Thursday, April 30, 2020

Anger mounts over U.S. beef packers

Anger is mounting in the United States over the concentration of control in a few companies that slaughter cattle.

A group of senators in calling for an inquiry and anti-trust action because cattle prices have declined while retail beef prices have soared.

And R-CALF (Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund) wants the industry restructured so it’s more spread out across the nation.

R-CALF USA sent letters to U.S. President Dohald Trump and House of Represenatives and Senate leaders to conduct a review the beef supply chain and consider “whether a physical and geographical restructuring of the meatpacking industry is required to disaggregate and decentralize beef processing capacity.
R-CALF said the situation reveals “that the United States must immediately begin the development of a strategic, national food production, processing and distribution policy that can meet America's food security interests.”
The day before the letter was sent, Trump used the Defence Act to order meat-packing plants to keep operating.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the meat-packing industry has been reduced to about 60 per cent of normal capacity.

Conestoga preparing to resume hog slaughter

Conestoga Meat Products Ltd. is preparing to resume hog slaughter after closing down the plant for one week after seven of a workforce of about 1,000 tested positive for COVID-19.

It is installing plastic shields to separate workers, replacing cardboard ones it had installed, has new equipment such as temperature readers to screen employees before work, and has put up tents and opened conference rooms so workers can maintain recommended distance separation during lunch breaks.

A report in the Waterloo Region Record indicates the plant ran out of hand sanitizer, was unable to acquire face masks and shields and the temperature monitors because supplies it ordered were diverted to health care workers.

The company said it agreed with those diversions.

The plant normally slaughters up to 37,000 hogs per week produced by its 150 owners who are hog farmers.

It is the second-largest hog-slaughtering plant in Ontario. The largest is in Burlington.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Maple Leaf sales up, profits down

Maple Leaf Foods had huge sales increases for the first quarter, yet lost $3.7 million.

Sales increased by 12.8 per cent to $1,022.8 million.

Plant protein sales increased by 26 per cent.

The net loss compared with a profit of more than $50 million for the same quarter last year.

The company lost money on derivatives for hog contracts and that’s reflected in a $14.7-million decline in “biological assets” which include its hog farms.

Despite lots of uncertainties, the company said “expectations for the financial performance of its business in 2020 remain largely unchanged.”

It said measures to mitigate risks from COVID-19 are increasing its costs.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Trump to order meat plants to work

United States President Donald Trump said he is going to sign an executive order requiring meat-packing plants to remain open.

He indicated that he’s acting because Tyson Foods said it is closing plants to avoid lawsuits and liabilities if it continues to operate red meat and poultry plants.

Trump said he will declare meat-packing an essential service.

Unions responded by saying they want protection for workers, including PPE (personal protection equipment) from the federal government's stockpile.

About eight per cent of U.S. meat-packing capacity has shut down temporarily because of COVID-19 outbreaks among staff and others that remain open are running at 50 to 75 per cent capacity, according to a survey by Meatingplace Magazine this week.

Mayor added to Agricorp board

Joanne Vanderheyden, the mayor of Strathroy-Caradoc, has been appointed for a twoyear term on the board of Agricorp.

Agricorp administers agriculture risk management programs, such as crop insurance and supports for margins between production costs and market prices.

Vanderheyden was a service representative at Libro Credit Union and has been a national board member for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

Grain, beef, veal and sheep groups plead for help

Grain, beef, veal and sheep associations have made a joint plea to the provincial government for immediate help to survive the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

They want the province to invoke emergency provisions to increase support through the Risk Management portfolio.

“Farmers are asking the province of Ontario to share in the risk that it takes for a farmer to grow food for the province and the country – the Risk Management Program (RMP) is not a bailout,” said Markus Haerle, chairman of Grain Farmers of Ontario. 

“Farmers are risking their livelihoods, and a fully funded RMP would only provide support if the cost of growing the crop isn’t covered by the price,” he said.

Animal Nutrition Conference going virtual

The Animal Nutrition Conference of Canada, originally scheduled for Winnipeg, will instead become internet presentations spread over three weeks.

