Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Buy local takes a hit in Wilmot Township

I took our grandchildren to Shantzholm Pumpkin Patch recently and learned from owner Kevin Shantz about his most recent battles with Wilmot Township.

He faces a ban on signs posted on township roadsides to point customers to his farm. One he put up this fall was judged to be three inches over the line, and was removed by a bylaw enforcement officer.

Customers prefer to park along the roadside rather than in a parking lot he has provided. That prompted Wilmot Township politicians to call for a ban on parking.  It's a regional road, so the decision was up to the Waterloo Region council.

Thankfully Geoff Lawrence, who is a Kitchener city politician, used his head and asked why it's reasonable to ban parking at the Shantz Farm, but not where Mennonites in Woolwich Township set up roadside buggies to market maple syrup.

In the end, the region's politicians voted to ban parking on one side of the road, which is the compromise Shantz proposed.

Buy local! Buy fresh! It's a movement that began in the Waterloo Region.

But Wilmot Township's politicians are doing their best to kill it.

Ontario Liberals acting nasty

The Ontario Liberals are running a nasty campaign, using news releases to smear the Tories and NDP a couple of times every day.

It's childish. It avoids the real issues and challenges facing the province.

For example, there has been no frank admission that Ontario will need to stop running deficits of hundreds of millions a year. There has been no frank discussion about the abysmal state of health care for the elderly, with waiting lists of up to four years for the best nursing homes. Nobody wants to even think of putting a loved one into some of the province's worst nursing homes. And why are they allowed to be so bad?

The politicians are tripping over themselves declaring support for supply management and for "risk management" programs, which are really cost-of-production subsidies that will some day lead to countervailing duties that will cut off exports. None of the parties will talk about disciplining supply management's excesses, such as plans to ban inter-provincial trade in chicken and the price cap on dairy quota that stymies innovation and efficiency gains. None of them has made any mention of the documents in court records indicating the industry is rife with collusion, price-fixing and misrepresenting undergrades as Grade A eggs; none has even ventured so far as offering a public inquiry.

Given the politics and promises of the Tories and Liberals, I think the best we can hope for is a minority government so that either one of these parties will need to negotiate with the NDP. That way the public might actually get a chance to influence politics in this province.

Who knows but we might even be allowed to spray our lawns for dandelions and chinch bugs.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Helping refugees

On Oct. 1, I hope to cycle 25 km in aid of refugees.

You can contribute to this worthy cause by sponsoring my cycling.

The money goes towards many varied projects to help fefugees, including projects in the congregation where my wife and I worship and befriend newcomers from many countries.

For example, we need to rent a place where we can tutor students, one on one, to help them understand their homework assignments, mainly by explaining the English they are trying to learn.

I would appreciate your support for this campaign. Check it out at http://my.e2rm.com/personalPage.aspx?SID=3136395&Lang=en-CA .


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Frederick P. Schneider dead at 85

Frederick P. Schneider, a tall, quiet, determined leader of the family meat-packing company, is dead at 85.

He was president from 1969 to 1989, leading the company through some of its greatest growth and diversification, out of cattle and hog slaughter and into emphasis on further processing.

He faced many challenges, including coping with an aging main plant on Courtland Avenue in Kitchener. He invested in many upgrades and expansions, but finally decided to exit slaughter and bacon processing.

He shunned the spotlight, leaving roles in industry organizations to staff members such as Ken Murray and Harold Dodds who took over as chief executive officer in 1989 when Schneider moved up to chairman of the board.

I recall how hurt he and the company were when I wrote about problems with meat inspectors, including a time when the veterinarian in charge locked his door, leaving the staff without effective enforcement powers so they sat in the lunch room munching on marijuana-laced cake. He took a full-page ad in the newspaper where I worked, The Record, to complain that the company's proud reputation for quality had been "besmirched".

He was passionate about conservation and planted thousands of trees on his hilly property northwest of Waterloo; he always left the big hill open to sledders and skiers and hikers. He was honoured many times with awards for conservation and environmental projects, including the Grand River Conservation Authority.

He also liked classical music and was a stalwart supporter of the K-W Symphony Orchestra.

In 1998, the grandchildren of J.M. Schneider sold the company to Smithfield Foods of Virginia, rejecting a higher bid from Maple Leaf Foods. Fred could not stomach the thought that long-term rival, Canada Packers, would win.

Smithfield proved to be a poor choice, riddled with controversy for water pollution and anti-union strong-arm tactics. Smithfield also betrayed the Schneider family, selling to Maple Leaf in 2004 in a deal that made economic sense because it combined the business into one more able to stand up to competition from U.S. giants and able to meet the volume demands of national supermarket chains, such as Loblaws.

