Friday, December 15, 2017

Farmers sue to retain market protection

An organization representing family farmers is suing the United States government to retain legislation that protects them in marketing to big companies.

The lawsuit seeks to reinstate the rules which “prohibit major meat and poultry producers who contract with farmers from engaging in unfair and deceptive practices,” the organization said in a news release.

The rule “would have allowed farmers to hold agribusinesses accountable for practices like retaliation, bad faith cancellation of contracts, or collusion efforts to force farmers out of the market,” the group said.

The United States Department of Agriculture’s move to halt the rule makes it effectively impossible for farmers to bring unfair practices claims, it said.

The Organization for Competitive Markets is being represented on a pro bono basis by Democracy Forward, a nonprofit legal organization.

The suit, which is in the form of a petition for review, was filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals.

A death from lettuce

One person has died, 12 are in hospital and 30 people have E. coli 0157:H7 food poisoning, all of them after eating romaine lettuce, reports the Public Health Agency of Canada.

It’s an update on a report earlier this week when 21 were sick, 10 in hospital and none had died.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is working with public health personnel to try to track down the source of the outbreak.

It is probably imported lettuce if, indeed, it proves to be lettuce at fault.

There have been six cases in Ontario, five in Quebec, five in New Brunswick, one in Nova Scotia and 13 in Newfoundland-Labrador.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Tribunal lacks jurisdiction on milk quality

Milk quality issues are beyond the jurisdiction of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Appeals Tribunal.

It means that what inspectors determine stands, provided the Dairy Farmers of Ontario milk marketing board stands by them.

That’s what happened in the case of Jeffrey French who brought an appeal to the tribunal, seeking a refund of $40,000 for his losses when the milk board inspector condemned his dairy and kept him from marketing milk fror 30 days.

French has subsequently surrendered his licence after the suspension in the summer of 2015.

Even had the tribunal not decided it lacks jurisdiction to deal with milk quality issues, French would probably have lost because the tribunal wrote in its decision released this week:

“The inspectors’ determinations to downgrade the Appellant’s milk classification and suspend his access to the milk market were dictated by the poor condition of his dairy farm, the unclean conditions of his equipment and animals, all considerations which are specifically set out in the Milk Regulation.

“The inspectors’ evidence before the Tribunal was supported by test results reflecting elevated bacterial and somatic cell levels and was also supported by photographic evidence of unclean and unsanitary conditions, equipment and animals as well as direct testimony that confirmed the photographic evidence.

“Therefore, the inspectors’ determinations regarding the Appellant’s milk classification and access to the milk market were in conformity with the Milk Regulation.”

No mandatory phosphorous controls

While agriculture politicians talked about algae blooms in Lake Erie and the need for farmers to curb phosphorous runoff, nobody said anything about mandatory measures, Ontario Agriculture Minister Jeff Leal said in a brief interview.

He met recently with his counterparts in Michigan and Pennsylvania and they talked about the most recent International Joint Commission report which urged more action to curb phosphorous runoff into the Great Lakes, especially Lake Erie.

It is the shallowest and warmest and therefore most prone to algae blooms, Leal said.

A goal was set this year to reduce phosphorous runoff into Lake Erie by 40 per cent from 2014 levels. 

Farming will be asked to share the bulk of that burden.

He said Ontario’s farmers have been making progress, noting that 30,000 farms now have completed Environmental Farm Plans and that the three general farm organizations support the goals – the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario and the Ontario Branch of the National Farmers Union.

When he was asked if anybody mentioned the possibility that mandatory measures might be required, he said “not as yet.”

Leal was more interested in talking about trade and the efforts he has made to persuade his counterparts to push for a new North American Free Trade Agreement.

Leal said he met with seven state counterparts in June, was at the talks among Mexican, U.S. and Canadian agriculture leaders in Denver in October and has spoken with agriculture-industry leaders in 30 states.

Beef cattle using less water

Canadian beef cattle are using less water than they used to several decades ago.

It’s a trend that is expected to continue, says the Canadian beef industry based on a recently-completed study which found it takes 17 per cent less water to produce a pound of beef now than in 1981.

The reduction is partly from less water used to raise crops cattle are fed and partly from cow management.

The study was done by researchers at the University of Manitoba and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) Lethbridge.

It involved extensive data integration, modelling, and assessment of numerous factors associated with the water footprint of Canadian beef over a 30-year period, using the data-rich principal census years of 1981 and 2011 as the reference.

More can be gained through additional advances in feeding efficiencies and in reducing water requirements for feed crop and pasture production., the study says.

It is part of a larger project “Defining the Environmental Footprint of Canadian Beef Production”, which previously found similar reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and resource use intensities related to Canadian beef production over the same period.

“Our focus has been to develop an accurate assessment of the Canadian beef industry’s water footprint and how that is evolving with advances in production efficiencies,” said Dr. Tim McAllister, a research scientist at AAFC Lethbridge and one of the study’s principal investigators.

“Our results show very clearly the water footprint per kilogram of beef produced has been reduced over the years and that the industry is operating at a high level of sustainability from a water use perspective. There are also opportunities for continuous improvement through further advances. . .”

Drinking water consumed by cattle accounted for less than one per cent of total water use related to beef production, while feed production – i.e. water required, including rain, to grow pasture, crops or produce by-product feeds – accounted for 99 per cent of total water use related to beef production.

For crops, increased yields accounted for the water-use reduction. For cattle it was higher carcass weights, improved feed efficiency and growth rates.

“Water is a precious resource and Canadian beef producers are committed to supporting responsible water use across our production systems,” said Bryan Thiessen, manager of Namaka Farms near Strathmore, Alberta, and chairman of the Beef Cattle Research Council.

“Knowledge is critical. Studies like this one are helping us build a comprehensive understanding of the industry’s past, present and future environmental footprint, to not only operate efficiently and responsibly but also to continue to contribute globally as leaders in sustainable beef production,” he said.

Agriculture may revive in Zimbabwe

Agriculture could make a comeback in Zimbabwe now that Robert Mugabe has been ousted as president.

Under his watch, thousands of blacks began moving unto prosperous farms in 2000, staking ownership claims and destroying productivity.

Mugabe encouraged the occupations, saying the farms were evidence of continuing colonialism.
Zimbabwe’s white farmers had developed world-leading herds of cattle, high crop yields and excellent quality, but it all came undone during the mass seizures of their properties.

Now the new agriculture minister has declared the takeovers illegal and has ordered the settlers off the farms.

That sets the stage for the white farmers to resume ownership and management of their farms.

Agriculture was once the mainstay of the country’s economy which has since fallen into disarray. It’s currency is worthless and many transactions are done in U.S. dollars.

Perrance Shiri, a military hardliner who was head of the air force before being picked for the critical land and agriculture ministry this month, called for “unquestionable sanity on the farms,” the government-owned Herald newspaper reported.