Monthly Archives: February 2011

Supply Management Sustains Family Farms

Contributed by Peter Spriut

I think some farmers will benefit from global trade but not all farmers will experience the same dividends. In the many free countries that have minimum or no barriers to trade, still have the majority of the food produced and consumed in the same country. This is a concern since the world price is paid to producers, often less than domestic price especially in European countries. What is the global price? I believe it is the lowest price farmers are able to dump milk on the market, in other words lowest price to get rid of the milk. Why should farmers get paid global price if it cannot sustain their operation.

With the latest global milk price crash many farmers in the EU, New Zealand and US are feeling the squeeze. Many dairy farmers in these countries are trying to cover losses, barely holding on. These same feelings are reflected in the Canadian beef and hog industries. Working all day (from 5am till 9pm), everyday and losing money doing it is exhausting, but most farmers have no choice. It is either call for bankruptcy and never be able to farm anymore or continue to sink in a drowning debt working 7 days a week, doing something we love.

For these reasons/fears I believe supply management has been the best system out there, although there are many negative critics. I come from a dairy farm located in Woodstock. We had moved 10 years ago from the Netherlands where we had a dairy and hog operation. The biggest advantage of supply management is quality of lifestyle. Lifestyle of dairy and chicken producers in Canada is easily ten times higher than those found in others countries. Look at all the fancy barns being built, cars being driven, and vacations taken. High quality of lifestyle is something to cherish. Do a google search and  you will find many stories of farmers in the US struggling to make ends meet in the dairy industry. I believe the same fate awaits many of us if we open our borders to free trade for two reasons. The first reason is that the cost of production is much higher in Canada than other countries such as of the extra money that goes into insulating the buildings from our climate. The second reason is that we are a price taker industry to the small amount of processors.

In conclusion, holding on to my lifestyle and fear that the global price is much lower than cost of production (as seen in the last three years). I do not believe that the Canadian dairy farmers will benefit from increasing trade. However on that note some trade like specialty cheeses is an attractive niche market. Supply management may have its downfalls but overall sustaining the farmers quality of life and keeping family farms alive far outweighs those disadvantages.

 

Global Markets Holds More Opportunity then Local for Canadian Farmers

Contributed by Justin Gerber

I believe that increasing global food trade will have more positive effects for farmers than the local food movement will because the local market is somewhat limited in the number of different products that can be sold and the supply chains for a global market are far better established than the local supply chains. The beef industry demonstrates both of these points. With cattle most people know of the grades AAA, AA and A, the former two the most known in restaurants. These grades have to do with the level of marbling in the meat, but there is a higher level that is lesser known, Canada Prime. Meat getting this grade has a high fat content and is not eaten here; it is shipped to the Asian markets where it is a delicacy. Without the global market this product would take more processing to be used or would be ground into hamburger, reducing its value.

 

The lack of an established supply chain for a labeled local product, or in this case Ontario Corn Fed Beef marketed by Loblaw’s, was also shown. A few years ago Loblaw’s took on the label at their stores, sales rose dramatically and Loblaw’s wanted to expand to more stores, but the supply was not there, cattle prices were down and many yards were empty. The extra cost associated with a provincial program and the down turn in the economy was the reason for the label being kicked out in spring 2009. Loblaw’s had stated the program was working well to increase sales but in the end it was dropped. It should be said that a local supply chain could work but it will require time and effort that I think most companies are not willing to exert. It will come down to already established and easily maintained national and global supply chains that open up farmers to new and different markets with hopefully better prices.

 

 

Canadian Farmers Will Benefit from Increased Global Food Trade

Contributed by Lutz Foerster

 

