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 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 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.