Sunday, May 31, 2020

Migrant workers stricken with COVID-19

At least four Ontario farms have had outbreaks of COVID-19 among their migrant workers.

In Norfolk County, south of Simcoe, 85 migrant workers on one farm have tested positive.

In Haldimand-Norfolk, the health unit said that five workers have been hospitalized and approximately 25 others who tested positive are showing symptoms of the virus.

They are migrant workers employed by Scotlynn Group in Vittoria which grows sweet corn, watermelon, asparagus and pumpkins. Many of its migrant workers are from Mexico.

A farm in St. Thomas, Ontario Plants Propagation, had 20 people associated with it test positive this past week and is still waiting on test results for others. 

The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit has also seen a spike, with 33 new cases reported on May 25 in the agricultural sector. The health unit would not identify which farms, greenhouses or other businesses are involved.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Alarming death toll in U.S. packing plants

Forty-four workers in United States meat-packing plants have died of COVID-19.

More than 3,000 have been sickened with the virus, says the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.

It said today that companies, such as Tyson Foods and JBS USA, need to do more to protect workers.

Tyson closed its huge hog plant at Storm Lake, Iowa, on Thursday during testing of all employees for the disease. Many were refusing to work until the test results become available.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

COVID-19 still spreading in packing plants

COVID-19 continues to spread among workers in meat-packing plants.

At Conestoga Meats, the count is now up to 95 workers who have tested positive.

Cargill’s plant at High River, Alta., has had the highest count in North America at more than 1,500 workers. There have been three deaths from COVID-19 that are linked to meat packing plants; one is at the JBS plant at Brooks, one worker at Cargill and one person not employed by, but linked to the Cargill plant.

Maple Lodge Farms Ltd. of Brampton has had one worker die and 24 have tested positive. Maple Leaf Foods Ltd. shut down its plant in Brampton to clean, disinfect and implement more control measures.

Maple Leaf recently said it has had 49 positive cases across Canada.
Sofina Foods has reported two cases, one at Ontario’s largest hog-slaughter plant at Burlington, the other at Mississauga.

Olymel shut down its pork plant at Yamamiche, Que., for a week after nine workers tested positive in early April.

One worker at the Tyson hog-slaughter plant at Waterloo, Iowa, has died. It is the 10th largest pork plant in the United States.

The new mega-poultry plant Costco recently opened at Lincoln, Nebraska, has 19 workers who have tested positive.

Ida-Beef at Burley, Idaho, has 44 workers wo have tested positive, 60 at the Quality Pork plant at Austin, Minnesotga, and 25 more at the Hormel plant, also at Austin, bringing the total there to 39 workers.

Purdue’s pork plant at Sioux Center has 69 workers who tested positive and its plant at Sioux City has 20.

Tyson is testing 2,400 employees at its plant at Storm Lake, Iowa, and expects results soon.

A judge in Brazil ordered JBS to close one of its beef-packing plants in the northern part of the country, saying the company has not done enough to prevent spread of the virus.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Batista brothers free to resume control of JBS

Brazil's Supreme Court is allowing the Batista brothers back in control of the company that owns JBS, the largest meat-packing company in the world.

The brothers confessed to bribing thousands of Brazilian politicians and officials to obtain billions of dollars in loans to buy meat-packing companies across North America, including the former XL Packers plant at Brooks, Alta.

The judge ruled that Joesley and Wesley Batista have been complying with terms of an agreement they reached with the government in 2017 to pay billions in fines spread over 25 years rather than go through criminal courts and be imprisoned.

They can now resume their positions at the top of J&F Holding.

HyLife is buying Prime Pork

HyLife Ltd. of Manitoba is buying 75 per cent control of Prime Pork of Windom, Minnesota.

The deal increases HyLife’s hog slaughtering and pork processing capacity to 3.2 million hogs per year.

Prime Pork employs 660 workers processing about about 1.2 million hogs a year and also owns hog farms. 

