Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Barn parties to test McGuinty

The rural-urban divide in the recent provincial election could get its first test over the Ontario Fire Marshall's Office and its crusade to make barns safe for parties.

The rural communities where no Liberals were elected are up in arms over orders that will cost barn owners tens of thousands of dollars to get their local fire departments off there backs whenever they decide to hold a neighbourhood party.

The Ontario Fire Marshall's Office has issued an advisory to all fire departments telling them to enforce the Ontario fire prevention code, else their municipality could be held liable in the event of an injury or death.

That means the barns will need fire separations, sprinkler systems and a sprayed-on coating of fire retardant which may contain a carcinogenic chemical.

This is a rural issue that is likely to become more contentious than the long-gun registry.

It seems that common sense is anything but common among snivel servants.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Press barred from chicken meeting

The Chicken Farmers of Ontario marketing board has postponed its Industry Insight 2011 meeting from Oct. 24 to Nov. 14.

Notice of the change was posted on its website the day the meeting was scheduled to take place.

The board earlier told me I can't attend the meeting, a change from the policy of previous years when the board welcomed reporters so its messages could get out.

All those involved in the industry are supposed to be welcome at this meeting.

The topics are listed as an outline of the Ontario Industry Strategic Plan, which has been under development by a new Chicken Industry Advisory Committee with membership from the chicken board, the Association of Ontario Chicken Processors, one of two associations that represent processors, and the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission.

The plan will include an outline of how Ontario intends to implement its part of a deal with Quebec to stop the movement of live chickens between the provinces.

Also on the agenda is an update on a “Major Industry Initiative” and a report on the board’s performance.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Maple Lodge fined 22 times

Maple Lodge Farms Ltd. was hit with 22 fines totaling $122,400 for transportation violations caught by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Information about the fines assessed between April 1 and June 30 this year is posted on the CFIA website.

Others that were fined in Ontario were Little Rock Trucking, caught 12 times and fined $45,000, and M&J Carriers, caught three times and fined $6,000.

In Atlantic Canada, Integrated Poultry Farms paid $11,800 for three infractions and L. Bilodeau & Fils $5,200 for two offices.

There were 19 fines totaling $127,000 assessed in Ontario for violations of Plant Protection Act provisions. The website does not say who was fined or why, but it’s likely that most, if not all of them, apply to moving wood out of quarantine zones established to contain infestations of ash borer.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

McMeekin's the new ag. minister

Ted McMeekin of Waterdown is the new agriculture minister in Ontario following the election election defeat of both women who held the post under Premier Dalton McGuinty.

McMeekin represents the mainly urban riding of Ancaster, Dundas, Flamborough and Westdale  near Hamilton.

Carol Mitchell of Clinton was defeated in her riding north and west of London and Leona Dombrowsky of Tweed, who moved from agriculture to education minister, was defeated in her riding north and east of Oshawa.

The Progressive Conservative Party candidates won in all the rural ridings and the Liberals fell one seat short of a minority by holding downtown urban ridings in Toronto, Ottawa, Windsor, Hamilton, Kitchener and Guelph.

Longo's leads in innovation

Farmers who want to know what’s coming in food retailing ought to visit a Longo’s supermarket.

“They are considered the most innovative in North America,” says John Scott, president and ceo of the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers.

Even Wegman’s, a supermarket chain in upper New York State, respects Longo’s, he said. For years a trip to Wegman’s provided a good idea about what Loblaws would be doing within the next three to five years.

John Scott
Scott said Longo’s is innovative across a broad front, but it is the stores’ produce section that is a favourite with shoppers.

The buzz in the industry this year is what the entry of Target will bring, he said.

Sobeys has signed a deal to supply Target’s groceries, just as it did when Wal-Mart began selling groceries in Canada. Wal-Mart is now on its own and is gaining market share as shoppers see that it is able to offer a full range of groceries, meats and fresh produce at highly-competitive prices.

Target will be up against Loblaws’ Supercentres and Wal-Mart in terms of store size and pricing.

Scott said the more than 4,000 independent grocers who have joined his association since it launched in 1962 are in a different competitive category.

He is urging them to “stick to your knitting,” the factors that have helped the remain competitive so far.

