Monday, August 31, 2020

Ban obstructing livestock trucks

The province is implementing legislation to make it illegal “to stop, obstruct, hinder or otherwise interfere with a motor vehicle transporting farm animals.”

It comes after an animal rights protestor was struck and killed by a truck hauling pigs to the Fearman’s slaughter plant in Burlington.

“These proclamations will ensure the safety and security of the public and the provincial food supply while protecting the right for people to participate in lawful protests on public property,” the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs said in a news release Monday, the day before the new law goes into effect. 

“Stopping motor vehicles in traffic when they are transporting farm animals is dangerous for everyone, including those who stop the trucks, pedestrians, livestock transporters and other drivers,” said Ontario Agriculture Minister Ernie Hardeman.

“As actions like this are on the rise and public safety is a top priority for the Ontario government, it is critical to bring these specific parts of the act into force immediately to ensure safety for everyone,” he said.

This all assumes that police did not already have the right to stop the protestors at Fearman's from interfering with trucks. And that's a stretch.

Seems there are two sets of laws, and law-abiding citizens need two sets of laws to curb the scofflaws.

Union calls for Alberta plant to close

Union organizers want Sofina Foods to shut down its poultry-processing plant at Ramsay, Alta., because 27 workers have tested positive for COVID-19.

All of the infected employees are from the same second shift at the 24-hour facility and Sofina is asking all employees on that shift to stay home until the company considers whether “additional measures” are needed to contain any further spread.

Sofina is better known in Ontario for running the province’s largest hog-slaughtering plant at Burlington.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Food couriers get $3.46 million settlement

Couriers who delivered food for the Foodoro company service have won a settlement of $3.46 million.

Couriers accused the U.S. company of union busting and appealed to the Ontario Labour Relations Board which has ruled in favour of the couriers.

The settlement was paid "in light of" Foodora's exit from the Canadian market, according to a Tuesday press releasefrom Delivery Hero, Foodora's parent company. The settlement will resolve the claims lodged by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers to the Ontario Labour Relations Board against Foodora Canada for that action and set the stage for a nation-wide settlement.

When Foodora announced its departure from Canada, CUPW called the move "a cruel act by a multinational corporation in the middle of a pandemic," and on April 29, lodged an unfair labour practices complaint.

The labour board said Foodora erred in classifying the couriers as independent contractors when they were in fact employees (dependent contractors). This granted the workers the right to form a union, but Foodora announced its departure before the union could be certified.

A similar dispute has arisen with Uber who says its drivers are independent contractors, but some drivers have organized to say they are employees. That issue has not yet been settled.

Bayer’s Roundup settlement hits a snag

A judge has threatened to re-open the class-action lawsuits against Bayer AG over its Roundup herbicide.

United States District Judge Vince Chhabria made the threat after he questioned whether Bayer is reneging on its agreement to a $63-billion settlement for about 75 per cent of the 125,000 claims filed against Roundup.

One of the leading lawyers involved in the Roundup litigation said he was prepared to bring cases to trial again.

“I agree that these Monsanto shenanigans need to stop. Either settle or don’t – at this point the only enemy is indecision,” Brent Wisner told Reuters news agency.

Bayer not only agreed on the $63 billion, but also to use its terms in ongoing negotiations to settle the other claims.

“There are often some bumps in the road in implementing a resolution of this magnitude, but we remain confident that a comprehensive settlement will be finalized and executed,” Bayer said in a statement.



Tribunal orders hatching commission to reveal data

The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Appeal Tribunal has ordered the Ontario Broiler Hatching Egg and Chick Commission to reveal the details behind its calculation that its members spend 847.2 hours a year on management tasks.

It’s part of a new cost of production formula the commission has used to justify the price of poults for chicken producers.

Originally the commission had set the hours at 1711.7, but on appeal reduced that to 847.2.

The Association of Ontario Chicken Processors deemed that still too many hours and filed an appeal with the tribunal.

The tribunal did not post any notice of that appeal on its website, but now has posted its decision. The public had no way of knowing it could ask to be involved in the tribunal process.

The Chicken Farmers of Ontario marketing board, representing chicken growers, has agreed to the new formula.

It is in a position to pass through those increased costs via its own cost of production formula and it’s the processors who end up having to pay the bills or trying to persuade its customers they need to pay more.

The Tribunal said on its website that it “orders that OBHECC provide to AOCP and CFO a detailed list of tasks and associated hours for the annual hatching egg producer management hours considered as part of the cost production formula within 60 days of the date of the release of this decision.”

