Tuesday, 10 November 2009

A Breakthrough in Soybean yields.

Rural voice magazine column November 2009
By John Beardsley, Freelance Journalist
Crop Sales and Service specialist
For Brussels Agromart

Soybean yields in North America have been stalled over the past 20 years as pests like aphids and Soybean Cyst Nematodes take hold. When farmers plant certified seed it allows seed companies to put profits back into research and development. Companies like Syngenta, Monsanto and Dupont are spending millions of dollars a day in research and development. With these investments by the seed industry we may finally see the soybean yield trends going in the same positive direction as the corn yield trend has.

For many years breeders have used both northern and southern hemisphere growing seasons to get 2 crops a year. This has cut the ten year cycle from the first cross to the introduction of a new commercial variety down to 5 years. DNA mapping and other technological razzle dazzle has allowed breeders to insert traits into the best part of the soybeans genetics to improve yield.
This spring saw the commercial introduction of long season ”Roundup Ready 2 Yield” varieties that growers are hoping will give them more bushels in the bin. This new yield trait is being used by all soybean seed companies except DeDell and Pioneer. This innovation is supposed to deliver yield increases of 7-11 percent. The promoters use the illustration of this technology delivering 5 extra beans per plant which on two hundred thousand plants per acre would give producers an extra 500 bushels on a 100 acre field.

Pioneer is taking a different direction and is developing its own 2nd generation herbicide resistance soybeans. Their system is called “Optimum GAT”. They have also released a new “y” series lineup of superior yielding varieties. Pioneer developed the “y” series using traditional breeding and hi-tech selection methods. Whether this introduction will allow Pioneer breathing room until Optimum GAT soybeans are commercially available remains to be seen.

There are other advances for soybeans in the research pipeline. Some are quality traits such as soybeans which will have heart healthy Omega 3 fatty acids. Syngenta seeds (which many of you would know as NK) is working on Callisto herbicide tolerant beans to address the problem of glyphosate resistant weeds. Other companies are planning to use Liberty Link soybeans. Dicamba herbicide resistance is another option which will be soon be available.

So does this mean you should abandon a favourite Round up Ready variety and jump to “Roundup ready 2 yield” soybeans? There are many factors which influence yield. Last year’s launch of soybean inoculants with nodulation triggering technology yielded on average an extra 2 bushels per acre. Seed treatment advances such as Cruiser Maxx have also added bushels per acre. Other management factors such as seedbed preparation, planting date and depth add to yield as well. This year soils that were fed enough potash had higher yields and less aphid damage than those that were deficient. Natural factors such as rainfall and temperature can often have much more impact than genetics on final yield.

There are still compelling economic reasons to grow conventional varieties. Ironically,we can thank Biotech for creating a lucrative niche market for non genetically modified beans. Before the introduction of Biotechnology, food grade soybean premiums were only a few cents per bushel. This year popular Identity Preserved varieties such as S03W4’s commanded a premium of up to $3 per bushel. Growers will have to sharpen their pencils when considering which variety to grow. Soybean farmers will have lots to talk about when the seed sales reps start to call. Invite them in; you’ll both learn something.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Please pass the mayonaise