The market is splintering into retailers who cater to specific ethnic groups, to geographic communities – eg. the buy local movement – and commodities.

Scott said shoppers no longer go to one store to buy everthing, but will pick up paper goods at Costco and while they’re there will buy meat and will go to Longo’s for produce.

“They are shopping at different stores for different things,” he said.

That’s a trend that suppliers need to watch to ensure they maintain access to the customers they want.

Scott said another major trend now is increased consumer awareness about the link between food and health.

That’s why Grocery Innovations, the big trade show the association puts on every year in Toronto, will be featuring seminars during this week’s show that begins Monday at the Toronto Congress Centre.

Another trend is the fast-increasing use of Twitter and Facebook to draw attention to new products and services retailers and food suppliers are offering, Scott said.

In the space of three minutes during a telephone interview, he noted that three companies sent him Twitter notices about new things they’re offering, companies such as Nature’s Path and Longo’s.

The people who are in their 20s and 30s are using Twitter and Facebook to find the foods that interest them and the stores that are stocking them.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Hog marketers

After a long battle, the Ontario Pork marketing board lost its monopoly on selling market-ready hogs.

The pork board remains responsible for helping hog farmers with their marketing, such as reporting prices.

It would seem reasonable that the pork board would also want to keep producers informed about all the people and companies that are now in the business of marketing hogs.

I asked and was told there are 11. I waited more than 10 days for the pork board to provide a list of the 11. I finally got an answer earlier this week, but there were only two companies on the list.

Today, on the pork board's website, there is a new category under producer services, and it lists the following four:

Hudson Marketing Ltd.
Phone: 204-940-1502 Fax: 204-940-1515
John Werden Livestock Ltd.
Phone: 519-659-6900 Fax: 519-695-3278
Parks Livestock of Canada LP
Phone: 519-595-8555 Fax: 519 595 8552
Zantingh Swine Inc
Phone: 519-845-0362 Fax: 519-845-0003

Frankly, I don't think the pork board knows who is marketing hogs these days.

Schneider plant closing

Maple Leaf Foods Inc. has decided to close the J.M. Schneider Inc. meat-packing plant in Kitchener as part of a massive restructuring of its meat-processing business.

It is building a new $395-million plant in Hamilton which is also where it recently opened a new bakery to consolidate operations from three other Ontario bakeries it is closing.

It will also be investing in plants at Winnipeg, Brampton and Saskatoon, which is the former Mitchell Gourmet Foods business that was bought by Schneider before it was taken over by Maple Leaf.

Also closing will be the distribution centre in Kitchener.

The packing plants and distribution centres in Coquitlam, B.C., and Moncton, New Brunswick, are also closing, all by the end of 2014.

A small plant in Winnipeg and another in North Battleford, Sask. and one in Brampton, Ont., will be closed.

President Michael McCain says the changes will improve efficiencies and profits.

About 1,550 people are employed at the places that are closing, 1,200 of them in Kitchener; about 1,150 will be hired at Hamilton and for consolidated distribution centres in Winnipeg and two for Ontario, one of them in Eastern Ontario.

The total investment will be $560 million.

Kitchener and other cities have been nervous ever since McCain announced plans more than two years ago for a massive modernization of the company’s meat-processing facilities to become more competitive on a North American scale.

Some competitors, such as Tyson, Cargill, Smithfield and JBS, are far larger than Maple Leaf and have recently been taking an increasing share of sales through Canada’s largest supermarket chains which relentlessly push suppliers for lower prices.



Regis grants go-ahead on chicken

The Régis in Quebec has granted approval for the marketing board to implement an agreement with Ontario designed to stop inter-provincial movement of live chicken.

About 10 per cent of the chickens raised in each province are being sold to processing plants in the other province, usually at premium prices.  That means trucks are passing each other on the Queen Elizabeth Way, hauling chickens in opposite directions.

Now that the Régis has made its move,  the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Council is likely to soon follow suit.

There is one small fly in the ointment in Quebec; the Régis said there needs to be an effort made to satisfy concerns raised by two small-volume processors. They are so tiny that most observers expect they won't, or can't, hold up the deal.

Of course, there still remains a huge question: how can the marketing boards defy an agreement all of the premiers of Canada's provinces and territories have put in place to reduce inter-provincial trade barriers?