Personally I believe Canadian farmers will benefit from increased global trade. Why? Well the reasons are quite simple, yet in my eyes they are valid. Canada is a a highly developed country. In these countries the demographic statistics tend to indicate only very little population growth. This is important for Canadian farmers as the domestic population might lose its significance as a market, because we will not have enough consumers. Therefore our produce is sold abroad. Other countries are economically growing, and so is there population. Demand in our in country, unless the production of crop based biomass becomes more popular, will not necessarily rise. In other countries although, demand will rise, opening new markets for us. This new demand, which we are already noticing in the markets this year, must be captured by us. The global market gives us an opportunity, if we market our produce correctly, to capture positive market swings which would likely not even exist without access to global markets. This year and the last part of last year showed us how beneficial global markets are to us. Although yields for the traditional commodities were high in Ontario this year, we were, or still are, able to sell our grain for good prices, as supply from the other producing countries was lower than usual. Although it must be said that prior to this recent market rally, commodity prices were lower than we would have liked them to be. Of course this shows how global markets may work against us. To protect ourselves against a market with low prices, the best thing we can do is market our produce correctly. So a farmer can successfully market his crops, he must be on the verge of the market and world news all the time. Markets will have to be followed closer, and it must be learned what influences them. We also need to learn how to control our greed. Set the price where we can make a profit and start selling new crop at that point to secure income. This way we can sell our crops at an average price catching most of the high, but not dropping to far in the low. It is also important to look at the market when purchasing inputs. High market prices will result in rising input costs. If prices are predicted to rise, the early purchase of inputs is an important thing to consider. It might mean that you have to take up credit, but in the long run, the possibility of saving a lot of money is there.

As the world keeps turning, global commodity markets become more complex with more influencing factors. To keep up with this we will need to constantly keep educating ourselves and not be ignorant to our surroundings. I believe if we use the tools the market gives us, we will be able to benefit from global trade.

In Defense of Industrial Agriculture

An open letter contributed by Dylan Harding

 

Hi Everyone

The Guelph Organic Conference has been a very thought provoking experience for me, and maybe I shocked some people over the course of this weekend with views that I expressed. I will no longer be specifically involved with the organic farming movement. This has been a long considered decision. Don’t get me wrong, organic production has a place. I believe that place is in local vegetable production and rightfully this is where much of the focus in the organic world lies. However, there are greater issues than the vegetable supply in the world today, and we should not kid ourselves in to thinking that current organic practices will reform the global food production system. Organic and local vegetable production is a piece of the puzzle, but in my mind it is a small piece. The worldwide demand for calories is met by industrial farming, and that demand is not going to go away. This is the issue towards which I will now be addressing my energy in terms of learning, consideration, and action. I am not saying that anyone is wrong for their interest or involvement in organic farming, but it is not for me. Many people may consider this decision a moral sacrifice. I feel that this is far from the case and I encourage you to read this letter if you will have the patience to consider my reasoning.

 

Please keep in mind: While I will stress the importance of sound methods for maintaining today’s yields, I do not mean to imply that we should be attempting to increase these yields. We should certainly be taking pains to address population growth. This discussion is however beyond the scope of my argument, which I base solely on the very real fact that there are currently some 6 billion people alive on earth who we consider to have rights.

 

Industrial agriculture has undeniably changed the world. The global population boom following world war two was driven in a very real way by humanity’s newfound ability to produce anhydrous ammonia, a very basic fertilizing agent (as well as a component of many explosives) on a massive scale. This process, known as the Haber-Bosch process, is why we are all here. The population boom that we are a part of has been possible because of farming techniques based on synthetic fertilizer production and mechanization.

 

Although industrial farming as it is currently practiced is certainly unsustainable, we must first give it credit for bringing us here, because we wouldn’t be without it. Pandora’s Box is open and we are now reliant on this system. Yes, this system needs reform, but applying organic farming methods on the scale required to feed the current global population would be just as unsustainable as our current conventional methods and considerably less practical. Take the notion of “peak phosphorus” that is considered an especially great threat to organic farms. An obvious source of phosphorus is available in biosolids (the solid byproduct of waste-water treatment) but safely processing biosolids is impractical on the small scale that organic farming principals generally demand. Beyond this, biosolids are forbidden under organic regulations. Industrial farming is not currently sustainable, but organic agriculture is not a viable alternative.

 

There are certainly commonly practiced organic principals that should be incorporated into industrial farming such as polyculture planting and a focus on replenishing the soil’s organic matter content. In the conventional farming world however these principals can be readily considered if they are indeed more practical. In organic farming, many conventionally accepted practices with potential for extreme benefit are ignored simply because they do not adhere to an outdated and romanticized notion of what food production once was. Rather than argue with the definition of a luxury item I have chosen to farm in a less restricted environment because this is the environment in which the vast majority of food production will occur. Although neither side of the organic/ conventional divide is currently sustainable, only one side allows unhampered consideration of how a sustainable food system can be designed.

