet with Gray on the afternoon of April 26 at the St. Mary’s Golf and Country Club.

This initiative comes in the context of two other developments – the establishment of a new egg-grading business by the Nutri Group in Kitchener and a new statement of claim by Sweda Farms Ltd. against Gray and the Ontario egg marketing board.

The Sweda lawsuit is now more than five years old, but still active, although the courts have dismissed the claims against Joe Hudson and his Burnbrae and Maple Lynn Foods businesses.

Nutri Group set up its Kitchener site last year, competing directly with Gray’s operations in nearby Listowel and Elmira and further north-west in Strathroy. 

There had been no significant competition in the area after Burnbrae and Gray together bought Metzger Produce, based just west of Elmira and split its suppliers and clients between themselves.

In their e-mailed invitation, Veldman, Helps and McKillop say they recently met with Gray and “have developed a much better appreciation of the grading and distribution side of the egg business.”

They say they “asked Bill (Gray) to consider becoming financial partners in Gray Ridge Eggs” and said he agreed to attend a question-and-answer session during the April 26 meeting.

In the new statement of claim, Sweda lays out a history of Burnbrae and Gray trying to both buy and/or destroy its Best Choice Eggs business. 

The egg board got involved by claiming that farmers supplying Best Choice Eggs were cheating on levies because Sweda’s percentage of Grade A eggs was lower than the provincial average.

The new statement of claim seeks $32 million in damages and another $10 million in aggravated, exemplary and punitive damages.

It also seeks a declaration that the Ontario egg board is not entitled to payment of an invoice for about $45-million. 

If the case proceeds to trial, it will likely be in Toronto.

Sweda is located at Blackstock near Peterborough, Burnbrae at Lyn, east of Kingston, and Gray at Strathroy.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Twenty meat inspection violations

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has revealed information pertaining to 20 warnings and fines it issued to Ontario meat packers between January, 2016, and Oct. 27, 2017, but not the names of the companies.

An unidentified applicant sought the information via the Access to Information process and the CFIA response is now open to anybody who wants it.

But none of the companies are identified and only bare-bones information remains after censorship.

For example, a company in Brampton was fined $7,800 in January, 2016, but there is no information to indicate what violation led to the fine, nor the company involved.

In a similar vein, a company in Guelph was fined $7,800.

There were two fines of $6,000 each, another two of $7,800 each and one of $10,000, but no indication left after censorship to indicate where the companies are located, what the companies are, nor what the violations were.

Pure timothy, alfalfa export market’s hot

Water scarcity in the Middle East is prompting a new and keen demand for pure timothy and pure alfalfa hay, a market that could be tapped by Ontario farmers.

A couple of farmers have tried growing pure timothy, seeding a variety that has larger heads, can be planted like winter wheat in the fall and harvested early the following year.

The Ontario Hay and Forage Council is inviting participation to build a compactor in Southwestern Ontario that will cost $10 to $15 million and will squeeze dried and baled hay to about half its size so more can be packed into a container to ship from Montreal.

The key is harvesting peak-quality hay and getting moisture content to less than 18 per cent, usually requiring an on-farm investment in a drier so hay can be harvested quickly before rains reduce quality.

Fritz Trauttmansdorff says the Middle East opportunity is timely because the governments are rationing water to farmers, cutting off irrigation for forages so there’s enough to grow the crops that humans consume.

That has dairy herd and camel owners scouting for imported forages and because their demands are relatively new, it’s simply a matter of selling hay to them without having to compete to wedge a way into markets where competitors are well established.

Feed markets hit by Chinese tariff

China is imposing a 179 per cent tariff on sorghum from the United States, a hit that will back up sorghum in the North American feed markets.

That will likely ripple through to all grains used in feed rations.
The Chinese response answers a move by United States President Donald Trump to ban American companies from selling parts and services to ZTE for seven years. 

The US threatened the ban in 2017 after ZTE illegally shipped equipment to Iran and North Korea. 

Further misconduct led the Commerce Department to impose the ban, according to a statement from the agency. 

ZTE buys microchips from Qualcomm (QCOM) and glass from Corning (CNIG), and the company is the fourth biggest smartphone supplier in the United States.

This is the latest in a string of tariffs the United States and China have imposed in tit-for-tat moves that began early in the month.

First the U.S. slapped a 25 per cent tariff on steel snd aluminum. China countered with tariffs on imports worth about $3 billion last year, including pork.
Trump then imposed tariffs on more Chinese products and China answered with a much bigger round of tariffs that includes beef, fruits, nuts and cotton.

China offered an olive branch by reducing tariffs on autos, but Trump’s response was the ban on selling to ZTE.

Two Perth County farms hit by PED

Two finisher barns in Perth County have had outbreaks of Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus.

They follow close on the heels of two other outbreaks three days earlier, one in a Perth County farrow-to-finish operation, the other in a Huron County nursery.

These outbreaks bring the total experienced in Ontario to 111 since the first outbreak Jan. 22, 2014, in Middlesex County.

