And I’m Spent

My mental gas tank is almost on empty…in just over a month I have published 6 blogs containing 5475 words in total (and about 20,000 you never saw).  Within those words I have tried to shed some light on what really goes on at a Canadian hog farm instead of seeing it through the lens of an animal activist.  Beyond information, I have endeavoured to write these posts in a way that translates my passion for feeding people into word form.  It is the second part that has made this tough, pouring your soul on the screen of your desktop takes a lot out of a guy.  I struggled with how to best approach tough subjects, I agonized over the way that things were worded and all said it has been an arduous yet rewarding experience.  So here goes my final post…and folks, I kept my trump card for the last hand.

Manure, dung, poop, the world’s greatest skin moisturiser…call it what you will but at the end of the day I hold the Right Bauer in the game of food production. (I promise that is my last euchre reference).  Though I never got to meet him, the idioms of my grandfather in law, Murray Selves, will often pop up in conversations with Jess and my MIL, Joanne.  Murray was a brilliant man, he used computers for production records long before the Commodore 64 (only those born before 1990 will get that reference), he designed and built a biogas digester long before Dalton McGuinty dreamed up the Green Energy Act, but most impactful for me was the concept of “farming the circle”.  To Murray, the way we raised pigs in Ontario was the pinnacle of sustainable farming.  Our corn and soybeans capture solar energy from the sun and nutrients from the soil, we feed some of the grain to our animals and some to humans, and then we replenish the soil for next year’s crop by applying the manure from our animals.

This simple concept is the backbone of our food system, if soil nutrients are not provided by manure then they must come from some other source.  Nitrogen and Phosphorus are the two most important nutrients when talking about plant life.  While nitrogen can be produced synthetically through the Haber-Bosch process, this requires a non-renewable like natural gas. Phosphorus is a little scarier; there is no way other than to mine it from the ground as there is no synthetic replacement.  The Global Phosphorus Initiative has estimated that peak phosphorus could occur as soon as 2030.  I guess peak phosphorus just isn’t as sexy as peak oil but it is just as threatening for humans.  Without nitrogen and phosphorus, you can’t grow food, period.  Livestock manure provides adequate levels of both that can sustain plant growth without the application of inorganic mined phosphorus or synthetic nitrogen.

Manure and soil enjoy a symbiotic relationship that goes far beyond nitrogen and phosphorus.  Soil is not a renewable resource; it can take thousands of years for soil to form.  However, unlike other non-renewables like oil or coal, soil can be reused year after year if properly maintained. The application of manure is the best possible way to meet the diverse needs of the soil.  Organic matter (old dead stuff, kind of like oil in the sense that is takes millions of years to form) is what makes soil fertile, without organic matter plants cannot grow even if there is nitrogen and phosphorus available.  Here is an analogy for you:  Many of you readers probably take some sort of multivitamin supplement to ‘ensure’ that you are getting all of your nutrients but you know that the multivitamin cannot sustain you on its own, you still need to eat.  In the case of plant growth, organic matter is the food and nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus are the multivitamin.  Manure is the only thing that can rebuild the organic matter in soil, thus maintaining the non-renewable resource. Without animal production the circle is broken…you simply cannot have sustained food production without out livestock agriculture.  Our food producing system has evolved (or has been designed) to include animal production.

I want you to picture something; I want you to picture the vegan world animal rights activists so desperately want.  It is a picture of hunger.  It is a picture of desolate exhausted soil, unable to keep producing food for HUMANS or animals because it has been mined to the point of collapse.  It will not matter if you are a vegan or meat eater when the soil loses its capacity to grow a carrot.  We will all starve.

Today groups like Mercy for Animals Canada are trying to sell you an agenda of caring for animals; they are actively trying to discredit farmers like me in hopes of convincing the public that they are the champions of the common animal.  Well sorry folks, I, and farmers like me, are going to be champions of humans.  We are going to do everything in our power to try and eliminate human hunger while ensuring that we preserve our ability to feed future inhabitants of our planet. We feed people; it’s why we signed up for this job.

#FarmProud my friends


14 thoughts on “And I’m Spent

  1. Kevin Nixon says:

    Stewart, I absolutely love what you are doing…keep up the good work. I wish I had your gift of communicating. The skill of putting thoughts into prose eludes me mosts of the time. I would like to make a slight correction to this current post, the thought that animal agriculture is essential to the nutrient cycle. I will admit, it is very important, even vital, but not essential. You see us croppers have livestock too. We are learning more and more about it all the time. The biological life in our soil has been long over looked and is just starting to earn the respect it deserves. As we are now learning, soil that is managed with reduced tillage, cover crops and if you are lucky, manure or composts, there is an enormous amount of livestock doing exactly what your pigs are doing. Albeit, they don’t directly feed humans, they do breakdown plant residues, take up residual nutrients and cycle them for future crops. There can be up to 1 tonne earthworms in a healthy soil and 4x that weight in other “animals” all eating cycling and stablizing the soil and its nutient content. If you are interested I would suggest watching the following video of Odette Menard’s presentation at last years SWAC. Thank you for all you do and keep up the good work!

  2. Cara S says:

    Stewart, I really enjoyed this post – even though I am a farmer, I admit I’ve not given too much thought to the soil devastation that would happen if we eliminated manure as a fertilizer. I should have – our best crops are always the ones grown in chicken manure. Thanks for your realistic approach and for standing up for farmers.

  3. Joanne Selves says:

    Stewart, your grandfather in law couldn’t have said it any better…he would have been very proud of you…your mother in law certainly is. You take on both agriculture and education with passion…and your ability to communicate that passion is wonderful. Thank you for putting your heart and soul into all that you do.