We shall see.

On the other hand, if this deal doesn't work, a recent decision by the Superior Court in Quebec that struck down the temporary moratorium on any increase in out-of-province chicken contracting will return the chicken industry to wide-open competition.

Geri Kamentz, chairman of the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission, has said supply management for the chicken industry cannot survive if premiums continue to be demanded/offered for live chicken. All of the Ontario-Quebec trade restriction moves are supposedly aimed at curbing or eliminating premiums.

Whatever happened to the simple idea that increasing supplies will satisfy demand and eliminate premiums? Ask the directors of the Chicken Farmers of Canada, the national agency that establishes production volumes and then carves the pie into provincial pieces.  And ask the big chicken-processing companies who consistently urge production restraint; that makes it easy for them to sell every bird they process because nobody has to work very hard if there isn't enough supply to meet demand.

Of course, this all leads to a dead end for the Canadian chicken industry when tariffs eventually come down and they face competition from companies in other countries, such as the United States, Brazil and Chile.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Enforcement is important

Lack of enforcement has been a huge problem with the regulations and standards that ought to apply in Canadian agriculture.

In the beef-packing industry, many of the companies with the highest standards for integrity, quality and compliance with government regulations were pressured out of business.

I watched as companies with less integrity and a track record of violations managed to survive. The largest one in Ontario at  the time even survived a conviction for fraud.

The same could be said for many other agricultural sectors where federal, provincial and municipal standards were broken, flouted and ignored. In some cases, such as the fertilizer industry, the federal government simply gave up trying to enforce a standard of quality and value across the board.

All of which brings me to the current situation in Europe where several animal-welfare bans are due to take effect. The first, this coming Jan. 1, is a ban on caging egg-laying hens. The next two, to come into effect Jan. 1, 2013, are bans on castrating pigs and confining pregnant sows in stalls.

European farmers are openly questioning whether the lower-income countries, such as Greece, Italy and Spain, will try to enforce the new standards. And, if not, they rightly complain that those who are forced to comply will be at a competitive disadvantage.

Rules are, in fact, worse than nothing if they are not enforced. At least with nothing, there is fair competition. With rules that are not enforced, it's the honest businesses that lose.

This is what's at the heart of the lawsuits that Sweda Farms Ltd. has filed against the dominant egg-grading companies and the Ontario egg marketing board.

At least now that the chicken manure has hit the fan, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has told its staff to stop providing advance notice to when they's going to show up to conduct an audit.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Closing the gap

The protest movement that has brought out thousands of demonstrators to the finance centres of cities around the world has one common theme - frustration that the rich are getting richer while the poor get poorer.

Democracy depends on a broad middle class, but that middle class has been declining for at least 30 years, especially in the United States and in Canada under the Harper government in Ottawa and the Mike Harris government in Ontario.

One measure that would help reverse the trend is to increase taxes on the wealthy. A highly-progressive income tax would help. So would a progressive tax on corporate profits that would discourage companies from continuing to concentrate power and would encourage them to break up into smaller units.

A return of death taxes would also help, reducing the wealth gap for the upcoming generation.

This approach has promise for agriculture.  Cuba recently learned that food production increased dramatically when land was taken from central control and "peasants" were offered about 10 acres each.

Why not tax the largest dairy and poultry farms in the U.S. so they are encouraged to break up by selling to family-scale size - just enough to provide an income of less than $100,000 per year for a family's return on investment and labour?

The measure of adequate size of corporation or business will depend on the nature of the business. For example, capital-intensive industries such as mining and auto manufacturing would be allowed to accumulate more capital than retailing.

Yes, there would be some sacrifice of efficiencies related to scale of operations, but the gains in the size of the middle class would be well worth the sacrifices.

Could Canada go it alone in the global economy? Why not? With our economy in the hands of millions of  individuals instead of one per cent of the population, we would have much better odds of discovering solutions.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Stubborn Ontario milk board

Despite mounting evidence that it's quota transfer policy is failing, the directors of the Dairy Farmers of Ontario marketing board continue to hold a $25,000 cap on quota prices and to ban whole-farm mergers.