The focus will links between animal nutrition and health.

The webinar series is free through registration at

“Now in its fourth year, the Animal Nutrition Conference of Canada continues to be the national forum for the newest research in animal nutrition,” said executive director Melissa Dumont.

“Event partners, sponsors, presenters and industry participants have embraced the digital approach by rallying behind this new concept for our 2020 event. 

“It will allow us to continue to meet the primary conference objective of bringing together animal feed professionals to share the latest knowledge and research about animal nutrition, with a number of top experts in their fields presenting cutting-edge information and insights until we can meet again in person next spring in Montreal.”

The complimentary webinars will take place every Tuesday and Thursday from noon to 2 p.m. over a three-week period with the first one streaming on Tuesday, May 26

Registrants will receive access to the live webinars which include question and answer sessions with the speakers. 

Recorded versions will be available after the event for individuals who are unable to attend the live sessions.

Tribunal dismisses Van Aert appeals

John Van Aert and his son, Bryce, have lost their appeals against a steep increase in pullet-leasing fees implemented in 2018.

Bryce needed to lease about 46,000 units of pullet quota for a new 50,000-bird capacity barn opened in February, 2018.

Initially the Egg Farmers of Ontario marketing board denied Bryce’s request to lease that much quota, saying he ought instead of use Van Aert family pullet quota for the new aviary barn.

A month later the EFO relented, allowed leasing, but then roughly doubled the leasing fee to $1 per unit of quota.

John Van Aert called that punitive and asked the tribunal to reduce the increase to a “reasonable” amount and phase in increases to the $1 target. 

The tribunal ruled that the board operated within its jurisdiction, consulted with producers who were aware of the board’s intentions and that Van Aert took a calculated risk in going ahead with family plans to increase aviary housing.

Van Aert had made a deal with Burnbrae Farms to supply it with free-range eggs from aviary barns.

The appeal involved three farms, all within the Van Aert family business which features 250,000 units of egg-production quota.

The three are BVA Farms Ltd., Van Del Farm Ltd., and CJVA Farms Ltd.

During the public hearing, John Van Aert said he sees the future of egg production trending to organic and aviary standards and said his only fault is perhaps being too aggressive.

Court dismisses farmers’ challenge in California

A court in California has dismissed a lawsuit filed by the National Pork Producers Council and the American Farm Bureau against a California proposal to ban the sale of meat and poultry from farms that fail to meet its housing standards.

California plans to set space standards for hens and housing standards for pigs.

The National Pork Producers Council said the proposals lack any scientific, technical or agricultural basis and would unduly interfere with inter-state trade.

California accounts for about 15 per cent of the U.S. pork market.

The court ruled that the farmers "have failed to demonstrate that there is a substantial burden on interstate commerce.”

Look out, folks! Political correctness happens first in California often sweeps across North America.

Monday, April 27, 2020

CFIA restores Marini Foods licence

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has reinstated the licence of Marini Foods Ltd. of Toronto.

The company, which makes dry cured sausage, lost its licence on Mar. 13 for failure to meet federal meat inspection standards.

Mushroom growers seek help

Mushrooms Canada has added itself to a growing list of agriculture organizations pleading for federal government help.

It has written to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Deputy Prime Minister 
Christia Freeland and Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau saying mushroom growers are being forced out of business.

“Due to COVID-19 restaurant and food service closure, our mushroom farms have had a production loss between 30 to 50 per cent. 

“Our total loss has been $6.5 million due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Going forward, for each week that the Canadian economy has a mandated closure, we have an additional $400,000 loss per week for our mushroom farmers.”

The organization said none of the existing programs offer substantial aid or support.

COVID-19 hits U.S. meat packers hard

COVID-19 outbreaks have idled eight per cent of the U.S. meat industry's slaughter capacity and forced all others to reduce production by 25 to 50 per cent.

The latest information shows:

Smithfield has closed plants at Monmouth, Ill, and Cudahy, Wisc., and public health officials closed down its dry sausage plant at St. Charles, Ill.