Throughout the contoversies and successes, Frederick P. Schneider remained in the background, quietly exerting determined leadership.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Ontario National Farmers Union in trouble

I find it hard to believe the Ontario branch of the National Farmers Union will gain re-accreditation after listening through a day of testimony before the Ontario Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Appeals Tribunal today.

It became obvious that this is not an Ontario farm organization, but a sub-unit of the National Farmers Union with its head office in Saskatoon. That's where most of the Ontario money goes, where almost all of the policies are made and where the Ontario president - called a co-ordinator - gets appointed.

Until recently, the head office also controlled the treasurer position, which was filled by one of its staff members.

A few dissidents were elected directors during the Ontario organization's annual meeting in March, and they have been raising a lot of questions about this relationship between Ontario and the national organization. They testified at the tribunal's public hearing today that they couldn't get copies of the Ontario bylaws, minutes of meetings before they came on the board, an Ontario book of policies, etc.

Delegates to the Ontario annual meeting chose Sean McGivern to be their president - called co-ordinator - but the national board questioned his choice and, in the end, appointed a rival, Joe Dama. McGivern said Dama did not hold an Ontario Farm Business Registration membership at the time of the annual meeting, where he was elected. Don Mills, national vice-president, testified he was a direct member of the national NFU at the time and, as such, eligible for election.

Then there's the matter of Ann Slater. She was defeated during elections in March, but continues to sit as an 11th member on the Ontario board which, according to the organization's bylaws and policies, has room for only 10.

Mills explained that her term on the national board runs until the annual convention in late November and that all Ontario people who are on the national board are automatically members of the Ontario board.

Steve Dick, one of the directors who resigned over this situation, said the Ontario and national organizations are distinct corporations and, as such, the Ontario organization needs to have its own bylaws, policies, elections and control of its own finances. He said the current situation is a violation of both the legislation for so-called stable funding for general farm organizations and of the Ontario Corporations Act.

The tribunal is unlikely to issue a ruling before the end of October.  I can't see how the tribunal can justify re-accreditation, given what it heard and read today.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Ontario faces trade challenges

Premier Dalton McGuinty's vaunted wind-power projects face major trade challenges.

The European Union recently joined Japan's complaints to the World Trade Organization about McGuinty's buy-Ontario rules for developing wind and solar energy via his FIT program. That case is moving right along. The World Trade Organization has set up a panel to review the situation.

An academic trade expert I consult often says this will be "a slam dunk" for Japan and the European Union.
There will be a lot of devastated Ontario companies that got into the wind and solar equipment manufacturing business when Canada loses this case.

And then there's Mesa Power, which is owned by T. Boone Pickens who tends to win his many legal battles.

He has served notice that he believes Mesa Power has been done dirt by McGuinty's rules, including a change from regional to province-wide competition for wind-power projects. Mesa Power says that means it lost four projects to Boulevard Associates of Canada; Pickens is suing for $775 million.

Pickens is also challenging the buy-Ontario provisions of McGuinty's FIT program. And he also says the $7-billion deal signed with Samsung of Korea is unfair because his company and others were not able to bid on the work.

So why is McGuinty so secretive about these trade challenges during the election campaign?

Oh, yes, and then there is the matter of a lawsuit by Shawn and Tricia Drennan who oppose the Kingsbridge II wind farm. They have hired Toronto lawyer Julian Falconer to try to over-turn secrecy clauses put into buyouts of people affected by wind-power projects.

Apparently McGuinty's wind-power generators don't want the bought-out people blabbing about the adverse effects the turbines had on them.

I'm riding for refugees

On Oct. 10, I hope to cycle 25 kilometres in a fund-raising event in Waterloo.

The money goes towards helping refugees, including projects in the congregation where my wife and I worship and befriend newcomers from many countries.

I would appreciate your support for this campaign. Check it out at http://my.e2rm.com/personalPage.aspx?SID=3136395&Lang=en-CA .





Maple Lodge whines in New Brunswick

Maple Lodge has launched a publicity campaign to try to retain chicken supplies for its Nadeau Poultry Ltd. plant in New Brunswick.

Maple Lodge says it will close that plant if and when Sunnymel constructs a $30-million plant nearby. Sunnymel has lined up 80 per cent of the province's chicken supplies and, while it's awaiting construction of its plant, is having the birds processed in Olymel plants in Quebec.

Maple Lodge says that if both plants are to survive, birds will have to be brought in from other provinces and to do that, processors will have to pay premiums. I take that to mean Maple Lodge is prepared to pay premiums.