“Prime Pork will allow us to expand our operations into the United States,” Grant Lazaruk, HyLife’s chief executive, said in a news release.

Prime Pork’s parent company, Taylor Corp., is Minnesota’s 10th-largest privately-held company with holdings in a variety of agricultural entities and two professional basketball teams.

Teen dies in tractor rollover

A 14-year-old boy died when the tractor he was driving rolled over into a ditch near West Montrose, north-east of Waterloo.

He was pronounced dead at the scene.

He was alone on the tractor.

Locusts threaten India

Locusts are threatening to swarm India with the worst plague in 25 years.

They have already devoured crops in the western part of the country and are on the move to the central region.

Pesticides won’t work because the swarms are so large that it would take thousands of litres, officials said.

A swarm can destroy enough food to feed 35,000 people,” said a report from India. 

The country needs a plan to address the threat lest a wave of locusts results in more food insecurity and leave more people at risk of starvation; 194 million in India are already undernourished. 

There are additional concerns over the impact on livelihoods and the damage to the national agricultural economy, said a report from Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN) which has support from the United Nations, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Dan Cohoe appointed

Dan Cohoe has been appointed to another two-year term on the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Council.

He now works for Titan Trailers Inc. on low stress livestock transportation. 

He was a procurement officer with Quality Meats and rose to director of producer and industry relations.

He is a founding member of the Ontario Pork Industry Council and helped with many pork-industry programs and services. 

He is a graduate of the Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario in London.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

More subsidy to hire youth

The federal government is offering another $9.2 million for farmers to hire workers between ages 15 and 30.

It comes under the Youth Employment and Skills Program (YESP) and is enough money for up to 700 new positions for the agriculture industry.

Federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said “this program aims to provide youth, and particularly youth facing barriers to employment, with job experience in agriculture that will provide career-related work experience.

It’s a 50 per cent wage subsidy up to $14,000 per worker.

Indigenous applicants and those applicants hiring a youth facing barriers are eligible for funding of up to 80 per cent of their costs.

The program is open to producers, agri-businesses, industry associations, provincial and territorial governments, Indigenous organizations and research facilities. 

It can be retroactive to April 1 and for projects that last to March 31 next year.

Application forms are available through the Youth Employment and Skills Program More information is available to, or by telephoning 1-866-452-5558.

Monday, May 25, 2020

PED hits farm in Wellington County

Three days after Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus was found infecting a herd in Lambton County, it has shown up in Wellington County.

In both cases it’s in grow-finisher operations.

Mink infect Dutch farm workers

Officials in the Netherlands say mink passed COVID-19 to two farm workers.

They are probably the first such cases, they said.

Testing identified mink infected with COVID-19 on four of 155 farms subsequently tested, Agriculture Minister Carola Schouten said in a letter to parliament.

She said the risk of such animal-to-human transmission of the virus outside the farms was “negligible.”

On three of the four infected farms, the source of virus infecting the mink has been shown to be a sick human, while the fourth is still under investigation, the minister said.

The Netherlands’ Institute for Health’s (RIVM) director Jaap van Dissel said that, while a few cats and other animals had been infected with COVID-19 by humans, the Dutch mink-to-human transmissions were practically unique.

PED outbreak in Lambton

A grow-finisher operation is Lambton County has an outbreak of Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus.

It is the fifth PED outbreak in the province this month.

Are our failures to stop PED virus indicative of how we will be dealing with COVID-19?

Probably. So brace yourselves for a very long haul of disciplines to keep from catching and/or spreading the virus.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Spies are stealing Canadian research, CSIS warns

Spies have stepped up their efforts to steal intellectual property related to COVID-19 research, the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) has warned in a bulletin issued May 13.

On the same day the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the United States issued its own warning that China is snooping for COVID-19 data and research.

CSIS did not single out China in its bulletin, but a veteran from CSIS told the Globe and Mail that China is the biggest security threat.

