Monthly Archives: October 2010

Talking Trade

In the past 2 days the Globe and Mail has had a couple articles touching on 2 different potential free trade agreements; a bi-lateral deal between Canada and the EU as well as a the ongoing discussions around creating a trans-pacific free trade zone.

 

The articles, while very diverse in their take home message had some interesting tidbits in concern to agriculture.  Greg Keenan’s article was summarizing a study put forth by a Canadian Auto Workers economist that predicted massive job loss in the manufacturing industry, arguing that we stand to lose more then we could gain through such an agreement.  On the flip side, Barry McKenna’s article was lamenting the fact that Canada has been told that they can’t join the trans-pacific discussions because of their unwillingness to put agricultural market access on the table and as such, Canadian industries would miss out on an opportunity for access to a potentially lucrative free trade zone.

 

The CAW study asserted that the majority of gains would be incurred by the agriculture and fisheries industries, however they failed to try and quantify the actual impact, (I have a feeling the benefits from increased access for agri-food products alone would outstrip manufacturing losses).  In regard to the pacific deal, there is a touch of irony, given that it is agricultural industries that would incur the greatest benefit from the deal but our policy makers continue to sacrifice non-supply managed farmers (pig, beef, grain, etc.) to protect our domestic dairy and poultry markets.

 

So what is the take home message?  At the end of the day, trade policy should attempt to open markets for industries that have a comparative advantage over global competitors.  In the case of Ontario, the simple fact is that we can produce pork and beef cheaper then almost anywhere in the world and if we were given fair access to markets we would be able to compete with any other country around the globe. You also need to remember that it is not only the farmer that benefits from increased trade (we don’t send pigs straight from my farm to another country).  Jobs in urban areas are created and sustained by these trade deals because it takes more then just the farmer to make high quality Canadian pork and beef.

 

Link for Pacific Trade Article:

http://bit.ly/bTcE6Z

 

Link for EU Article:

http://bit.ly/aPEkBd

 

If you’re interested, here is another article from the Globe about Supply Management:

http://bit.ly/cucSnq

 

Dressing Down at Work, Pig Farmer Style

Sometimes farmers do some crazy things…today I’m going to let you in on one of those “crazy” things that we do to ensure our animals are comfy.

First, a little background information; for those of you that watched my weaning video you will have learned that we have a special barn for young piglets.  One of the most important things when working with young pigs is to keep them warm so this barn is kept quite warm.  However, to ensure that there is plenty of fresh air for the pigs, there is a ventilation system that brings fresh air into the barn while removing old stale air with the use of electric fans.  As winter approaches, the air that is being brought into the barn is colder then the pigs like, so I need to make sure that our system is set up in a way that the cool air doesn’t blow directly on the little pigs.  Sounds like a lot of work but adjusting the system is easy, the hard part is testing the system, making sure I adjusted it properly.

The testing part is where the crazy enters and it really brings new meaning to dressed down day at work.  Normally I wear clothes at my job like every other human being but pigs don’t get the luxury of clothes so if I’m supposed to know if they are comfortable in their skivvies then I need to strip down and find out how it feels.  So yesterday morning I spent a solid chunk of my morning moving from pen to pen sitting down with the pigs to find out if it was warm enough wearing my nothing more then rubber boots and the bottom half of my summer coveralls (I couldn’t bring myself to get right down to the underwear, I figured not wearing a shirt could give me a good indication).

The verdict of my test was that it was indeed warm enough because I managed 30 minutes without ever feeling cold.  The only downside was that my pants were wet for the rest of the day from the numerous pigs that were excited by the new human chew toy that was sitting in their pen that day. You see, pigs are curious and their default behaviour is to chew first to see how it tastes and when all 20 piglets in a pen decided that I’m safe to chew I only had 2 hands to hold them back, hence the wet pants.

So the next time you are complaining about your attire at work be thankful that you don’t have to sit shirtless in a pen of pigs while the little creatures gnaw at your knee caps, all in the name of animal comfort.

 

Looking Forward on World Food Day

Anyone know why October 16th is a date that should be marked on your calendar?  The only thing in my planner was my convocation ceremony so I obviously didn’t have any clue that on Saturday, people around the world were celebrating World Food Day (WFD).  Since I was on the University of Guelph campus I figured why not write a post that ties my alumnus, the Ontario Agricultural College, together with WFD.