JBS has closed plants at Green Bay, Wisc. And Worthington, Minn., but re-opened at Greeley, Colorado.

Indiana Packers has closed at Delphi, Ind.

Tyson has closed at Logansport, Inc.

Triumph Foods has closed at St. Joseph, Mo.

Aurora Packing at Aurora, Ill., has re-opened.

Tyson at Joslin, Ill, has re-opened.

Nutrition activists charge bias in national guidelines

An organization of nutrition activists is drawing attention to bias in the committee that establishes national dietary guidelines for the United States.

Nutrition guidelines have also been a hot-button issue in Canada with a number of agriculture organizations criticizing the most recent Canada Food Guide for down-playing their products such as dairy and red meats.

The Nutrition Coalition in the United States said “75 per cent of the individuals involved in formulating the U.S. government’s official dietary guidance have food industry ties. 

“Fifty-five percent have ties to International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), which was founded by a former Coca-Cola executive and is funded by Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, McDonald’s, General Mills, Cargill, Monsanto, the National Dairy Council, the International Tree Nut Council and a host of other global purveyors of junk food and drink,”  the coalition said.

“Trustworthy policy and the health of America depends upon a policy that reflects a balanced, rigorous, and comprehensive review of the science and is not the product of food-industry interests,” said Nina Teicholz, executive director of the Nutrition Coalition. 

“This new report shines a light on flaws in the guidelines process, showing that the expert committee in charge continues to have extensive, undisclosed ties with food-industry interests.”

Partners offer $20,000 for COVID-19 ideas

Libro Credit Union, Pillar Nonprofit Network and TechAlliance have combined to launch Recovery & Rebuilding the Region: Design Challenges, which seek to put vital ideas into action in southwestern Ontario. 

They are offering $20,000 to the successful applicant and coaches to develop a final product, service, process or collaboration.

There are two categories:

    responding to the immediate health and social issues of COVID-19;
    revitalizing and rebuilding communities.

The organizers said “the challenges are open to individuals or teams of people, who are involved in encouraging startups or growth for enterprises and nonprofits. 

“They seek to mobilize people with great ideas that are needed now, during this crisis. 

“Applicants are encouraged to design with empathy for those most affected by COVID-19, and to be mindful of diverse perspectives as they create their solutions.”

The challenges are co-presented by Communitech, in Waterloo Region, and WEtech Alliance, in Windsor Essex.
The Design Challenge (stage one) will focus on immediate COVID-19 issues.

    Applications open on Thursday, April 30.
    Applications close on Saturday, May 2

 The successful applicant will be announced on Tuesday, May 5.

The second stage of the Design Challenges will focus on recovery and rebuilding and revitalizing the community, post-COVID-19. It will follow a similar challenge process.  

More information is on the website

New competition for scholar

Three scholarship prizes of $1,500, $1,000 and $500 are up for grabs for agriculture students. 
Farm Management Canada and the Canadian Association of Diploma Agriculture Programs invite applicants to submit a multimedia presentation, a video, a blog or a Wiki, responding to the following question:
The agriculture industry is vast, multifaceted and growing. How do we generate awareness and excitement about the industry to attract new entrants?

Applications can be filed at 

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Halford named chair of Farm Credit Canada

Jane Halford has been appointed to a four-year term as chair of Farm Credit Canada.

Federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau picked her after serving as a director since 2014.

Halford was director of practice review for the Alberta Institute of Chartered Accountants from 2003 to 2005, was promoted to chief executive officer there and  executive director for the Chartered Accountants' Education Foundation from 2005 to 2013. 

She owns Halford Consulting Inc. which supports boards and executives dealing with leadership transitions and governance issues.

She has also served on multiple agriculture-related boards including the Canadian Angus Foundation, Delta Genomics, and is currently chair of Alpha Phenomics.

Friday, April 24, 2020

CFIA detects crop pest

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has detected a crop pest in geraniums imported from Guatemala, is tracking them to greenhouses and destroying them.

The pest is Ralstonia solanacearum race 3 biovar 2 (Rs R3bv2)  and can attack potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant, causing them to wilt.