The decision is dated Aug. 27.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Two more named to rabies advisory body

Kathy Duncan of Aurora and Dr. Kevin Kieffer of Walkerton have been appointed to three-year terms on the province’s Rabies Advisory Committee.

A few days earlier Eva Nagy of Puslinch and Tyrrel De Lange of London were named to three-year terms on the committee.

Duncan is a director and  former president with the Association of Animal Shelter Administrators of Ontario.

Kieffer is a veterinarian at Walkerton Hanover Veterinary Clinic.


Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Corn rootworm population’s building

Corn rootworm populations have increased, prompting crop specialist Tracy Baute to advise farmers to make some management changes.

One issue is increasing resistance to control products, such as seed treatments and Bt-including hybrids.

Another is mild winters which increase pest survival rates and then this growing season has been ideal for corn rootworms to multiply.

“In general, the adult beetles are very abundant this year in any field,” Baute said. 

That could mean bigger problems next year.

For the best chances at reducing the population, “we really need to try and take away corn in that system – not just within the field of concern but nearby fields too, because these beetles can fly,” Baute said.


“The beetles tend to lay their eggs where corn grows year after year. … Without the corn, the larvae won’t survive and populations significantly drop.”

China citing COVID-19 to ban imports

China said it has discovered COVID-19 in meat imports and to allay public concerns, is suspending imports from packing plants where workers have been infected.

There is no evidence that anybody has been infected from imported meat.

But the situation has prompted companies to voluntarily suspend exports to China until there are no more COVID-19 cases among their workers.

In Canada, that’s Maple Leaf Foods at Brandon, Man., and Cargill at High River, Alta.

Argentina has suspended exports from seven plants, Brazil from a few and others are in Ireland and France.

Union, Maple Leaf disagree on COVID-19 outbreak

Workers at Brandon’s Maple Leaf Foods plant say the company and provincial government are passing the blame onto them for spreading COVID-19 in the facility.

On Monday, 74 workers had been confirmed to have COVID-19. Sixty-two cases were active, according to the union.

“We workers are crying for help,” the workers’ union said in an open letter published by advocacy group Migrante Manitoba.

In a press conference Monday, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, said the cluster of cases didn’t originate in the plant and said the sick people just “happen to work” there.

In the letter, the workers allege the plant revamped their locker rooms, which made them crowded and social distancing difficult. 

Workers also said provisions for social distancing are not available in bathrooms.

The union has maintained its call for the Maple Leaf plant to shut down until COVID-19 cases reach a more manageable level.

In the letter, workers also called for a two-week shutdown, site-wide testing, job security and wage protection while the facility is closed.

The company has countered that it takes worker safety seriously, has implemented a number of measures to prevent spread of the virus and intends to continue operating.

Maple Leaf disses Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods

Maple Leaf Foods Inc.’s plant protein company, Lightlife Foods, has taken out full-page newspaper advertisements to criticize two of its competitors, Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods.

It calls its advertising campaign "Clean Break", saying it is making a clean break from other “food tech” companies.

President Dan Curtin said Lightlife is "a real food company" that uses "simple ingredients and methods to make ... delicious plant-based food."

He said Lightlife's burger has 11 ingredients compared with 18 to 20 ingredients in Beyond and Impossible burgers.

 "People deserve plant-based protein that is developed in a kitchen, not a lab," the ad says.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Two vets appointed to rabies council

Two prominent veterinarians have been appointed to three-year terms on the province’s Rabies Advisory Council.

Eva Nagy of Puslinch is retired from virology research specializing in poultry vaccines at Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph.

Tyrrel De Langley of London is chief executive officer of both Western Ontario Veterinary Consulting and of Oakridge Animal Clinic.

Canada, U.S., both announce food donations

Politicians in Canada and the United States announced programs Monday to provide food for needy people.

For Canada, it was Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau in Sydney-Victoria, British Columbia, announcing the purchase of $15.5 million worth of seafood for Canada’s $50-million Surplus Food Rescue Program.

For the United States, it was President Donald Trump announcing an additional $1 billion for its Farmers to Families Food Box program. That program started with $3 billion.

Country Farm Seeds makes a deal

Country Farm Seeds of Blenheim has made a deal with Winfirld United Canada of Saskatoon so they can market each other’s seeds.

Country Farm Seeds is the brand name for C & L Seed Production Group.