Don't read this article on local food; go to http://www.eatrealeatlocal.ca/ and watch a short video. Seriously, watch the video, download it, send the link to all your friends and contact lists. It should be required reading for every politician and bureaucrat.
Pig farmers will have to examine these latest government handouts and determine if the glass is half empty or half full. I would like to thumb my nose at all government programs. They are all made up of half measures and ad hoc vote buying, All farmers should look instead to the only viable long-term solution to our perpetual farming crisis; local food.
So why will local food be better than waiting for Loblaws to buy Ontario Beef instead of American or, if you are really lucky, western Canadian beef? Well, let’s look at some success stories. West Grey Premium Beef has been featured in this magazine but suffice it to say they you can now buy beef that is purchased locally and featured at the best local restaurants; they proudly display it in signs in their menus or displayed in the windows. Green’s Meats in Wingham is another success story, as are The Beefway in Kincardine, Elora Road Meats, and Metzgers in Hensall. West Grey and Metzger’s are slightly different to many in the list, in that they are federally licensed, so they can sell their products more easily to the rest of Canada or even to Loblaw’s. Loblaw’s, who are back on the airwaves claiming that, in season, they use 40 percent local produce (as if this wasn't bad enough for being so low ... ) put an artificial barrier on Ontario meat by requiring federal inspection. But West Grey Meats don't lose any sleep waiting for Galen Weston to call, instead they out-sell him on quality and consistency and gradually educate the restaurant owner that quality has a price but it also has a reward...loyal customers that will tell their friends - the cheapest advertising.
Local food success story number two -Buddha Dog Restaurants. Buddha Dog will gladly "make you one with everything" at their stores in Picton, Toronto or now in Collingwood. Not only is the food heavenly, but it is also supporting a vast array of local food producers. The store in Picton (which I am more familiar with) has a huge map of the county with every producer that provides them with food ingredients. They range from the Caribbean-born woman who only makes jerk sauce to the local abattoir that makes these pepperette-sized hotdogs. They have many wineries on this huge map of the county not because they are licensed but because they use local wine in some of their sauces. Buddha dog employees directly or indirectly tell the local food story with every hotdog. They sell Pop Shoppe pop rather than national brands and make amazing fruit smoothies in season from local fruit and vegetables. You can get the full Buddha Dog story at www.buddhafoodha.com .
I have not been a big promoter of organic food but I have discovered that local food doesn't necessarily mean organic food. It is like the square versus rectangle, all squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares. What most people don't realize is that conventional locally produced food has a smaller environmental footprint than organic food grown in the states and trucked in. If you want to preserve the rural nature of Midwestern Ontario, buy local food. Demand it at your grocery store and walk past the American strawberries and only eat local. Buy Ontario-grown if not local, and Canadian above American, Mexican or anywhere else in the world. Shop at the farmgate whenever possible and also support your local farmers market. If you want to support local crop farmers use ethanol blend gasoline. Buy bio-diesels additives.
You also support Canadian crop growers when you buy soymilk or tofu and all of the meat products produced locally. Examine your dairy milk, cheese and ice creams -if it doesn't have the blue cow it could be made with butter oil from the States and New Zealand. Goat milk and goat milk cheese, yogurt and ice cream are usually made from Canadian goat milk but you might want to check with the Ontario Dairy Goat Co-operative in Teeswater to be sure. Gay Lea products not only are made from Ontario Milk, it is also a cooperative that pays the members a share of the profits, unlike Saputo Kraft or Parmalat where profits go out of the country. Finally, watch the video at www.hellmanns.ca, click on the real food logo or http://www.eatrealeatlocal.ca and eat Hellmann's mayonnaise guilt free.( I am not being paid to say this)
Hellman’s Mayonnaise contains 650mg ALA per serving, which is 50% Daily Value for Omega 3 ALA, and NO TRANS FAT which is the only fat you need to worry about. Hellmann's is made with 100% Canadian eggs, a dash of Canadian vinegar and a lot of pure Canadian canola oil…. much of which, this year, is grown in Bruce and Grey counties.

Please write me about your favorite abattoir or local food restaurant that isn't in this list so I can write about them here or on my blog at www.ontarioagriculturematters.blogspot.com Send me your emails to agriculturematters@scsinternet.com.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Where are the “I Love Ontario Pork “ bumper stickers?

Where are the “I Love Ontario Pork “ bumper stickers?
An open letter to Dalton McGuinty on the plight of young farmers
Rural voice article August 2009 issue by John Beardsley
Dear Dalton McGuinty
There is an impending crisis in Ontario Agriculture. Beginning farmers in the hog industry are only months away from financial ruin. Sustained low prices initially brought about by oversupply combined with declining worldwide demand in the face of the economic crisis in Europe, and especially Asia, has brought the Canadian industry to its knees. Unfortunately many countries have closed their borders to Canadian pork with the excuse of Swine Flu (more properly known as H1N1 virus). American farm policy providing subsidized cheap feed and recent Country of Origin Labeling has further worked to help American hog producers unfairly, though legally, compete with Canadian Producers. Ironically the development of the circovirus vaccine has increased production of pork all around the world by decreasing death losses.
Established hog producers have a longer financial track record and many will be able to secure more operating loans to weather this crisis and hang on by their finger tips.
If pig prices don’t dramatically improve in the next 2 months about 90 of Ontario’s brightest and best hog farmers will go belly up. What puts salt in the wounds of beginning farmers is that dead farmers (well, their widows), bankrupt farmers and retired farmers got a nice little bonus from an emergency one time pork industry bailout. Beginning farmers, who need the money the most, didn’t qualify because flawed historical data from 2005-2006 was used to determine the payouts. But your agriculture Minister Leona Dombrowski will not admit she screwed up in getting the emergency pig farmer money out to pork farmers. The spokesperson for this group of affected producers, Wayne Bartels from Bartside farms, says he has won awards for his efficiency yet because he had little production history never received a cent. Many may only have 45-60 days left before banks and creditors pull the plug. It’s estimated that the average hog producer has lost an additional five per cent of their equity in the last 60 days. These are the next generation of food producers. Wayne says Swine flu was just the latest, perhaps final straw. American farm policy (cheap feed) and corn prices now pegged to oil prices not feed demand has created high feed costs. Soybean meal is two and a half times what it was during the last pork price downturn; good for Ontario soybean growers but disastrous for pork farmers. It is an extra long down cycle with no dramatic upturn in sight. Unlike cattle farmers who had their commodity organization supporting them, Ontario Pork has turned its back on this group because the young farmers are resorting to demonstrations complete with live hogs. They recently surrounded a Niagara hotel where agriculture ministers were meeting, to try and get attention. Leona Dombrowski has apparently told Ontario Pork that if they support this radical group they will endanger future money for the whole hog industry. They also still have an open border with the States so they haven’t received the public’s sympathy. I think all the municipal squabbles over the siting of large intensive hog barns and manure smells in the country side has left the industry vulnerable. Let’s face it, we see cute cows with their baby calves looking sadly over the fence when we drive in the country. Pig Barns are all neat and clean but big and industrial and set way back from the road. If you aren’t working in agriculture you probably don’t realize that they are pork production facilities.
Mr Premier, I know you and I haven’t seen eye to eye for the last 8 years, but there was a time when I actually believed you wanted to change how things were done. You wrapped yourself in the cloak of a kinder gentler way to do the business of Government. You toured farms and told them you were going to save the industry by requiring 10 percent ethanol in gasoline. Steve Peters, your agriculture critic, told the cattle industry he would have done a better job in getting money out to producers. He even hinted that he wouldn’t sign the agricultural policy framework which brought in the Canadian agricultural income stabilization (CAIS) program. Helen Johns, the conservative agriculture minister under Ernie Eves’ government, had already refused to sign because of farm groups’ concerns over how little would pay out. As soon as you got into power on all your promises, Steve Peters met with Lyle Vanclief , the then Liberal federal minister of agriculture, and Lyle showed how much money the ag policy framework would pay the province (not the farmers) and hey presto, the ag policy framework was signed while the honeymoon was still on. I am sure you said you would get more out of the federal Liberals for Ontario because you were the same party as the Chretien federal Liberals. Remind me how that worked out?
We need you, Mr. Premier, to do the right thing and provide at least loan guarantees to these farmers who fell through the cracks. At least institute an appeals procedure. I certainly will be urging these forgotten farmers to talk to the ombudsman’s office, and maybe even the human rights tribunal, because they have been royally screwed by your government’s bungling. But I guess if Health Minister Caplan didn’t lose his cabinet post for defending expense accounts for consultants to read newspapers and watch television, then what can we expect in defense of this small unloved minority.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Ontario Corn fed beef : Worth switching grocery stores for?