“The biopharmaceutical and health care sectors are at a significantly high risk at this time as many countries are accelerating their COVID-19 research and development to support the pandemic response,” CISIS said in the document. 

The federal government has announced recent investments of $1.2 billion and the provinces have also offered funding, such as $230,000 this week for vaccine research by a team at the University of Guelph.

“CSIS is particularly concerned about this threat in relation to state-sponsored activities of hostile states secretly seeking strategic or competitive advantage.”

Jim Hinton, a patent lawyer based in Kitchener, Ont., told the Globe and Mail that he believes CSIS has already learned that foreign actors have compromised COVID-19 research.

“You don’t put out something like this unless there has been something to put you on notice. This is a reactionary document.”

He said that, in his opinion, Canadian universities don’t have the same level of concern about the leakage of intellectual property.

“I think there is a naivete they have that they are working for the public good so that if something gets out, it doesn’t really matter.”

There have been criminal charges laid in the United States over Chinese employees stealing agriculture-related research, including seeds from plant-breeding programs.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

JBS back to two shifts at Brooks, Alta

JBS Canada is back to two shifts this week after going for a month with one shift.

It will not change employment which runs between 700 and 1,100.

Some employees have chosen not to work after some employees tested positive for COVID-19, but the plant kept on processing cattle at a reduced rate.

Spokesman Rob Meijer said the company has implemented more than 100 preventive measures since January, including temperature tests of all workers, providing face masks, and partitions on production lines.

U.S. snaps up COVID-19 vacccine

The United States is buying 300 million doses of an unproven COVID-19 vaccine produced by AstraZeneca.

It has promised up to $1.2 billion to buy a third of the company’s planned production of one billion doses.

After President Donald Trump demanded a vaccine, the U.S. Department of Health made the deal with AstraZeneca which got the vaccine from the University of Oxford in England.

“This contract with AstraZeneca is a major milestone in Operation Warp Speed’s work toward a safe, effective, widely available vaccine by 2021,” U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar said.

Immunity to the new coronavirus is uncertain and so the use of vaccines unclear.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

U.S. farmers in line for $16 billion

The federal government in the United States is opening applications for $16 billion worth of aid for farmers and ranchers and said the first cheques should be issued by mid-June.

Every business or farmer or rancher will be eligible for up to $250,000 from the federal treasury.

Yet there is at least one federal politician who thinks that’s not enough and is calling for the resignation of Agriculture Minister Sonny Purdue.

“I’m sorry, but it’s time for Secretary Perdue to step down,” said  Markwayne Mullin, a Republican and a beef producer who has represented Oklahoma’s 2nd Congressional District since 2013.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Perth County farm has PED

Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus has hit a grow-finish hog operation in Perth County.

It is the fourth case this month.

Business loans open to farmers

Farmers are among those who can apply for a loan of up to $40,0000 under the Canada Emergency Business Account.

Up to $10.000 may be forgiven.

“Today’s announced expansion of the eligibility to the Canada Emergency Business Account is a big deal for farmers across the country,”said federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau.

“Farmers can be assured that we have their back, and we are continuing to roll-out supports for our agriculture sector,” she said.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Republicans would strip meat workers of rights

Ten Republicans have signed as sponsors of a bill that would strip meat-packing employees of their right to sue employers who force them to work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It would shield companies from frivolous lawsuits whose claims are not caused by willful or criminal misconduct, gross negligence, reckless misconduct or conscious, flagrant indifference to worker safety guidelines, the politicians said in a news release.

But 29 Democratic Party senators signed a different bill calling for safety protection for those same workers.

“While we recognize the importance of keeping these plants running, it is wrong and shortsighted to use the Defense Production Act to mandate plants to stay open without effectively addressing worker safety issues,” wrote the Senators. 