The result of the business partnership will provide farmers in Eastern Canada with corn genetics that are produced in Canada,” the companies said.

Lyle Giffin started Country Seed in 1972 to serve the local market for corn and soybean seed.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Montreal port strike ends

A strike by 1,125 workers at the port of Montreal has ended with an agreement to spend the next seven months trying to reach an agreement.

The end of the strike means grain exports can resume.

At a joint press conference Friday, the Maritime Employers Association and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) announced the truce.

The two sides have agreed to work on negotiating a new collective agreement by March 20, 2021, without a strike, lockout or work tactics.

On Friday, the president of the Maritime Employers Association, Martin Tessier, and the CUPE representative, Michel Murray, both said they were hopeful of reaching an agreement within the seven months.

The port also reached an agreement in principle with a second union, representing about 150 auditors, who had also been on strike. The union will submit a tentative collective agreement to members today.



Friday, August 21, 2020

Chicken new entrant program open

Chicken Farmers of Ontario announced it has opened applications for its new entrants program.

Winners get help to get into the chicken industry.

Last year the board doubled its normal acceptance from two per year to four. The program has been running for nine years.

Quota is so expensive that few young people who are not in line to inherit a farm are able to afford to get into the business.


Thursday, August 20, 2020

Trump pulls out of meeting with China


United States President Donald Trump pulled out of a scheduled Aug. 15 meeting with China.

The meeting was supposed to be a mid-term review of a deal in which China committed to buy more agriculture products from the United States.

However, Reuters reports that China is saying the talks will take place in the next couple of days.

China and the United States have agreed to hold trade talks “in the coming days” to evaluate the progress of their Phase 1 trade deal six months after it took effect in February, the Chinese commerce ministry said on Thursday. 

Ministry spokesman Gao Feng made the comments at a weekly briefing held online, but did not elaborate.

Trump, who is under heavy pressure over his mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Tuesday that he pulled out because China is to blame for allowing the virus to spread.

China committed to purchase $12.5 billion of additional ag goods on top of the 2017 baseline amount of $23.8 billion in the first year of the agreement.

At the half-way mark, it has purchased about $8.7 billion of U.S. farm products, or about 24 percent of its commitment for 2020.

Canada lags in support for farmers

Canada’s “support to producers continues to be well below the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) average in recent years,” says a new report from the OECD.

Subsidies accounted for eight per cent of farmers’ gross receipts for two years from 2017 to 2019 compared with an average of 11.67 per cent for the 54 countries studied by the OECD.

Canadian support fell from 35 per cent in 1986-88 to 17 per cent in 2000-02.

“We need to see better support for farmers in Canada,” said Mary Robinson, president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture.

The key increase the CFA seeks is to AgriStability.

Canada has shifted away from spending on safety nets toward spending on innovation and infrastructure over the past couple of decades, she said.

I think that shift is exactly right. It lays a foundation for long-term strength compared with the waste involved with most countries' farm subsidies.

Trump pulls out of meeting with China

United States President Donald Trump pulled out of a scheduled Aug. 15 meeting with China.

The meeting was supposed to be a mid-term review of a deal in which China committed to buy more agriculture products from the United States.

No new date has been set.

Trump, who is under heavy pressure over his mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic, said he pulled out because China is to blame for allowing the virus to spread.

China committed to purchase $12.5 billion of additional ag goods on top of the 2017 baseline amount of $23.8 billion in the first year of the agreement.

At the half-way mark, it has purchased about $8.7 billion of U.S. farm products, or about 24 percent of its commitment for 2020.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Pork board meetings to be virtual

Regional meetings will be virtual this year to elect delegates and policy advisory team members for the Ontario Pork producers marketing board.

The board’s directors will host meetings via Telus Business Connect.

The annual meeting will be in November.

ASF vaccine trials promising

Chinese researchers report positive results with a vaccine against African Swine Fever.

The Harbin Veterinary Research Institute conducted trials with 3,000 pigs, some of them piglets and others sows.

The results indicate that at doses 100 times greater than usual, the vaccine generated an 80 percent immune response.

The researchers report that during the 20-week observation period, the vaccinated pigs showed no clinical abnormalities or signs of infection.

They said it’s too early to predict when a vaccine will be widely available.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Farmers love Trump

A recent poll shows 82 per cent of farmers support United States President Donald Trump.

The Farm Journal reported the results from a survey of 1,500 farmers.