In an article from Saturday’s Montreal Gazette about the UN WFD proceedings, it was reported that the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter gave a very pessimistic view of the current state of agriculture and our modern production practices saying, “Current agriculture developments are threatening our ability for our children’s children to feed themselves.”  He asserted that our reliance on chemicals and large scale mechanized farms was at the root of the problem and sustainability will only be achieved if our focus is placed on small scale farms.

While I share some of Mr. De Schutter’s concerns about sustainability, the answer for feeding 9 billion people by 2050 is not to revert back the farming methods of my grandfather.  He is taking the easy route by blaming chemicals and mechanized farming, often demonized by people who don’t understand the rigours of food production today.  People with an intimate knowledge of farming and agriculture know that the key to feeding the next generations on this planet lie in a renewed commitment to the responsible use of technologies that will allow us to produce food using fewer inputs while also finding methods to integrate health and wellness with our food.

Enter the OAC and the University of Guelph; last month they launched the BetterPlanet Project, an ambitious 200 million dollar campaign that focuses on integrated research that captures the connections between our food, our health, our environment, and our communities.  One OAC lab is already making strides to lower our fertilizer use by developing corn varieties that have lower fertilizer requirements then conventional hybrids.

When I read articles in which high ranking officials make generalized negative statements about agricultural sustainability I get a bit miffed; it is very easy to blame modern agriculture for environmental problems today but if you really know farming you will know that the way I’m farming today is drastically different then when even my father started 30 years ago.  In that short time span there has been widespread adoption of technologies that allow us to better preserve our soil and water (things like no-till cultivation, improved manure management, etc.) that are already having a positive impact on the environment around us.  While we have made positive steps to reverse the degradation of resources, our work is far from finished and I look to projects like the BetterPlanet campaign to provide farmers with new knowledge and new tools to improve the world around us.

I end with a quote directed at people like Mr. De Schutter who are quick to criticize modern agriculture but fail to provide any plausible direction for the future:

“Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil, and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field.”

Dwight D. Eisenhower

You can find the article at: http://www.montrealgazette.com/technology/expert+calls+farming+changes/3683043/story.html

To learn about the BetterPlanet Project visit:http://thebetterplanetproject.ca

 

My Directing Debut

A couple weeks ago I went to the barn with a new tool…my handheld camera, and after some editing I have created my first short educational documentary about pig farming.  Now I don’t expect any awards, (I haven’t mastered the art of filming myself and the result is a lot of beard) but the clip lets you ride shotgun with me as we go through the weaning process on our farm.

If you have any questions submit a comment and I will do my best to find you an answer

Pigs Loose in TO

Pigs rarely make the national news but today I woke up to a news report that a tractor trailer hauling market hogs had overturned this morning while traveling to the processing plant.  While this is not what I would call a good news story there are certain aspects of the story that show the value of a group like the Ontario Farm Animal Council, (OFAC) to animal agriculture.

In the past, emergency workers attending to animal emergencies lacked any training on how to deal with situations like today’s rollover.  Once upon a time, you would see policemen in their cars trying to round up pigs with their sirens, accomplishing nothing but scaring the heck out of the pigs.  If you have time, check out CTV’s video coverage of the accident scene (http://bit.ly/dBKvhM) and watch the one of the extended clips.  In it you will see people dressed as firefighters, acting like incognito pig farmers.  No yelling and screaming, no sirens, just calm people patiently shuffling pigs along with makeshift barriers.

So what is the connection between firefighters handling pigs properly and OFAC? OFAC provides voluntary training sessions for emergency workers along with maintaining a comprehensive library of resources.  This link (http://bit.ly/dzwUNV) leads you to a piece of literature that is very relevant to this morning’s events entitled “What To Do With… Livestock on the Loose at an Accident Scene” and is only one of almost 50 resource materials for dealing with a wide range of emergencies.

We never hope for events like today, but accidents will always be a part of driving and as long as there are animals travelling on our roads we need to have organizations that can educate the people that will be dealing with the problems.

As an aside, I would like to extend congratulations to CTV for their excellent coverage this scene, they focused on how the surviving animals were cared for without trying to sensationalize the story like some of the other networks.  CBC showed a clip of pigs being dumped into the back of a deadstock trailer while failing to say that those animals had been euthanized, allowing people to believe that we would load pigs onto trailers by dropping them from 15 feet in the air.  It was a breath of fresh air to see at least one media outlet not trying to smear our industry in the public light…Thanks CTV!!