If so, Quebec may face yet another challenge. The marketing board there has a deal with Ontario to reduce and restrict the export of live chickens to processors in Ontario, presumably including Maple Lodge. That deal has not yet been approved by Quebec's supervisory agency. Imagine the same marketing board asking the same supervisory agency to ban chicken exports to New Brunswick.

I recall when the May brothers, who started Maple Lodge, railed against marketing boards and supply management. Now, in New Brunswick and Ontario and Quebec, they want marketing boards to use their power to ensure their processing plants can get all the birds they want and need without paying premiums.

Where's Solomon when the chicken industry needs him?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Cargill recalls turkey - again

Cargill's turkey-processing plant in Arkansas has issued another recall, this time for 185,000 pounds of ground turkey.

The first recall, issued Aug. 3, was for 36 million pounds because of potential contamination with Salmonella Heidelberg. That problem may have persisted for months before the recall and plant closure for a major cleaning and sanitation.

It reopened Aug. 16, but now the same strain of Salmonella Heidelberg has been found in ground turkey from the plant.

This time there have been no reports of anyone getting sick after eating Cargill's ground hamburger. The first time there were 111 reported illnesses in 31 states.

Let's hope the Cargill managers of poultry-processing plants in Ontario are doing a better job.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Sieber's still in trouble

According to documents I found in the Superior Court of Ontario, Helmut Sieber is still in dire financial straits, but he's remarkably shrewd about garnering money from complicated land deals.

Sieber, you may recall, left shareholders of Canadian Agra high and dry when that company went into bankruptcy, and he managed to buy tens of thousands of acres of Canadian farmland and flip it to wealthy Europeans at about double what he paid to acquire the farms.

There was one spectacular set of lawsuits, Christian Straube suing Sieber for $350 million and Sieber countersuing for $450 million. I dug through dozens of boxes filled with legal documents in 2003 and it all ended with a one-page out-of-court settlement with no indication of who paid who or how much.

The Canadian government also filed lawsuits for unpaid taxes. That debt remains outstanding with Revenue Canada watching Sieber for any property it could seize.

There is also a bank in Germany that petitioned Sieber into bankruptcy. It is owed $35 million and it, too, is keeping a close watch on Sieber to grab any personal property he acquires.

All of this leaves Sieber looking for ingenious ways to continue in business in the Kincardine area.

One piece of business I found in the court files is a $3.2-million mortgage he took out in the summer of 2007 on the offices and training centre at the airport at Kincardine. He defaulted on that mortgage, but managed to hang on until a court order this August 7 which determined he owes a total of $4.9 million and the mortgage holder, Crook Hollow, has a right to immediately seize the property.

That has happened and Sieber it out of those digs.

Some of the comments by the judge provide an interesting insight into how Sieber is operating these days.

He wrote: "The appearance is that Mr. Sieber is using his numerous (and difficult to keep straight as to what each does) corporate entities to delay Mr. (Charles) Juravinski as long as possible from enforcing payment on the loan of realizing on his security."

He further wrote that Sieber has been "an undischarged bankrupt since 2005.  He continues to operate through a variety of companies which make it impossible to determine the precise role, if any, any particular company has with the property."

Among companies mentioned are Resolute Land Bank, Canadian Agra Holdings Inc., Bruce Agra Inc and Canadian Agra Corporation.

Sieber called me last spring, offering an interview. I agreed, on condition he would reveal what has happened in all of the many lawsuits filed against him and companies he set up and controlled. He didn't get back to me.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Fewer chickens in Ontario

Defying logic, the national chicken agency has cut the allocation for Ontario by 6.1 per cent from the year-earlier level for quota period A-108, which runs from Dec. 4 to Jan. 28.

If this is an example of the wonderful new and harmonious relationship that the Chicken Farmers of Ontario marketing board says it has reached with the Association of Ontario Chicken Processors, it's crazy.

During the recent hearing conducted by the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission, board vice-chairman Henry Zantingh said the underlying problem that has fractured relationships in Ontario has been the chronic shortage of chicken.

So how can he then testify that things have gotten much better since the AOCP and the board, meeting under the chairmanship of a member of the Commission, have been working on a vision for the Ontario chicken industry?

I can understand that the AOCP members think things are getting better because it's in their best interests to short the Ontario market. That ensures that they have no trouble selling every kilogram of chicken they process at whatever price they deem satisfactory.

And, for the really big processors, if they run short in Ontario, they can always sell from plants they own in other provinces.