The Trump administration has doled out more than $30 billion In farm subsidies to offset COVID-19 and Chinese tariffs.

In the last election, 82 per cent of white Evangelical Christians also voted for Trump.

On the other hand, only two per cent of Black women voted for him.


COVID cases rising at packing plants

The count of workers testing positive for COVID-19 recently rose to 56 at the Maple Leaf hog-slaughtering plant at Brandon, Man., and Olymel sent 13 workers home from its pork plant at Red Deer, Alta., after a couple of its workers tested positive.

Both plants remain in production.

Workers at the Brandon plant have been calling for a temporary shut-down, warning the situation could escalate as happened at the Cargill beef plant in Alberta.

Three conferences merge online


Three conferences to provide up-to-date information for farmers are merging to present their speeches online this January.

They are the Southwest Agricultural Conference, FarmSmart’s crop content and Eastern Ontario Crop conference.

They will be live online Jan. 6 and 7, but also available later as recorded sessions.

The livestock component of what has been known as the FarmSmart conference will be delivered digitally in other ways.

The three conferences are co-operating to “make sure in 2021 we present world-leading information to all of our stakeholders,” said co-chair Albert Tenuta.

The conference will focus on crops with some personal development presentations, said Tenuta.

Veggie growers support critics’ requests

The Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers Marketing Board is supporting critics who want an independent body to investigate workers’ complaints.

“OGVG has been calling for a number of additional tools and services to help address acute issues with employee safety and supports throughout the COVID-19 pandemic” said Joe Sbrocchi, general manager of OGVG. 

“As stated earlier this month, we believe an ombudsman-like position to mediate employee-employer interactions would serve both parties and help to strengthen the reputation of the long-standing temporary foreign worker programs.”

The marketing board said it remains committed to enhancing a full suite of regulatory tools, support services and other workplace protections for agri-food employees, such as:

    - Additional testing for all agri-food employees.

  • Increased joint on-farm inspections with the federal government under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program framework to identify and address bad players.

  • A ban on employees working at more than one operation.

  • A crackdown on the use unscrupulous recruiters who operate outside of the law, asking all levels of government to work with the sector to address this issue.

  • Source and distribute additional PPE for employees to use in their communities as well as distribute PPE to local businesses to ensure masks and social distancing are the norm at all commercial establishments.

OGVG and other agri-food stakeholders said they have been working with the federal and provincial governments and authorities to manage through the COVID-19 crisis.

CFIA lays charges against Hylife

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has filed three animal abuse charges against hog-production companies Hylife Ltd. and Hylife Foods LLP of Neepewa, Manitoba.

The companies are to appear in court in Winnipeg to respond to the charges which relate to things that happened Sept. 18.

Hylife is a large fully-integrated hog production and pork packing company. Among its holdings are the former Springhill Hutterite colony’s hog-packing plant.

Last year Charoen Pokphand Foods Public Company Limited (CPF of Thailand bought half of Hylife for $498 million.

Charoen operates in 17 countries and exports around the world.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Migrant workers fear reprisals

Migrant farm workers have told the Globe and Mail they fear reprisals if they complain.

The Globe reported “they have been punished by their employers over disagreements about COVID-19 precautions, fuelling calls for an independent oversight agency that would empower temporary foreign workers to register complaints without fear of reprisal.

“A number of migrant farm workers in B.C. and Ontario told The Globe and Mail they were fired or unnecessarily forced to quarantine after being accused of breaking pandemic-related rules or speaking out about inadequate safety measures.”

The federal government has announced investments and new measures to help ensure migrant workers are protected from COVID-19 in the short term and is undertaking a review or the Temporary Foreign Worker program for the longer term.

Workers and people advocating for them say they want the revamp to include the creation of an independent agency to probe complaints, with the guarantee that employees won’t be punished for raising concerns.

Currently, workers can lodge complaints with consular officials or Canadian authorities. There is a federal tip-line and there are provincial labour relations boards. 

As of last year, migrant workers can also apply for open work permits, which allow those with employer-specific permits to leave abusive situations and work elsewhere for up to one year.

Iowa seeks $4 billion for storm

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds has asked the federal government for $4 billion to help the state recover from a wind storm.

The damage to cities and rural towns left more than half a million homes and businesses without power and at least three people died.

Winds gusted to 160 kilometres per hour as the storm, known as a derocho, moved from eastern Nebraska, across Iowa and into Chicago

It flattened crops on 37.7 million acres, including 14 million in Iowa, the Iowa Soybean Association said on Friday.