The proposals come after United States President Donald Trump ordered meat-packing plants to continue operating during the pandemic.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

DNA barcode may speed COVID-19 testing

Professor Paul Hebert’s team at the University of Guelph that developed bar coding for species Is adapting the technology to test for COVID-19.

The team’s approach promises to be much faster and cheaper than current tests which cost about $40 to $100 each and take days to produce results.

Their approach involves identifying a single gene specific to COVID-19, then screening swabs to determine whether that gene is present.
Their approach can do batches at a time, amounting to thousands per day. That speeds up the testing process and reduces the cost to about $1 per sample.

Herbert told CBC that processing thousands of samples daily is key to monitoring the spread of the COVID-19 and could allow for more informed decision making on the enforcement and relaxation of lockdowns. 

"For example, the safe reopening of schools and workplaces will require upwards of 100,000 tests a week," he said.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

More COVID-19 at Conestoga Meats

There have now been 75 cases of COVID-19 at the Conestoga Meats processing plant. 

Of those, 41 cases have been resolved, according Dr. Hsui-Li Wang, the acting medical officer of health for Waterloo region.

The plant closed for one week at the end of April to clean and sanitize the place and to install dividers.

At the time there were seven positive cases, but that increased to 44 during and shortly after the shut-down.

Even though the number of cases has increased, the rate of spread has continued to decrease, said Dr. Wang.

Her public health unit is working with the plant's management and with the ministry of labour.

"We are monitoring closely in partnership with the ministry of labour to determine the effectiveness of the enhanced PPE (personal protective equipment) and safety procedures that were put in place prior to their reopening on May 4," said Wang.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Survey reveals grain farmers stress

A membership survey undertaken by Grain Farmers of Ontario reveals many are under considerable stress, mainly related to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on markets.

The survey highlights are that:

• 86 per cent expect their net income will be reduced this year.

• More than half are already experiencing a reduction in sales and another 24 per cent are experiencing cancellation or delays of existing contracts.

• One third are experiencing a cashflow crunch and another third expect cash flow issues in the near future.

• 55 per cent fear that they will not be able to cover their cost of production.

• 77 per cent want to see government support equivalent to the United States.

China again uses tariffs to bully a nation

China has suspended beef imports from four Australian meat packers and is threatening to impose an 80 per tariff on barley from Australia.

The moves are China’s response to Australia saying it plans to ask the World Health Organization to examine the origins of COVID-19 in China.

The United States and the United Kingdom have made similar requests.

United States President Donald Trump said in an interview with FOX television network that he’s so angry about the virus coming from China that he no longer wants to talk to the Chinese.

He threatened to break off relations with China.

Oh, my!  What's to become of us when bullies and blowhards rule our world?

Vet says owners can’t afford their horses

Some owners are euthanizing their horses because they can’t afford to care for them, veterinarian Mike Pownall is quoted today by the Globe and Mail.

He said owners are postponing vaccinations and dental work, which could lead, respectively, to cases of the deadly West Nile virus or abnormalities in the mouth that prevent proper chewing. 

Pownall said they are selling their horses for cents on the dollar, giving them away and euthanizing older or injured animals earlier than planned. 

They are moving out of their homes and into their horse trailers, deferring taxes and equipment fees and cashing out their retirement plans. They are turning off the barn lights.

“This is happening now – right now,” said Dr. Pownall, a founding partner at Ontario’s McKee-Pownall Equine Services of Campbellville.

“We’re right at the point where, best-case scenario, a lot of horses are going to go hungry, and worst-case scenario they’re sold on auction for meat or euthanized. ... It’s not neglect. It’s ‘We don’t have money.’"

Jillian deMan appointed

Jillian deMan of Woodstock has been appointed to a two-year term on the Committee on the Status of Species at Risk.

The committee is of interest to farmers who are asked to manage their properties with a view to protecting habitat for species at risk.

DeMan is employed by AECON where she works to obtain project approvals with respect to the Endangered Species Act. 