So who argues for increased production? The members of the Ontario Independent Poultry Processors association, which happens to represent 42 per cent of the processors.

If they could get all they need to fill their orders, they would quickly expand to take up more than two per cent of market share they now hold in Ontario.

Lowbank Farms stymied by chicken board


Lowbank Farms Ltd. of Hagersville has filed an appeal with the Ontario Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Tribunal, trying to knock some common sense into the thick heads at the Chicken Farmers of Ontario marketing board.

Harry Fennema, owner of Lowbank, said he filed the appeal because he and his brother, who produces organic chicken, cannot dove-tail their operations because of chicken board policies.

Harry has only one customer – his brother, John – and the two have planned a processing plant and production volume to run at peak efficiency at 65,000 kilograms per quota period.

John sells his birds to Harry and after processing Harry sells the chicken back to John who does all of the marketing. It’s a paperwork transaction to satisfy marketing board requirements. 

It would be much simpler and straight-forward if the production and processing could be run as one business, but the marketing board policies won't allow that to happen.

Harry’s appeal arises out of marketing board policies governing over-production and under-production at the farm level and, secondarily, how the board allocates scarce chicken supplies among processors.

When John under-produces in a quota period, he can make up that under-production a year later.
However, if that results in more birds than have been allocated to Harry for processing, the marketing board allocates John’s extra birds to another processor. 

In practice, it is usually Maple Leaf Foods Ltd. that has been short of chicken to fill its allocation, so the board directs them to Maple Leaf.

However, the volume is usually so small that Maple Leaf doesn’t want them because it needs to rent a smaller truck and runs into other slaughter-scheduling challenges. It's a costly nuisance for the province's largest processor.

The marketing board has, however, refused to listen to Maple Leaf and the Fennemas to send the extra birds to Harry’s processing plant, called Lowbank Farms Ltd.

If and when John over-produces and then has to cut production a year later, there is no way for Harry to source organic-standard birds from anybody else and so Fennema's customers are short of supplies.

There is an additional issue for the Fennemas; they are producing high-cost organic-standard chicken for premium-priced markets and so they don’t want to ship to Maple Leaf at commodity-market prices, nor does Maple Leaf have a market for the organic-standard chicken.

On a broader scale, Fennema says the family concerns are only one of many examples of how the special needs of small-scale processors are being ignored by the chicken marketing board and its new relationship being developed with the Association of Ontario Chicken Processors.

Fennema is a member of the Ontario Independent Poultry Processors association which is trying to get membership in a new advisory committee that so far has membership only from the marketing board, the AOCP and the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission.

Fennema said that if the OIPP members’ concerns are not addressed, they will be filing one appeal after another, costing taxpayers to pay for hearings by the Ontario Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Appeal Tribunal and costing the chicken board to pay a lawyer to represent it at the hearings.

The board is foolishly sticking to principles and ignoring common sense and the marketplace. But this is nothing as compared with the follies of national chicken supply management where the directors insist on each province getting a fixed-percentage cut of the pie, regardless of the demand and supply situation in their province.

This has, at times, resulted in chicken grown with subsidized feed in Newfoundland, processed at a subsidized slaughter facility in Newfoundland ending up at a further-processing plant in Waterloo, Ont.

It has also, at times, meant that an Ontario processing plant that lands a contract to supply the chicken for new nation-wide product launches by McDonald's Restaurants can't get enough chicken because the additional birds for the increased demand are produced in other provinces.

And, currently, it means that Ontario chickens move to Quebec processors who offer premium prices while Quebec chickens are moving into Ontario, also at premium prices, so processors can fill their orders. About 10 per cent of the chicken produced in the two provinces moves inter-provincially and at premium prices that cannot be justified by supply management which is designed to only cover production costs plus a reasonable return for producers.

Supply management is also supposed to ensure that the Canadian market is supplied with wholesome chicken.

So we have a broken system at the national agency level that is compounded by the Ontario board by straight-jacket allegiance to principles that defy common sense.

As for me and my house, whenever we're in the U.S., we stock up on chicken specials.

                                                      

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

AOCP attacked Cericola Farms


The written brief from the Association of Ontario Chicken Processors (AOCP) concludes with an attack on Cericola Farms Ltd. that was missing from lawyer Herman Turkstra’s oral submissions during a recent hearing held by the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission.

When I asked for a copy after the hearing, I was told by the AOCP people that they did not have a copy to share, but general manager Kevin Thompson promised to e-mail one. It came today.