There could be claims from 58,000 crop insurance policies with a liability of around $6 billion in Iowa, including $1.86 billion for soybeans, the Iowa Soybean Association said.

Gluten imports under investigation

The Canada Border Services Agency is investigating wheat gluten imports after two companies complained that imports are coming in at less than the cost of production.

The imports are from Australia, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany and Lithuania.

ADM Agri-Industries, an American company with a gluten processing plant at Candiac, Que., and Permolex, which has a plant at Red Deer, Alta., filed complaints with Canada Border Services Agency.

The agency is expected to issue preliminary findings by Nov. 12.

Friday, August 14, 2020

McDonald’s returns to 100 per cent Canadian beef

McDonald’s Canada is returning to 100 per cent Canadian beef.

It paused the commitment after COVID-19 disrupted supply chains and sales from its stores, but said it still sourced 80 per cent of its needs with Canadian beef.

Some was imported from as far as New Zealand.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Feds buying $50 million to donate

The federal government is spending $50 million to buy surplus food to donate to needy Canadians.

The Surplus Food Rescue Program is designed to address urgent, high volume, highly perishable surplus products falling under fruit, vegetables, meat and fish and seafood. 

Much of what’s being bought was destined for restaurants and the hospitality industry which can no longer use it because of the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to close.

The Program awarded contributions to eight organizations including Food Banks Canada, Second Harvest and La Tablée des Chefs.

They will be distributing about 12 million kilograms of products such as potatoes, walleye fish, chicken, turkey and eggs, and more. 

 Nutri-Group will be providing Food Banks Canada and Second Harvest with more than one million dozen eggs at cost.

Federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau was at Nutri-Group head office at Saint-Hyacinthe, Que., to announce some of the program details.

Too bad it took the government so long to get the program up and running. When it was really needed was when restaurants were first closed down and supply chains were disrupted.

Mexico is phasing out glyphosate

Mexico is phasing out glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup herbicide.

It starts with a ban on using glyphosate on government property and by 2024 it will be entirely banned.

President Manuel Lopez Obrador said he realizes there are sharp differences of opinion between farmers and environmentalists.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Old-fashioned harvesting

This scene brought back memories when I was the young lad on the wagon, holding the horses' reins.
This scene was on the Belmont Line, south of Belmore, at the Sherk farm.

Potato board changes proposed

At the request of the Ontario Potato Board, the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission is proposing an amendment to regulations that would convert the current negotiating agency for all processors of "Soups and Stews" to a negotiating agency for all processors of "Frozen Products."

The Commission is also proposing amendments to remove outdated references in O. Reg. 247/99 to the Farm Products Grades and Sales Act and the Canada Agricultural Products Act (Canada).

Veal fee changes proposed

The Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission intends to change the definition of veal so the Veal Farmers of Ontario can collect more fees.

The commission said “the definition of veal cattle (will be changed) to better reflect industry needs and allow VFO to receive licence fees on animals that are not currently included in the regulations.

The proposed changes would also “remove outdated references to the Livestock and Poultry Carcass Grading Regulation (Canada) from the veal cattle definition.”

Beef Farmers of Ontario supports the requested changes from Veal Farmers of Ontario.

Maple Leaf keeps Brandon plant running

Despite union claims that the number of workers testing positive for COVID-19 has risen to 20, Maple Leaf Foods continues to keep its hog-packing plant at Brandon, Man., up and running.

The union wants it shut down for a cleanup and wants all workers to be tested.

Brandon now has 64 positive cases, testing facilities are maxed out. And there is a four-hour wait to be swabbed to collect samples for testing.

A number of Brandon businesses have shut down and others are restricting access and requiring masks to be worn.

“It’s definitely taken a turn here in the last week, but I think as a business community as a whole, we’ve done an excellent job trying to flatten the curve like it was a few months back,” said Spencer Day of the Brandon Chamber of Commerce.

Ontario releases farm registration names

Despite strong objections from the three main farm organizations, Freedom-of-Information officials for the province have decided to release the names of all farms participating in the Farm Business Registration program.

The identity of the person or organization that filed the request for the information remains confidential.

The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) said “after consulting with a sample of farm businesses and carefully reviewing their feedback, the ministry has determined that specific exemptions apply to the farm business number. 