 

It is my belief that ecologically and morally sound methods of food production are possible on an industrial scale. We need to figure out how this can be made a reality, because industrial agriculture will continue for as long as it can whether it is sustainable or not. We’re all here because of industrial agriculture, and industrial agriculture is not going to go away until people are willing to stop eating. Thus, we must accept it and reform it. For this reason I will no longer be dedicating any of my energy to the organic farming movement, but rather to reforming industrial agriculture.

 

I’m still open to debate, and again, I’m not suggesting that anybody is wrong for their interest or involvement with organic agriculture. It’s no longer for me however, and I hope that you can now appreciate why.

In peace

Dylan Harding

January 31, 2011

 

Local Food Means Farmers Will Get Paid More

Contributed by Lisa Hanlon

Right now “local” is kitsch.  But what does local really mean?  Who do we want to support or how close do we want our food to come from? There are many factors to consider, whether they be environmental, economical, or just plain trendy so you can brag to your friends.

When it comes down to it, who wouldn’t want to support their local economy before giving their money to a greedy corporation?  I truly believe that most of the Canadian public want to support local, yet don’t completely understand how to do that, or don’t want to inconvenience themselves into having to actually cook a meal themselves, or figure out what to do with weird vegetables like kale or rutabagas.  Canadians are lazy eaters.

If the local food movement is really going to overcome the conventional agricultural system now in place, then consumers are going to have to take an active role in developing a food culture, appreciating what we have when it’s in season, and sharing the risks farmers take for us all.

Supporting local farmers by means of CSA shares or pre-ordering a quarter beef shows that we really care how our food is being produced and want the farmer to actually make a living doing what they love instead of having to work off-farm.  If we really value the effort farmers are making to produce and market healthy and sustainable alternatives, then we need to make a little more effort to find local products, pay a little more and relearn those old family recipes

Do Consumers Care Where Their Food is From?

Contributed by Martha Lowry

I did not grow up on a farm, but my family has recently moved to a farm and started farming. I personally have always kept a vegetable garden and loved seeing my seeds grow into the food we eat. I also used to love sit in the middle of our raspberry patch and eat them by the fistful. But I digress.
I do believe consumers care where their food comes from. That is one of the main reasons I have come back to school and am pursuing a horticulture degree. I love making my own food. I love selling it in my community and making a connection to those whom I produce for.

But not all consumers do pay attention to where their food comes from. I do not think the majority of people while drinking their coca-cola or eating their hamburger really have any idea, or care as to where or what it is made of (It is made of corn). I can see this changing with the fringe of the population, but definitely not the majority.

Yet in the UK, there has been a huge push towards labeling that tells you where your food comes from. The consumer can then choose to read this information or ignore it. But the information is available. I hope we adopt a similar system in Canada. Let us not make our decisions blind.

The majority of people who I have asked at a farmers market don’t know how a brussels sprout grows, but they buy them every week. As the generalized, possibly biased, view believes these shoppers have a greater connection to their food; it doesn’t give me a positive outlook for whether consumers shopping at a large grocery store  have any connection to their source of food.

Canadian farmers will benefit from increasing global food trade, Yes or No

Contributed by Elizabeth Stubbs

First we must define what local food is. I feel that the definition varies depending on who you talk to. In my mind, when I think local food I think Canadian consumers buying from Canadian producers. In my “perfect world” Canada would be a self-sufficient country. We have always been an export driven country, but my question is: has this hurt us more than it has helped? With Canada’s strict food safety measures our domestically produced goods and services do not come “cheap”. We import and export at the world price, with importing, consumers can get more goods for cheaper. With exporting at the world price, producers are getting lower prices than they would domestically and in turn aren’t able to cover all costs. So answer me this: how does free trade help our economy? Why do we not care for our producers? Farmers Feed Cities! But at this rate, how can farmers afford to do so? In 2007, 35% of the amount of goods produced in Canada were exported, 33% percent of that same production number was imported. This is an almost equal figure; so why not close off international trade and exchange goods only within our country? Canada has vast amounts of land suitable for agriculture; we have the means to be self-sufficient. And in becoming that way we would not hurt other countries. The imports that we would no longer require could be delegated to the places where we used to export – world trade would not be out of balance. It is not our responsibility as Canadians to feed the rest of the world when there are still people in our own country who are impoverished. I say: trade within our nation, boost our economy, and treat our producers with the respect they deserve, because without them we would not survive.