The written brief says “over its many years of experience with the OIPP (Ontario Independent Poultry Processors association), the AOCP has seen no evidence that OIPP resents or deals with any issues other than those of importance to Cericola Farms and Sure Fresh.

“At virtually every meeting attended by both AOCP and OIPP, the representations and positions advanced by Mr. (Hank) Van Voorst in his stated role on behalf of the OIPP have dealt exclusively with the interests of Cericola and Sure Fresh.

“The chair of OIPP, Hank van Voorst and the general manager, John Slot, are employees or agents of Cericola Farms and/or Sure Fresh.”

The brief explains why, at the opening of the hearing, Slot read two letters into the record. The first dated the Friday before the hearing which was held on Tuesday, was a letter from Van Voorst resigning as chair of OIPP. The second, dated the day before the hearing, was from Cericola Farms withdrawing its membership from the OIPP.

Three OIPP members attended the meeting to provide support to Slot, who made the OIPP’s submission. They were Jimmie Lee of International Poultry Inc. at Welland, Joe Abate of Abate Packers Ltd. at Arthur and Harry Fennema of Lowbank Farms at Hagersville.

The OIPP asked for the hearing to have the commission reconsider its decision about the membership of a new advisory committee to the Chicken Farmers of Ontario marketing board. The AOCP was granted three memberships, the marketing board three and the commission three, with one of the commission members to serve as chair. The OIPP was not included.

Slot argued that the OIPP had been involved in previous discussions about the key issue of chicken board allocation of limited supplies to processors, that it had been regarded as a co-operative partner with the chicken board whereas the AOCP refused to participate and refused to sign a draft memorandum of understanding and therefore the OIPP has earned the right to be included in the current committee which is developing a new vision for the Ontario chicken industry.

Turkstra and Rob Wilson, lawyer for the chicken board, said the committee has made great strides in developing the new vision which, they said, will be unveiled in a matter of weeks or months, that there is a fresh spirit of co-operation that has not existed in the past and that the OIPP would be “disruptive” should it be added to the committee.

Under cross examination from Slot, the AOCP and chicken board witnesses could not cite any evidence that the OIPP has been disruptive in the past.

The key development in the industry is an agreement in principle between Ontario and Quebec to stop the increasing volume of live chicken movement from one province to the other. It reached about 10 per cent of production before the two marketing boards imposed a temporary ban on any increase in inter-provincial trade.

Quebec’s government supervisory agency has yet to approve the deal. If it does approve, then the Ontario chicken board will be asking the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission to approve its part of the deal.

It will feature new policies for allocating chicken supplies to processors. Members of the OIPP fear that their access to chicken will be curbed even more than it now is.
                                    

Friday, September 2, 2011

Powell disses CFIA secrecy


 BY DOUG POWELL
Auditors, certifiers, validators, grease monkeys, soil farmers, they’re all supposed to make things better.
But claims are nothing more than claims in the absence of data.
And anyone who has to say, “trust me,” is immediately untrustworthy.
So when Laura Telford, executive director of the Canadian Organic Growers, told Canadian news types a couple of weeks ago“I’m not certain the world needs to know the exact reason why this company lost its certification. I personally feel that its enough to know that CFIA is doing its job ... and when a company is not following the rules, there will be consequences,” howls of cynical guffawing ensued among those familiar with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
A few weeks ago, Lynne Moore reported in the Montreal Gazette that on June 30, 2009, the Organic Products Regulations came into effect under the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
The regulations provided for a transition period, a two-year span that would allow everyone to align their operations to the new reality and take care of practical matters such as using up existing packaging.
In a July 27, 2011, notice, the Canada Organic Office said Jirah Milling and Sales Inc., of Ormstown, Que., was no longer authorized to market organic products or use the Canada Organic logo (the logo that would now be recognized by the U.S. and the EU).
The notice of suspension of organic certification was sent to industry and certification bodies, but the document was not publicly disseminated by the federal body on a website or via a media release.
The Montreal Gazette found the government's suspension notice about one of Eastern Canada's most significant international organic dealers on the "newsroom" page of U.S. Department of Agriculture’s website. It wasn't deemed newsworthy in Canada, but it was in the U.S.
Michel Saumur, the office's national manager and program spokesman, would not provide information about the scope of Jirah's corporate activities, wouldn't discuss complaints received about the company, wouldn't say why its certification was suspended - and subsequently cancelled - and would not even disclose which certifying body had accredited Jirah.
Email inquiries to CFIA's media office finally generated a response on Friday afternoon. The Organic Products Regulations "do not have provisions for fines and additional penalties at this time."
So it's something like getting caught for driving so fast you lose your licence, but aren't fined.