British Columbia has, on the other hand, dropped its ban on whole-farm mergers - sort of. Beginning Nov. 1, farms can be bought and half of the quota can be merged; the other half has to be auctioned through the quota exchange. It's now kind of like a choke hold instead of a strangle hold.

Under the Ontario policy, hardly any quota is being offered for sale on the monthly exchange the board runs, not even enough to satisfy demand for quota under its new-entrants program.

While the price cap and whole-farm merger policy remains in place, the most innovative and efficient farmers are stymied from investing to increase their market share while many who are simply riding the waves awaiting retirement continue to be rewarded with a steady stream of profits.

This is precisely the wrong approach to keeping the industry competitive, market-oriented and sustainable.

A word from Washington

A friend in Washington, D.C., sent me this today:

Super Committee should take a weed wacker to farm subsidies

Only in Congress could "cutting spending" actually mean "figuring out new ways to spend more." Word on the street is that the Super Committee is close to reaching a deal with farm lobbyists to cut up to $33 billion over ten years from farm subsidy programs. Sounds good, but there’s a catch. To get the ag lobby’s support, the deal would include passing a new “improved” farm safety net that is a variant of a current ACRE program. This bait and switch will keep subsidies flowing to already wealthy farmers and could cost taxpayers billions more in the long run.

So what is the "improvement"? It is a modification of the ACRE program that pays farmers a subsidy when the revenue per acre for a particular crop falls below recent statewide historical averages. Since crop prices are at, or near, all-time record highs, that means taxpayers would pay already wealthy farmers to maintain record profits—at a time when millions of Americans are jobless and not making a profit at all.

That’s just not fair.

This deal could end up costing taxpayers more money in the long run, too. If prices go down, even partially, towards more typical levels, taxpayers may be on the hook for much more than $6 billion in some years and, depending on the final structure of the program, could average as much as $5 billion annually. Add it up—over ten years, there would be no cuts from ag subsidies at all, just a switch in how they are received.

The Super Committee should take the House and Senate agriculture committees' recommendations, due to arrive on their desks on Friday evening, with a large grain of salt. In fact, the Super Committee members should consider much larger cuts than the agriculture committees want them to look at.

President Obama has recommended agriculture subsidy cuts in the order of $33 billion over the next ten years and House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan has advocated cuts in excess of $48 billion. However, the recent AEI 2012 farm bill project, involving more than 20 of the leading agricultural economists in the country, identified over $100 billion of agricultural subsidy cuts that could be made without adversely affecting the country’s food supply and distribution system.

The Super Committee should be bold, not timid, and take a weed wacker to farm subsidies that, for the most part, benefit less than 200,000 relatively wealthy farmers and landowners. A hundred billion dollars saved in wasteful agriculture subsidies is a hundred billion dollars that does not need to be cut from Social Security, Medicare, or defense.

I say that what we really need is a new world trade agreement that reduces all governments' farm subsidies and trade barriers.

The press is excluded

The Chicken Farmers of Ontario marketing board is becoming progressively more closed to reporters.

I used to attend district meetings, but for more than a decade I have not been allowed to attend and report what staff and elected leaders are telling chicken farmers.

I used to attend an all-industry meeting at Guelph, a meeting that includes representatives from hatcheries, feed companies, civil servants, etc. This year, Megan McClune, the board's communications co-ordinator, says reporters can't attend.

At the annual meetings of the chicken and egg boards, reporters have been barred from some of the sessions.

What are these people so afraid of? Are they really doing, or thinking, things they don't want the public to know about?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Gray's electronic files are hot court issue

Oshawa – Lawyers for egg-industry giants Burnbrae Farms Ltd. and L.H. Gray and Sons Ltd. spent the day in court here basically trying to keep thousands of electronic records from being allowed into a court case alleging they conspired to hurt a tiny competitor, Sweda Farms Ltd.

Their arguments arose as challenges of a motion by Sweda’s lawyers, Donald Good and Robert Morrow, to merge lawsuits involving them and the Ontario egg marketing board.

Svante Linde, owner of Sweda Farms, argued long ago that the two egg companies and the Harry Pelissero, general manager of the Ontario egg marketing board, conspired to hurt his egg-grading business.

Now his lawyers have filed a new motion to combine separate cases – a lawsuit filed in 2005 against the egg board and a lawsuit filed in 2008 against Burnbrae and Gray – and have added allegations including breach of Canada’s competition laws, basically because they learned a lot more from the electronic files Bourdeau took from Gray’s computer.