She holds a degree is biological and earth sciences from Brock University and the Environmental Review Tribunal has recognized her as an expert in woodland and wetland restoration.

She is a life time member of the Field Botanists of Ontario and volunteers with The Owl Foundation.

Hot dog sales soar in United States

Hot dog sales increased by 19 per cent in the United States since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, according to Anne-Marie Roerink of 210 Analytics LLC.

Last year hot dog sales were flat during this time of the year.

While volume of sales was up by 19 per cent, revenues were up by 36 per cent.

Three COVID-19 cases at Better Beef

Three workers at the Better Beef plant Cargill owns in Guelph have tested positive for COVID-19, but they have all been “resolved,” the public health unit said.

There are no current cases, said the Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph health unit.

Union president Tim Deelstra told CBC news that "it's a big concern. 

People are trying to go to work, and we want them to be safe and we want them to go home safe." 

"We have tried to work with Cargill to make sure that we are aware as much as possible because we want to make sure our members in the facility are safe and secure," he said.

Deelstra said the union is asking for greater distancing between workers.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Feds provide $100 million farm business help

The federal government unveiled another $100-million fund today to help farm businesses cope with disruptions flowing from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Agriculture and Food Business Solutions Fund is “to support proven, viable companies through unexpected business disruptions, such as the COVID-19 pandemic,” federal Agriculture Minister Maire-Claude Bibeau said.

Farm Credit Canada is putting the $100 million in Forage Capital Inc.  of Calgary.

The money is “to provide companies with the financial stability and flexibility they need to rebuild their business models during challenging times,” the government said.

The fund is for a broad range of businesses, “including companies involved in primary production, agri-tech, manufacturing, packaging and distribution.

“The fund will help companies in times of need through innovative solutions such as convertible debt investments and other flexible financing solutions. Applications will be assessed individually on their merit, and will be supported to a maximum of $10 million. 

The primary goal . . . is to return recipient companies to a sound financial footing,” the government said.

Companies will need need to demonstrate an impact from an unexpected business disruption, such as the loss of a key supplier, temporary loss of a facility or permanent loss of critical staff or leadership. 

Funds cannot be used to repay shareholder loans or purchase shareholder equity positions.

Forty CFIA meat inspectors test positive

Forty meat inspectors have tested positive for COVID-19, the union representing them said today.

Eighteen worked at the Cargill plant at High River, Alta., where almost half of the 2,000-member work force tested positive.

There are 21 positive cases among the CFIA workforce in Alberta.

Another $2.5 million for temporary foreign workers

The federal and Ontario agriculture ministers announced they are 
providing another $2.5 million for farmers to comply with worker safety standards for coping with COVID-19.

The Agri-food Workplace Protection Program to help farmers enhance health and safety measures to prevent the spread of the virus. 

The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs is open now to take applications for he funding.

Grain Farmers launches attack ads

Grain Farmers of Ontario is launching radio and television attack ads this week to tell Canadians about discrepancies between United States and Canadian help for farmers.

The ads point out that the U.S. is spending about $19 billion to help agriculture while Canada’s main help has been allowing Farm Credit Canada to lend farmers more money.

The ads tell Canadians that their food system is breaking and shows decaying farm buildings.

Tyson reducing some meat prices 20 to 30 per cent

Tyson said it is reducing prices on some meats by 20 to 30 per cent this week.

The announcement comes soon after United States President Donald Trump said he has asked his officials to investigate why the prices packers pay for cattle is so low while retail beef prices are so high.

Tyson’s Gary Mickelson said “we’re doing this because we want to help keep beef on family tables across our nation, especially as our beef plants return from reduced levels of production.”  Mickelson is Tyson’s senior director of public relations.

Prices for grocery items went up by 2.6 per cent in April, which was the biggest increase from one month to the next since 1974, according to United States Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

More aid for agriculture in U.S.