“As such, the ministry has decided to withhold that part of the requested information, except where expressed consent was given to provide it to the requestor.”

President Keith Currie of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture said “we are disappointed in the decision . . . (and) “we are concerned about the safety and security of our farm businesses and the serious risk this poses to them.”

The OFA, Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario and National Farmers Union-Ontario released a joint statement in which Ed Scharringa, president of CFFO said, “We believe that farm business names constitute personal information and should therefore be protected. 

“We are concerned that OMAFRA’s decision to release this information could lead to harm for farmers, their families and their employees.”“Only three per cent of farmers consulted by OMAFRA agreed to the release of their information,” said Don Ciparis, NFU-O president. “This is an unacceptably low consent rate on which to base an FOI decision.”

Farmers have been targeted by animal rights activists who have trespassed on some places to draw news media attention to their claims that animals and birds are being mistreated.



Tuesday, August 11, 2020

It's time to abolish supply management

Now that Canada's agriculture policies are proving entirely inadequate to current challenges, it's time to seriously consider abolishing supply management.

There are many reasons:

The system has locked in inefficiencies, particularly inefficiencies of scale.

It has rewarded a tiny percentage of farmers at the expense of all other farmers. Especially those who inherited quota are able to outbid neighbours for land, machinery, technology and other services.

There are some quota holders who have become multi-millionaires while neighbours struggle to survive. Joe Hudson of Burnbrae Holdings is an egregious example. He fought against supply management for the egg industry, but later came to embrace it and become the largest egg quota holder in Canada and  the largest egg grader and egg processor. Burnbrae Holdings is worth hundreds of millions of dollars in quota alone. This is not what any of the original advocates of supply management envisioned or would condone.

It has become an almost exclusive club; few are able to buy their way into marketing board membership. Most inherit the privilege.

All of Canada's lowest-income people are forced to pay more for supply-managed commodities to sustain quota-holders' privileges. It is an entirely regressive tax.

To add insult to injury, quota holders are now being compensated billions of dollars for minor "losses" related to international trade agreements with the United States, the European Union and Pacific Rim countries. Meanwhile other Canadian farmers who are suffering because of international trade and unfair competition are getting little or nothing.

Farmers and politicians argue that supply management means subsidies are not necessary. This is a lie. The system itself is the biggest subsidy in Canadian farming history. The economy and the public would be better served by subsidies than continuation of supply management.

To be sure, agriculture is far from the only sector of the Canadian economy that is bedevilled by supply management. Telecommunications is another. But those other sectors are open to disruptive innovations, such as Uber breaking into the taxi market.

It's a good time to re-examine whether supply management serves the public and farmers are intended.

Ontario electricity costs too much, says Fraser Institute

Ontario’s electricity rates were not reduced as promised by Premier Doug Ford, merely shifted from consumers to taxpayers, says a new report from the Fraser Institute.

The challenge is long-term contracts signed with wind and solar producers who are not only granted high prices, but also priority to market into the grid.

And rather than lowering rates, the Fraser Institute says the Global Adjustment increased by 13 percent between June 2018 and 2019.

The Ford government offset those increases with subsidies for residential consumers.

“These taxpayer subsidies keep Ontarians in the dark about the true costs of electricity, and keep policymakers from focusing on real solutions,” said the report.

If electricity costs were really lowered, it “would also help restore Ontario’s competitiveness,” the report said.

Meat Institute defends inclusion in dietary guidelines

The North American Meat Institute has presented compelling arguments for including meat and poultry products in dietary guidelines.

Susan Backus, the institute’s vice-president of regulatory and scientific programs, said, for example, that teens are generally deficient in protein and vitamin B that can be provided by meat and poultry.

She was making a presentation to the Health and Human Services section of the United States Department of Agriculture which is responsible for the guidelines.

“These findings, combined with the dietary patterns’ conclusions that healthy patterns are ‘lower’ in red and processed meats are confusing and provide mixed messages,”  Backus said.

She stuck with the message that meat and poultry products ought to be restricted to the limitations laid out in the guidelines, noting that there are differences for various age groups and healthiness.

One of the arguments against continuing to eat current volumes of meat and poultry is increasing obesity in the U.S. population.

Another is the risk of cancers, such as barbecued meats.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Economists say Canada needs a new agriculture policy

Canadian farmers face so many challenges that a total revamp of agriculture policy is needed, say the three agriculture economists at Agri-Food Economic Systems at Guelph.