  4. Thank you for helping me to understand and for being a farmer and putting food on our tables. Bless you.

  5. Cat B says:

    Someone tweeted this link and I have yet to read through the rest of your posts – I will definitely do that soon! I love the cyclic nature of farming and food production you described where you use the animal’s waste to feed the soil, to feed us and the animals once again. What I don’t understand is why, in a “vegan world” animals have to be gone entirely, no longer producing waste for the soil. Do we have to eat them for them to poop? I’m not a vegan, or an activist – so this isn’t saying we shouldn’t eat the animals. I’m just don’t quite get why it’s necessary to breed and eat animals on a large scale in order to feed the soil…. Hopefully reading the rest of your posts will answer my questions.

  6. Nick Huybers says:

    Great article, I really enjoyed it!

  7. Wilma Pennings (Haveman) says:

    My father worked for your grandfather-in-law for many years and greatly respected him. My Dad loved how innovative he was, and how he was always two steps ahead of the norm. Keep on feeding the masses. Everything is better with bacon. ☺

  8. Dave Miltenburg says:

    Thanks for telling the story how it is Stewy! Not all of us have the ability to put our thoughts into words like you do! We need to keep trying to get the message out.

  9. bhmaclean says:

    Thank you for articulating the farmer’s perspective. I buy from a local farmer & appreciate the effort & dedication required to provide me & my family with the best possible meat. I know it takes you away from your chores but the comments are very much appreciated!

  10. Victoria Reeve says:

    I eat meat – if it’s organic and IF it is derived from clean and humane farming practices. There is absolutely NO excuse for cruelty in animal husbandry. You can come up with all the BS excuses you want, but cruelty in farming is not necessary and it creates an inferior product. We stopped eating pork years ago, when it stopped tasting like real pork, and only began again when we were able to source an ethical producer (organic, non-factory farmed). My great-grandfather farmed traditionally – you’ve heard about that, I suspect: cows that were not separated from their calves, cows that grazed under the sun and came into the barns at night, with the help of our Border Collie, Lucky. He certainly had no problems finding enough poop to shovel and spread on the fields, nor did he have problems earning a living to support his large family. I’m quite willing to pay extra – a lot extra – for meat from animals that have been raised with care, and I am entirely unwilling to pay anything for meat produced in factory farms.

    • modernfarmer says:

      I appreciate your feedback and am happy to hear that you have taken the time to make connections with local farmers for your food purchases. However, I would like to respond to a couple of your comments. Nowhere in this blog will you find ‘excuses’, I have been open and honest with what goes on inside of a modern pig barn, I have highlighted the areas where we are trying to improve, and I have stated some universal facts about food production; most notably the maintenance of soil. Furthermore, the vast majority of people in both developed and developing countries do not enjoy the luxury of being able to “pay extra-a lot extra” for humanely or organically raised meat so I think it is unfair of you to judge people who out of necessity need food as cheaply as possible.

      • Victoria Reeve says:

        I guess you didn’t actually read my post, since I addressed the importance of poop in the maintenance of soil. High quality poop from ethically farmed animals who are not fed a diet of hormones, antibiotics and Round-up Ready corn and soy will certainly do a heck of a lot more for the quality of soil than the poop of factory-farmed animals – and they won’t cause bee colony collapses, either (unlike the glyphosphate-laden poop of factory-farmed animals). I’m a bit at a loss as to why you would reference people in developing countries. That’s a bit of a Straw Man logical fallacy, surely? First, I’m not judging the people who need food as cheaply as possible (keep in mind, though, that a largely vegetarian diet is less expensive than eating cheap meat). Second, most developing countries tend culturally towards vegetarianism. Third, poop from our animals won’t do the soil of developing countries much good. Fourth, my apologies; I wasn’t aware that you were producing meat to be shipped to developing countries (that must really raise the cost of meat!), or that they, because of their poverty, deserved less healthy food. In my opinion, it seems that you misunderstand the social concerns. Apart from a small group of people who would like impose their veganism on everyone, no-one is saying that animal farming should come to an end. Whether or not one eats meat is an entirely personal choice, based on one’s own beliefs and sensitivities. What the leading edge of social consciousness Cultural Creatives are saying is that CRUEL animal farming must come to an end. It will happen – we’ve reached the tipping point. At the end of the day, there is NO defensible justification for inhumane animal husbandry. A good farmer doesn’t need to be inhumane.

  11. krista says:

    There is a balance to everything. Unless we can turn back time to pre-green revolution, feeding the world via the above contributors idea of the “ideal farm” is not gonna happen. It is such a complex issue. We just cannot go back, but we can find a new way forward. Stewart, thank you for bringing the voice of farmers to the forefront. People cannot support themselves on their little 30 by 100 ft lot in the city, and our desire for MORE of everything (food included) makes large scale farming necessary.

    Ms. Reeve, you are mixing so many issues… and while I admire your passion I think your poison is misplaced. Ontario is blessed with a whole lot of farmers (did you know over 95% of our farms are family owned?) who genuinely care about their animals. And soil. And Water! THEY LIVE AND BREATHE AND WORK right there, on their farm. What happens in other countries – our farmers don’t control. Yes, we all need to appreciate the great complexity of issues that come from where our food comes from. The choices we make and their impact. Yet, I speak as someone who has the ability and time to ponder such issues and perhaps pay more for my pastured pork. What Stewart says is true… not everyone has the leisure or finances to purchase their meat on these basis’. Their concern rests on “is it cheap enough”? These are people right here living next door, walking by you and working with you. Scraping by (like many farmers might I add). Look at WHY conventional farming has arisen, WHAT the impacts have been (positive and negative) and WHAT is needed for change. It is more than just everyone demanding pastured pork. Its a complex change in economics, policy, public mindsets and desires.

    Watched your blogs from the beginning! Thanks Stewart!

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