There is more federal money about to flow out to the United States agriculture industry, adding to $5.5 billion already offered to those coping with COVID-19 issues.

This time will be part of a $3 trillion-dollar package politicians are pondering in Washington. The initial largesse came from a $2-trillion package.

There are proposals to help euthanize hogs and chicken and to set up and run labs. 

The National Pork Producers Council says one million hogs may need to be euthanized because packing plants can’t handle all of the market-ready hogs.

And in Canada? Hmmm. Even senior citizens, already on the federal dole, are getting more than farmers $2.5 billion for them, about $250 million for farmers.

Robert Anderson joins commission

Robert Anderson of Strathroy has been added to the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission for a two-year term.

He is a former police officer who, in retirement, ran an investigative training service for law enforcement officers.

His appointment came a day after Amy Cronin of Bluevale was named chair, also for two years.

Anderson has been a customs officer, police officer, and an instructor at the Ontario Police College. 

He could be a valuable addition, given the enforcement activities of marketing boards, especially those with supply management.

Erosion maps now online

The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs has added erosion measurements to its AgMap service.

It estimates how much soil will be lost to erosion for each field on a farm.

In making its estimates, it includes information collected from satellites.

It also makes calculations based on cropping alternatives, meaning a farmer can run simulations to determine how to reduce erosion.

Coming soon will be calculations about how much phosphorous is lost to erosion. That dove-tails with concerns that phosphorous runoff prompts fish-killing algae blooms in the Great Lakes, and especially in shallow Lake Erie.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

U.S and Canada agree to use electronic export certificates

Farmers exporting cattle and bison to the United States will soon be able to use electronic export certificates provided by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

The two countries have agreed to gradually phase in the service at border points after a successful pilot project that began in November at Emerson, Manitoba.

To learn more about My CFIA and how to enroll, please visit If you are a live cattle or bison exporter or an associated accredited veterinarian and are interested in using electronic export certificates, please contact Rachel Wheat at

Bibeau defends her response

Stung by widespread criticism that the federal and provincial governments have not done enough to help agriculture, federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau issued a defence highlighting temporary foreign workers.

“When COVID struck, we immediately got to work, with the top three countries of origin for foreign primary agricultural and food production workers: Mexico, Jamaica and Guatemala.

We announced $50 million to help farmers and agri-food businesses to cover the costs of safely welcoming temporary foreign workers in compliance with the Quarantine Act.

Working in close collaboration with industry we welcomed about 11,000 workers to Canada in April this year, compared to about 13,000, in April last year. 

 “And year-to-date, we have welcomed nearly 22,000 agricultural workers in Canada by the end of April, compared with about 25,500 at the end of April in 2019.

To get here, all the federal departments involved in the Temporary Foreign Worker program worked together to simplify processes and facilitate as much as possible the safe entry of these workers, including priority processing of applications, highlighting that work permit applicants can continue working with the same employer while they have an extension application being processed, and the measures announced today to fast-track approval for workers in non-SAWP streams to change jobs or employers.

‘We also increased the maximum duration of employment under LMIAs from one to two years for employers of workers in the low-wage stream and removed the minimum recruitment requirements for the next six months, for workers in agriculture and food processing.

“Further to these changes, we are working hard to bolster our domestic labour force to address potential areas of shortages.

On May 7, the prime minister announced that the federal Government was putting in place $3 billion to support wage top-ups for essential services. This is another important step to support many of our agricultural producers. We recognize that workers in the food supply chain, from the farm to the food store, are absolutely essential – and we look forward to seeing the provincial plans on these top-ups soon.

 We also launched our "Step up to the Plate – Help Feed Canadians" job portal, which is helping to match Canadians with jobs in the agri-food sector and we made temporary changes to the Canada Summer Jobs Program to offer more help to essential services including the agri-food supply chain,” her statement said.

But she said nothing about the subsidies amounting to only 10 per cent of what the Canadian Federation of Agriculture requested.