Justice Peter Lauwers opened the hearing here by saying “it’s tough to resist” the motion filed by Good and Morrow.

However, as the day progressed, he also conceded that there are several gritty issues of law raised by three lawyers for the defendants that he needs to ponder in reaching a decision.

One of the arguments made by David McCutcheon, lawyer for Burnbrae, and Allison Webster, lawyer for Gray, is that there was not enough evidence of a conspiracy when the original lawsuits were filed in 2005 and 2008, and it’s too late to drag the electronic files Bourdeau took from Gray into the case now.

Morrow countered that there was evidence of a conspiracy, including an attempt by Gray and Burnbrae to jointly buy out Linde, to hire one of Linde’s employees so they could use his knowledge to lure away Linde’s clients and that they tried to get the egg board to help them thwart Linde’s efforts to import eggs.

He said the Bourdeau files add detail and scope to these original complaints of a conspiracy.

At one point, Webster argued that the Bourdeau files are “an entirely different set of facts,” to which Lauwers said “frankly, that’s not how I see it.”

Lauwers said the landscape changed after Bourdeau provided files to Svante Lind, owner of Sweda Farms. There was one set of information available to Good and Morrow and Sweda Farms early on, and another “landscape” after Bourdeau revealed the electronic files.

The new landscape is a much broader and more detailed set of allegations of conspiracies among Burnbrae, Gray and the egg board.

“They (Linde, Good and Morrow) didn’t glom on to the fact there was a bigger conspiracy until later,” Lauwers said, meaning until Bourdeau provided the electronic files.

Lauwers said at the end of the day that he will do his best to provide a prompt decision.

There was agreement among the lawyers that the trial, if it happens, ought to be handled in Toronto. 

Lauwers said Oshawa lacks the time and staff to handle a trial that’s likely to “go on and on and on” for months.

Another key issue remains to be resolved before a trial can begin – whether the Bourdeau files can be used as evidence in the case and, if so, how many of the files. The lawyers’ negotiations on that issue hinge in part on what Lauwers decides about whether the lawsuits will be merged or remain separate.

Chicken moratorium quashed

The moratorium - i.e. ban - on new inter-provincial contracts that the Ontario and Quebec chicken-marketing boards have been holding in place for more than a year has been quashed by the Quebec Superior Court.

The marketing boards are expected to appeal the decision.

In the meantime, it’s possible that processors in either or both provinces could begin signing new contracts with chicken farmers in the other province.

It’s estimated that 10 per cent of chicken production in each of the two provinces is moving to processors in the other province, many of the birds moving in trucks that pass each other going in opposite directions along the Queen Elizabeth Way in the Niagara area.

The chicken boards imposed a "moratorium" on any addition to the existing volume of out-of-province contracts while they negotiated a more permanent solution.

Then they reached agreement in principle on a deal to end inter-provincial movement of live birds, but have yet to implement it.

They have been waiting for the Régis des Marchés Agricole et Alimentaires du Quebec (a provincial government body that regulates marketing boards) to decide whether it will allow the Quebec chicken marketing board to implement the deal.

The Régis has, in turn, been waiting for the court decision.

And Ontario has been waiting for the outcomes in Quebec before it seeks regulations to implement the agreement.

The Ontario Independent Poultry Processors Association has eight members who have indicated they will oppose any deal that makes it more difficult for them to access increased chicken supplies.

Any one of them could use the Quebec Superior Court decision as a precedent to quash any new marketing board deal to restrain inter-provincial trade.

Egg surplus policy appeal

The Canadian Poultry and Egg Processors Council has filed an appeal with the Farm Products Council of Canada, objecting to new surplus-removal policies adopted by the Egg Farmers of Canada national marketing agency.

The national agency is alarmed by the continued increase in volume of eggs that are being declared “surplus” and therefore require the egg board to move them from the high-priced “table” market to the lower-priced “processing” market.

There have been record volumes of surplus eggs declared by egg-grading stations in January of the last two years. There have also been high volumes of imports from the United States, based on allegations by the egg-grading stations of shortages in Canada, just prior to Christmas.