Spring is a tremendously busy time of the year for farmers as the entire year's crop is dependent on timely land preparation and planting. It is a time when the events in the rest of the world take a back seat to the demands of this most important job. When I finally got a chance to read my April copy of the Ontario Cattle Feeders newsletter I was quite dismayed that Loblaws has decided to pull its support of the Ontario Corn Fed beef program in the heat of spring planting pressure.
This delivers a huge wooden spike right into the heart of the Ontario cattle industry. Loblaws has used the excuse of the downturn in the economy to boot out Ontario Corn fed beef from 140 of its "Your Independent Grocer" and Valu-mart stores across the province. The company is seeking to save costs by streamlining its brands into national ones. Loblaws will be offering a President’s Choice Canadian Triple-A Tenderized program that will be featured in all stores owned by the corporation. They made it clear that the Ontario Corn fed beef program has done very well for them. However the problem, apparently, is that the brand is a provincial program, making it more costly to handle and warehouse because it is only sold in one region. As well, they have added costs for print material and promotional fliers when they have to specify a brand in one region by itself.
This program, started eight years ago by the Ontario Cattle Feeders Association, has provided a branded beef program that has enabled consumers to identify a premium product with consistent quality. The www.ontariocornfedbeef.com website says:
"The Ontario Corn Fed Beef program provides consumers with an identifiably Ontario brand of beef – known to be consistent, premium and locally-raised. The feed of cattle plays a big role in the flavour of the beef. In this program, cattle consume a high percentage of corn in their diets. This diet gives beef superior marbling which makes it the most tender tasty beef anywhere. Corn-fed cattle have a desirable, distinct beef flavour recognized in the finest restaurants. To be eligible to participate in the program, beef farmers must follow stringent quality assurance protocols."
Since its introduction into the market place in 2001, Shoppers knew that they would be getting the same enjoyable dining experience every time when they bought beef that carried the Ontario Corn Fed label. They also knew that they were buying beef produced right here in Ontario. One of the strongest consumer trends is the desire to buy food that is produced locally. The popularity of books such as "The Hundred Mile Diet" and a desire to reduce or improve their environmental footprint have revitalized farmers' markets and encouraged consumers to look for food produced in our own province.
It is ironic that a grocery store chain which has been using their president Galen Weston in ads telling consumers that their practices provide "products worth switching supermarkets for" would be working to do exactly the opposite. The www.loblaws.ca website has a banner ad proudly proclaiming "Proudly Canadian and local". It was not long ago that they proclaimed that they bought more Canadian farm produce than any other grocery chain. Homespun tours of orchards and vegetable farms were a regular feature of their television ads. If consumers want Ontario-produced beef, they need to ask for it; send letters to Loblaw Companies Limited, 1 President's Choice Circle, Brampton, Ontario,ON, L6Y 5S5 Attention: LCL Customer Relations Centre 2nd Floor, North Tower. You can also call them at 1-800-296-2332.
Talk to your local store owner and make it clear that you want your hard-earned dollars to stay in rural Ontario by purchasing locally. Retailers want their customers to be happy. They carry the products that people want so they’ll continue to shop in their stores. Also, there are other retailers that strongly support the local initiative. Maybe people need to start shopping more at the stores that support locally produced food.