The geranium variety is Fantasia Pink Flare, was distributed to Canadians via a company in the United States and the CFIA said “trace forward activities indicate that 55 Canadian greenhouses received the implicated plants. To date, Rs R3bv2 has not been confirmed in Canada.”

CFIA inspectors will be visiting the facilities that received the implicated variety. All Fantasia 'Pink Flare' geranium plants and co-mingled and exposed host and non-host plants will be ordered destroyed under CFIA supervision. Symptomatic material will be submitted for testing.

After the plant materials are destroyed, greenhouses will be cleaned according to CFIA sanitation protocols.
The CFIA said more information will be shared as it becomes available.

Farmers offered internet sales support

The Ontario and federal governments are making $2.5 million available to farmers who want to set up internet sales.

There are two programs on offer.

One, called bring your business online, offers a grant of up to $5,000 to set up an online e-business and marketing.

The other, called develop online business opportunities, offers up to $75,000 and is for organizations and businesses and collaborators.

"Workers from across our food supply chain are providing essential services to our country and we appreciate their hard work and dedication to keep our agriculture and agri-food system strong during this challenging time," said federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau.
“This investment will provide support as businesses quickly adapt to new and different ways of providing affordable and nutritious food to Canadians," she said.
Ontario Agriculture Minister Ernie Hardeman said "COVID-19 has changed the way we shop, and our investment today in e-business will go a long way to connecting the people who grow our food with the people who buy it, while allowing them to practice physical distancing."

Conestoga Meats closes for a week

Conestoga Meats is closing for a week after seven workers tested positive for COVID-19. There may be more as testing continues.

The Waterloo Region Health Unit and the Ontario Ministry of Labour have launched investigations.

"Employees have expressed concerns regarding COiVID-19 positive cases at the plant," said president Arnold Drung.

"The health, safety and wellbeing of Conestoga Meats employees is our priority."

In the statement, Drung says limited staffing and operations will be maintained. He said employees will be compensated for their time off.

The health unit expects more positive cases will turn up, given the size of the staff which is about 1,000 workers.

Greeley beef plant re-opens today

The huge beef-packing plant at Greeley, Colo., re-opened today after it was closed last week because four employees died of COVID-19 and more than 100 were infected.

But Tyson closed its beef-packing plant at Pasco, Texas, and all workers there are undergoing testing for COVID-19.

JBS USA and the Weld County Department of Public Health and Environment announced safety measures have been put in place, including testing every employee before they enter the plant for the next five days.

They will have to wear protective masks, use hand sanitizers placed throughout the plant and practice physical distancing.

The company has to put up signs and communications in a number of different languages spoken by the approximately 1,000 workers.

The JBS plant at Brooks, Alta., continues to operate, but at a much-reduced rate. One worker there has died and about 100 have tested positive.

Cargill’s plant at High River remains closed. One worker there has died and more than 400 infections have been traced to that plant. 
A third Albertan who was closely associated with one of the beef plants has also died of COVID-19.

In Ontario, Maple Leaf Foods Prime Poultry plant in Brampton is nearing the end of a two-week closure, but its huge new meat-processing plant at Hamilton remains in operation.

Conestoga Meat Packers east of Kitchener has seven confirmed cases of COVID-19, but remains in operation with much greater safety measures.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Conestoga Meats under investigation

Inspectors from the provincial labour ministry launched an investigation at Conestoga Meat Packers east of Kitchener this week after two complaints were filed about COVID-19 risks.

Manager Arnold Drung admitted that some workers have tested positive, but would not say how many. CBC News reported Friday that seven tested positive.

The farmer-owned plant continues to operate.

Drung told reporters that COVID-19 precautions are in place, including daily temperature and symptom screening of workers with a nurse present, use of personal protective equipment, increased sanitation throughout the facility, staggering break and shift times as well as repurposing meeting rooms.
The plant is the second-largest hog slaughter plant in Ontario and among the handful of large ones in Eastern Canada.