The Canadian Poultry and Egg Processors Council represents both some of Canada’s largest egg-processing companies and egg-grading stations, including the two largest - Burnbrae Farms Ltd. and L.H. Gray and Son Ltd.

The Farm Products Council of Canada is appointed by the federal government to supervise national supply-management agencies, including Egg Farmers of Canada.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Farm safety initiative

The Canadian Agricultural Safety Association and the Ontario Federation of Agriculture have joined forces to bring Sue Brumby, one of the leading farm safety expert in Australia, to London, Ont., on Nov. 10.

She is stopping on her way to Vancouver where she will be the feature speaker at the annual conference for the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association.

Brumby has developed a program called Sustainable Farm Families because she says farmers need to appreciate how their health relates to their farm productivity and therefore profitability.

There is more about her program at, which later evolved into the Australian National Centre for Farmer Health.

“The program looks at how farm life affects diet, obesity, exercise, cancer, lifestyle, smoking, drinking, issues with access to healthcare, untreated chronic injury etc. and how all of these things negatively affect the farm,” says Tim Nelson who moved from Australia to become chief of staff for the Poultry Industry Council.

“The program has won numerous public health awards and has attracted significant funds from the health sector – all of which benefits agriculture. Significantly as a result of producers getting involved, it has also saved lives,” Nelson says.

“The program has been run across many agricultural sectors which is why I am writing to all commodities to promote the Forum.”

Also speaking will be Dean Anderson, current chairman of the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association, and Dr. Rob Annis, a health practitioner from the North Perth Family Health team who has years of first-hand experience in dealing with farmers and their families facing health problems.

Dr. John Kelly will moderate “a lively discussion on farmer health and how it is addressed and managed in Ontario and whether or not a program similar to the  Sustainable Farm Families program would and could work here to improve health outcomes and maintain profitability on the farm,” Nelson said.

Nelson is asking farm organizations to help spread the word and is also asking for donations.
“If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact me, or you can register on line at and click on the Better Farmer Health, Better Farm Business link,” Nelson said.

Lobby against milk price hike

It will soon be time for the milk marketing boards to make their routine pitch for price increases for industrial and fluid milk, so it's hardly surprising that the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association (CFRA) has launched a public-relations campaign about milk pricing.

It is using its website to create a petition to urge governments to take action on milk pricing.  They also get a chance to air their views about the issue.
The CFRA hired the Innovative Research Group to conduct a survey which found - surprise! surprise! - that the public would like prices to come down for milk and dairy products.
Garth Whyte, CRFA's President and CEO says "the current system is making Canadian milk and cheese less attractive - and less affordable - for everyone."

He noted that Statistics Canada reports that Canadians are consuming 18 per cent less milk than they did 20 years ago.

Since 1994 the price of milk used to make cheese and yogurt has climbed by 58.5 per cent while the consumer price index has risen by only 34.2 per cent. That, I note, is a quite different situation from the boasts that former agriculture minister Eugene Whelan made about pricing for supply-managed commodities lagging inflation.

Based on figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), today Canadians pay roughly double the world average for milk and 63 per cent more than Americans, says the CFRA.  That, of course, leads to a lot of cross-border shopping which robs Canadian producers, processors and retailers of sales and profits.

The CFRA says "Canada's dairy supply management system is costing Canadians approximately $2.4 billion every year."

It would be one thing if this money flowed into the bank accounts of dairy farmers, but I think the real beneficiaries have been the lenders who have doled out billions to dairy farmers who want to buy quota. Of course, it's a dairy farmer's free choice to either bank the profits from supply management or use them to leverage more debt.

"We believe the Canadian dairy industry can be among the best in the world if we can find a way to increase consumption of affordable dairy products across the country," says Whyte. "CRFA is interested in working with federal and provincial governments and the dairy industry to see a fair and transparent system that benefits everyone."
The online survey was conducted during a week at the end of January involving 1,316 Canadians, 18 years of age or older. 

Friday, October 7, 2011

Ontario election

So Ontario Agriculture Minister Carol Mitchell was defeated - by a huge margin.

Probably wind turbines and solar panels did her in.

So now that we have Tory blue across the vast landscape of Ontario, and red concentrated in big cities, especially Toronto, farmers better look out because those opposed to factory farms, antibiotics in livestock and poultry rations and pesticides to control weeds, insects and fungi are going to have greater influence than ever before.