While they lay out a long list of challenges, they do not provide a comprehensive recipe for politicians to fashion a better set of policies.

One major challenge is the collapse of rules-based global trade 

agreements, mainly as a result of protectionism under United States President Donald Trump.

He and China have ignored the World Trade Organization rules to hike tariffs and use them to pressure others to knuckle under to U.S. demands.

The current imposition of a 10 per cent tariff on Canadian aluminum is only one of many examples.

A related challenge for Canadian farmers is Trump’s multi-billion subsidies to compensate for China’s tariffs and the COVID-19 pandemic.

That skews U.S. market prices, especially for grains, undermining Canadian prices and the ability to use the futures markets to hedge risks.

Doug Hedley warns that “a descent into provincialism in agri-food policy in Canada would be disastrous, but it cannot be ruled out without awareness and effort”.

The team points specifically to national business risk management programs such as AgriStability.

“Our great difficulty is to fully come to grips with the situation that lies ahead of us”, said Al Mussell, Agri-Food Economic Systems Research Lead. 


“Our challenge (in the past) has been one of managing the abundance of farm and food products at price levels and volatility that provide farm profitability and an efficient investment climate.  But that was in a more secure trade and geo-political environment.


“The challenge of abundance remains, but we must now also consider food security and the risk of sudden collapse of segments in fashioning agri-food policy”. 

They list the big challenges:

• _The loss of the vast majority of the food service market in Canada- only now beginning its recovery. Will it return to its past size/scope? 

• _Ongoing threat of sudden closures of processing facilities- notably in meat processing. In turn, this has (re)exposed important fissures at the provincial level that have long existed. 

• _Practical difficulties and uncertainties associated with accessing foreign workers, undermining horticultural enterprises on some farms. 

'The optics of worker illness, with some Covid fatalities, is broadly negative and an underlying threat to foreign worker programs. At the same time, the Canadian workforce is not well aligned with repeated laborious work- including farm work and food processing. This could prove to be among the principal strategic issues exposed by COVID-19 pandemic, and it is global in scope," they wrote.


• _In most field crops, the price outlook for the harvest of 2020 is bearish, emboldened by historic agricultural support levels in the U.S. and the prospect of bumper crops in key growing areas and burdensome stocks going into the fall harvest. 

• _Inequities perceived across farm commodities in terms of public support for losses- whether related to trade injury, or Covid-19. 

"This is perhaps best exemplified by support allocated to the dairy industry in consideration of CETA/CPTPP/CUSMA versus federal assistance provided to canola, and more recently federal assistance for beef and pork," they wrote.

•   U.S. grain futures commodity prices are extensively used as a price reference in Canada and subject to arbitrage- but with agricultural support conditions so different between the U.S. and Canada, arbitrage occurs across an increasingly unlevel playing field in which low prices carry different implications for U.S. producers than it does Canadian producers. 

"This ultimately leaves Canadian producers in an unsustainable position absent mitigating measures. Another example in Canada is hog pricing models- in some cases based on carcass value, and in other cases hog futures/cash prices in U.S. Midwest, potentially creating very different return streams for producers," they wrote.

• _Increased erosion in the integrity of rules-based trade, with immediate threats from measures by countries to block (or hoard) personal protective equipment, a prospective SARS-Cov 2 vaccine, in addition to food security inspired measures to constrain exports. Also renewed agri-food trade policy as an element of geo-politics- such as barley and beef in the China-Australia relationship. 

• _Increasing tension in the U.S.-China relationship, possibly pressuring greater bilateral U.S-China trade in agri-food, with other international agri-food suppliers (such as Canada) relegated to a second tier. 

• _With domestic unemployment running in excess of 12 percent in June (nationally), and similarly in other developed countries, slumping incomes will eventually impact food demand. Conversely, the financing of sweeping government aid packages across the economy enacted as emergency measures could be inflationary with the ultimate impacts and costs deferred to future macroeconomic measures. 

• _Some regions in Canada are especially hard hit, notably Alberta and Saskatchewan, under the slumping oil demand. 

The economists say “the breadth and depth of issues impacting the agri-food policy landscape in Canada has perhaps never been more challenging.”

One of their recommendations is that Canada seek global partners to deal with trade issues and that try to secure access to markets that are facing the risk of food shortages.

But they also warn that it may become more difficult or expensive to import fresh fruits and vegetables.


Frankly, I don't think Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau and her staff are up to these challenges. But, then again, I can't point to any team that is.