Drung and the plant owners are in a tough spot. If they continue to run the plant, and workers get sick and die, they will no doubt suffer pangs of conscience. But if they shutter the plant, many hundreds of people's livelihoods will be impacted.

Feds help much ado about little for farmers

The federal help for farmers has not amounted to much, according to agriculture economist Alan Ker who commented in an interview about a special edition of the scientific journal for Canadian agriculture economists.

Extending more credit via Farm Credit Canada won’t make much difference, he said, because there’s little evidence that farmers were anxious to get more and the private sector, lacking borrowers during the COVID-19 pandemic, is looking to lend to essential services, including agriculture and food.

Likewise, extending the deadline to pay off cash advances doesn’t amount to a big expenditure for the federal government.

What is significant is the offer to subsidize farmers who are bringing in temporary foreign workers to provide room and board while they wait through two-week quarantines, he said.

The United States, by comparison, has announced $5.6 billion in direct aid to its farmers.

Here in Canada, farmers can listen to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promise that "we've got your back."

Barley, wheat researchers seek federal support

Coalitions involved in wheat and barley research are lobbying the federal government to continue their research and development this season of COVID-19 pandemic.

“Urgent action is required to save the 2020 AAFC field, lab, and greenhouse activities for wheat and barley research projects,” they said in a news release.

“This farmer-funded research is critical to the competitiveness of Canada’s agriculture industry and cancelling project activities will have repercussions. 

“Many of the current projects funded by the Canadian Wheat Research Council, the Canadian Barley Research Council and individual crop commissions are multi-year, multi-site, and multi-cooperator endeavors,” they said.

“The impact of disruptions to this work needs to be considered on a project-to-project and program-to-program basis to minimize the loss of both future productivity and the potential contributions of previous projects. “

They call for a region-by-region review “to evaluate the level of risk and develop safety protocols on a regional basis. 

“Prairie universities have established plans that will allow them to safely continue their research activities in 2020. 

“Private research institutions have also put plans in place to conduct field research this year with appropriate measures to ensure employee safety.”

Wheat coalition chairman Jason Lenz said “we are facing an unprecedented situation with respect to the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic and the safety of researchers and other staff is our top priority. 

"The universities and private plant breeders have found safe options to conduct their research. We’re confident that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada can also create a plan to continue critical research and provide clarity to western Canadian farmers.” 

Inspectors to check temporary foreign worker farms

Farms that employ temporary foreign workers can expect a visit by inspectors for the Ontario Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills development.

During a webinar, Ron Landry of the ministry said farm inspections began this week with a focus on those employing temporary foreign workers.

They are checking for compliance with COVID-19 measures.

Methinks their time would be better spent checking nursing homes.

COVID-19 prompts more meat-plant shut-downs

The COVID-19 pandemic is prompting more closures of meat-packing plants across North America.

United Poultry Co. Ltd. closed its plant in east Vancouver after 28 workers tested positive.

The union representing workers at a Sofina/Lilydale plant in Alberta wants that plant shut down after a worker tested positive. The union said it’s an old plant where staff work in cramped quarters.

The union is also asking for closure of the former XL plant at Brooks, Alta. It’s owned by JBS USA.

In the United States, Tyson Fresh Meats is temporarily closing its Logansport, Ind., pork processing facility while more than 2,200 workers are tested for COVID-19.

"The combination of worker absenteeism, COVID-19 cases and community concerns has resulted in a collective decision to close,” the company said.

Hormel Foods' Jennie-O Turkey Store reported positive COVID-19 cases at two production facilities in Minnesota that are remaining in operation.

"Jennie-O can confirm that we have had employees who have tested positive for coronavirus at our Willmar Avenue Plant and our Melrose Plant," a spokesperson told Meatingplace magazine.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Farmers can hire more students

Farmers and food-processing companies are eligible for an increase in federal funding for hiring students this summer.

The Canada Summer Jobs program has been expanded so that employers can receive up to 100 per cent of the minimum hourly wage for each employee and have the option of hiring youth part-time.

It sounds better than waiting for off-shore workers this year.

It is part of a $9 billion package for post-secondary-school students Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced today.