Forget science! Forget the  reasoned arguments of civil servants within the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. The decisions will be made in Premier Dalton McGuinty's office, just as they were in the decision to ban the "cosmetic use" of pesticides, to sign a green-energy deal with Samsung, etc., etc.

Farmers have long had political clout far beyond their numbers, mainly because they have been a determined minority with nobody in the general public strongly opposed. Besides, city people loved farmers.

The politics have changed. Now we have determined minorities in the anti-pesticide groups, the animal welfare activists and the organic movement. They, too, are pressing causes that city people generally favour because they've been convinced that these causes will improve the environment and health.

One of the first thing McGuinty has promised today is an "economic update" from his finance minister, Dwight Duncan.

I expect the new outlook will bear precious little resemblance to the election-campaign outlook. Batten down the hatches! We're in for some stormy political and economic times.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Commission blunders on chicken decision

Ontario Farm Products
Marketing Commission
In a classic blunder, the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission has denied an appeal by the eight-member Ontario Independent Poultry Processors (OIPP) association to be granted a position on a new Chicken Industry Advisory Committee the commission established late last year.

During the public hearing the commission held, the Association of Ontario Chicken Processors (AOCP) and the Chicken Farmers of Ontario marketing board said this new advisory committee has patched up relationships between the farmers and processors and is making good progress on a proposal it hopes to present within a matter of weeks or months.

They both said that adding the OIPP would be "disruptive," but they could not point to a shred of evidence to back that claim.

John Slot, speaking for the OIPP, testified that two previous advisory committees failed because of tensions between the AOCP and the chicken board, but that relations between the OIPP and the chicken board had always been good.

He also testified that the OIPP and the chicken board staff made good progress developing a proposal for allocating scarce chicken supplies to processing plants. That is clearly the most contentious issue facing the chicken industry, and has been for decades.

The real problem is a shortage of chicken in Ontario, and that's the case because the national agency, which has one director from each province, simply will not give Ontario enough to meet demand. That has made growth in Ontario difficult, to say the least, and has stymied development of new products, new businesses and new ideas.

Henry Zantingh, vice-chairman of the chicken board, testified to that very fact - that the underlying problem to all of this is a shortage of chicken in Ontario. The commission didn't say a word about that in its decision.

It simply bought the argument that things are going along just great at the new Chicken Industry Advisory Committee.

Maybe. And maybe not. So far it hasn't produced anything.

The most recent allocation meeting at the national agency resulted in even less chicken, and less market share, for Ontario. That's progress?

Why, you might ask, would Ontario processors not seek a larger market share out of the national allocation system? It's quite possible that the biggest companies see more benefits from maintaining market shares for other provinces where they also have processing plants. That would enhance their competitive position in Ontario by starving their rivals of chicken needed to serve increasing, or niche-market-demand.

Secondly, there's less effort and expense involved in marketing when the market is short of chicken. The Ontario market is so short that the members of the OIPP don't need sales staff; often they are turning down orders and turning away new clients. Imagine what this kind of market does for the big companies.

The main chicken-industry policy development has been agreement in priinciple between the Ontario and Quebec chicken boards to restrict inter-provincial movement of live chicken. That frankly scares the members of the OIPP because they fear the big processors will use this deal to reduce their supplies. They have good reason for fear because that's exactly how the AOCP dealt with them in the past.

This is clearly the biggest issue the CIAC has to tackle - how to implement Ontario's part of this bargain.

Yet Kevin Thompson, its chief of staff in a one-man shop, has left for a job with Sargent Farms. So who has the AOCP got to carry on? And how can the AOCP function without an executive director who knows the industry and its history and has the vision and the diplomatic skills to move the industry forward?

The commission didn't say anything about that.

It all adds up to a collosal blunder.

The commission needs the OIPP at the table, especially to implement an allocation plan if and when the Ontario-Quebec agreement in principle is implemented. And if the OIPP is not at the table, it's almost certain that any Ontario-Quebec agreement will unravel.

Of course, there's the tiny issue of restraint of interprovincial trade which flies in the face of recent pledges to eliminate inter-provincial trade barriers.