The virus is believed to have come to Canada from the United States, including a number of outbreaks related to blood plasma that Grand Valley Fortifiers of Cambridge incorporated in rations for weaners.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Hepatitis A prompts berry recall

The federal and Quebec governments are alerting the public to avoid eating Montana brand frozen strawberries from Groupe Adonis Inc. because they might catch hepatitis A virus.

Some people have been infected after consuming the berries, says the Canadian Food Inspection Agency on its website.

The ministère de l'Agriculture, des Pêcheries et de l'Alimentation du Québec (MAPAQ) transmitted an alert to the news media late last week.

The berries were only sold at Adonis stores in Quebec and Ontario.

Massive U.S egg recall

The U.S. government has ordered an Indiana business to recall about 200 million eggs after 22 consumers fell ill with salmonella food poisoning.

The eggs were widely distributed, including to Walmart and Food Lion supermarkets.

The eggs came from the company’s farm in Hyde Park, North Carolina.

The head office for the egg business is at Seymour, Indiana.

The farm has three million hens producing about 2.3 million eggs per day.

The bacterium strain involved is Salmonella braenderup.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Trump wants back into TPP

United States President Donald Trump wants back into the Trans-Pacific Paternership trade deal, but on much better terms for the U.S.

New Zealand and Australia are saying they will only support his bid to come back if the deal already signed by 11 nations remains substantially as it now is.

Without the U.S. the TPP countries account for about 14 per cent of global trade; including the U.S. would boost that to 40 per cent.

Meanwhile the hot-and-cold climate around the North American Free Trade Agreement negotiations has turned cold again, only a few days after there were reports that a deal was imminent.

Premium Brands buys another company

Premium Brands has bought Oberto Sausage Co. Of Seattle and another third of the shares of McLean Meats Inc. In its home base of Vancouver.

Oberto specializes in snack foods and McLean Meats Inc. in preservative-free and organic processed meats to foodservice and retail customers in Canada.

Premum Brands now holds to 66.2 percent of McLean’s shares.
The combined purchase price for the investments in Oberto and McLean is about $237 million, while the combined revenues of the two businesses are about $246 million, Premium Brands said in a news release.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Hensall buying Ball Farm Services

Hensall Co-operative Ltd. is buying Ball Farm Services Ltd. for an undisclosed sum.
Hensall will rent the Ballretail outlet in Aylmer until the deal closes so farmers can be serviced during the upcoming planting season.
Ball provides a wide range of agronomy solutions including crop products and services.
Brad Chandler, Hensall’s chief executive officer, says the deal strengthens the value proposition for producers in and around Elgin County.

More beef products on recall

R.T. Fresh Prepared Foods Inc. And the Metro supermarket chain are recalling beef sandwiches because the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has found Listeria monocytogenes during its product testing.

R.T. Fresh Prepared Foods Inc. is recalling Culinary Creations brand & Denny's brand roast beef-containing sandwiches.

Metro Ontario Inc. is recalling Fresh 2 Go brand Roast Beef Paninis.

The CFIA says there have been no reported illnesses linked to these products.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Farmer-owned dairy garners huge subsidy

Amalgamated Dairies Ltd. of Summerside, Prince Edward Island, is getting a federal subsidy of up to $5.4 million.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Lawrence MacAulay made the announcement during the co-operative’s annual meeting recently.

The investment is helping the cooperative to reduce production costs, increase the volume of milk it buys from dairy producers and introduce new products in response to market demand, the federal agriculture department said in a news release.

“This investment will also enable ADL to increase storage capacity for both specialty cheese products and packaging supplies,” the release said.

Most of the money is drawn from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Dairy Processing Investment Fund ($4.4 million) and the rest from Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency’s Business Development Program.

Another Brazilian company buying U.S. beef company

Brazil's Marfrig Global Foods has reached an agreement to acquire 51 percent of National Beef Packing Company for $969 million, becoming the world's second-largest beef processor.

The largest is JBS, also of Brazil, which is caught up in a major scandal because it bribed politicians to obtain billions of dollars in loans from the government-controlled bank.
Marfrig intends now to sell 100 percent of Keystone, a transaction which will further reduce its leverage to 2.5x by the end of 2018. Marfrig previously had planned to make an Initial Public Offering of Keystone to raise money on U.S. stock markets.
The acquisition of National Beef is a unique opportunity,” said Marfrig CEO Martín Secco. “With the transaction, we will have operations in the two largest beef markets in the world, we will reach extremely sophisticated consumer countries and we can grow by maintaining strict financial discipline.”

Ontario land prices vary sharply

Land prices are higher the better the soil and the nearer the fields are to cities, according to an Ontario Federation of Agriculture survey of 2,367 farmers.

There is a sharp difference between Hastings County, at $3,000 an acre, and Peel Region, next to Toronto, at $50,000.

The OFA published the report shortly before the Senate committee on agriculture and forestry released A Growing Concern: How to Keep Farmland in the Hands of Canadian Farmers.

The OFA and University of Guelph published this information in the 2017 Farmland Value and Rental Value Survey report last month.