Something is Happening

When I started blogging in August of 2010 I had no idea what it meant to be a blogger nor did I have any idea what I was getting myself into. Fast forward to February 1st, 2011 and I’m about to embark on my 2nd “I don’t know what I’m getting myself into” project. During the month of November I wrote a few posts for Farmers Matter, an organization that I helped to create that promotes agriculture by putting a face on the farmer. Well, starting today I’m going to start blogging for Farmers Matter (www.farmersmatter.ca) on a regular basis because…well… Farmers Matter themselves is about to embark on a “We don’t know what we’re getting ourselves into” adventure.

Farmers Matter was originally formed to host a town hall with the goal of raising awareness to some hurdles facing farmers here in Ontario. We hoped that we would engage local producers and industry partners by getting everyone in a room to work on some constructive solutions for the future of Canadian agriculture. We never dreamed that we would get federal and provincial politicians as well as farm organization leaders to sit down and have a frank and honest discussion with farmers about the issues that grassroots producers deal with every day. Over 900 people who depend on agriculture for their livelihood came out on November 26th to an event in hopes that this wasn’t just another meeting…and it wasn’t. We heard the messages loud and clear that day; farmers do have problems, but damn it we are going to put our head down, work hard, and if we are treated fairly we are going to thrive. The success of our town hall demonstrated to the people behind Farmers Matter that we still have a role to play.

So what is the adventure that I alluded to above? Well, given that we here in Ontario are probably faced with both a federal and provincial election this year; Farmers Matter has decided that we are going to make Canadian agriculture an election issue. You’d think that when a country’s 2nd largest industry is in trouble politicians would take notice but to date it hasn’t happened. Many farmers feel like Canadians don’t really care where their food comes from but we at Farmers Matter don’t believe that. We believe that if Canadian consumers could easily identify Canadian grown products then they would buy them. We believe that Canadian farmers deserve equitable treatment from coast to coast. We believe that if we had the right tools at our disposal then we can be competitive in the global food market. Lastly, we believe that if we work now to create a more sustainable industry then we can finally convince young people that farming is more then just an expensive lifestyle, it is a viable career. Over the next few months Farmers Matter will be rolling out a campaign that will raise the profile of Canadian agriculture and I’m stoked to be a part of it. I know it won’t be easy and I know that there are plenty of cynics out there who just think I’m young and naïve, the same people that say that there is no future in farming. To be honest I don’t really care what the cynics say because I believe in the promise of Canadian agriculture with an unadulterated optimism, the same optimism my ancestors had in 1859 when they started a new life farming outside of Mitchell, Ontario. Farmers do matter and it’s high time we started telling people why.

Something is happening…Stay tuned

2. Consumers will pay a premium for local food.

I feel that only a certain percentage of consumers would pay a premium for local food. I believe that this amount is increasing but is still relatively small. The public is being told to ‘Buy Local.’ This local food campaign is growing and is tapping into a larger consumer base, but at the same time it is not telling the public that a premium could be a result of purchasing these products. I think that the local food produced in this country is of excellent quality and can be compared globally, and that this should come at a price. Maybe the population is suffering from the state of our economy, but people still need to eat. The farmers who produce what the public eats still needs to get something for their hard work and quality products at the end of the day as well.

I believe that consumers need to be educated more about where their food comes from before they would pay a premium. This education is increasing but not on a large enough scale. If the public learnt about where their food really comes from and how it was produced they would defiantly pay a premium for it. I know personally through our family’s country store, that the general public does not have a clue where their food comes from, how it’s produced, and what the real benefit is from buying local products. The determining factor in allowing the local food movement to survive and grow is to ask for a premium for local products, and I see that educating the public is the only solution to have them pay this premium.

Contributed by Chris Budd