Behind the Lines

Behind the Lines - August/September 2012

Beef from “Down Under” – meaning Australia and New Zealand – used to have a lower quality image. Not any more, as we found while researching a story on grass-fed beef for this month’s issue.

We came across a gourmet meat store in New Jersey that sells Australian “grass-fed beef striploin . . . 8-10 pounds” for $133.99. Obviously, “local” isn’t the reason this product sells.

Behind the Lines - June/July 2012

North Glengarry municipal council recently defeated a resolution put forward by the mayor of Fort Erie, home of one of the racetracks targeted by the Dalton McGuinty government’s controversial removal of slot machines from racetracks. Not unreasonably, Fort Erie was seeking support from other municipalities for the horse racing industry.

Also not unreasonably, in the circumstances, a majority of North Glengarry council members couldn’t figure out what the issue had to do with them. After all, as one noted, the nearest track is in Ottawa, about 100 kilometres away from their rural agricultural community.    

Behind the Lines - May 2012

Sometimes it’s easy to forget just how complex Ontario’s agriculture and food-related industry is.

That was brought home to our editors as we looked over this month’s cover story by Dave Pink on the increasing demand for trained agricultural school graduates in this province.

True, there are fewer farm enterprises as consolidation continues. However, there are just as many acres to be farmed and likely just as much livestock raised, using increasingly complex feed and machinery technologies.

Behind the Lines - April 2012

So much depends upon getting seed into the ground in the spring. But making that happen in what seems to be a narrowing “window” of good weather and soil conditions can be frustrating. We asked a handful of top producers what they do to make planting smooth and fast. This story, by Mary Baxter, starts on page 14.

Selling crops and livestock products in an increasingly global marketplace is just as daunting. “Product of . . .” labels remain a contentious issue of food labelling and form a thread in this month’s issue.

Behind the Lines - April 2012

So much depends upon getting seed into the ground in the spring. But making that happen in what seems to be a narrowing “window” of good weather and soil conditions can be frustrating. We asked a handful of top producers what they do to make planting smooth and fast. This story, by Mary Baxter, starts on page 14.

Selling crops and livestock products in an increasingly global marketplace is just as daunting. “Product of . . .” labels remain a contentious issue of food labelling and form a thread in this month’s issue.

Behind the Lines - March 2012

Planting crops is continually undergoing a revolution. Witness the rapid development of Real Time Kinetic Global Positioning Systems (RTK-GPS), described in our October, 2010 cover story. But some revolutions might seem like they are going backwards and growing cover crops might appear to be one of those technologies. Long touted by organic crop producers who were avoiding the use of “chemical” fertilizers, the use of cover crops is now being embraced by mainstream farmers for any number of reasons, including a desire to reduce the use of those expensive fertilizers.

But there are other benefits as well, such as better test weights, yields, and even a better nutritional analysis on the field crop that is harvested. That story, by Mary Baxter, starts on page 14.

Behind the Lines - February 2012

Self-reliance is part of our farming heritage in Ontario. We cleared and drained our own land, built our own barns and repaired (and in some cases fabricated) our own machinery.

For most of the last century farmland drainage in Ontario has been contracted to others however. The high cost of professional equipment (hundreds of thousands of dollars in the case of traditional drainage machinery) made it a hard purchase for a single farmer to justify.

Behind the Lines - January 2012

Everybody knows that the amount of on-farm grain storage in the province is increasing, but no one knows exactly how much is there or how much of an advantage it offers the farmers who invest in it. Our cover story this month, which begins on page 14, describes what writer Mike Mulhern discovered when he looked at this growing phenomenon.

In this month’s dairy section, editor and writer Don Stoneman attempted to inject some practicality into the contentious and emotional high-profile debate on the future of supply management as various trade talks continue.

The debate started in Maclean’s magazine in the dog days of August, when it’s hard to find something to write about and was still running hard in early December, with Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson, a latecomer, arguing that supply management jacks up prices and most hurts low-income Canadians. In a televised debate a week or so earlier, Maclean’s national editor Andrew Coyne, in a similar vein, argued that the American system, where the true cost of farm production isn’t reflected in product prices because farmers get part of their income from government cheques, is better for low-income earners than paying farmers the whole shot and charging at the retail level. He referred to this as “progressive” because higher-income earners pay more taxes to help to pay for food consumed by those further down the income ladder.

So Coyne was arguing against a strategy that farm groups, supply-managed and otherwise, have followed for many years in getting their returns from the marketplace rather than from government cheques. Do our farm lobbyists need to rethink their positions? Or are Coyne and Simpson merely curmudgeons railing against a system they don’t understand?

Coyne admitted that the magazine industry has its own “indefensible support plans” in the form of subsidies but he didn’t elaborate, so we will start. In 2010, Maclean’s magazine, owned by Rogers Communications, received just over $3 million from the Canada Periodical Fund, ostensibly to cover postal costs.

In his regular “Letter From Europe” feature on page 61 of this issue, Norman Dunn explains how egg producers who adapted new housing systems to conform with European Union welfare guidelines actually earned less than those who ignored the rules.

Another article we think you’ll enjoy is writer Susan Mann’s look at biomass: crops that may be grown for their use in industry and possibly as a fuel source to replace coal at the Nanticoke generating station located on the north shore of Lake Erie in Haldimand County. BF


Behind the Lines - December 2011

Property tax is a key issue in rural Ontario. Better Farming has written about farm taxes on a number of occasions, mostly from the point of view of classification linked to assessments. This month’s cover story by Field Editor Mary Baxter, beginning on page 14, looks at revenue to rural municipalities from another standpoint – that of the municipalities which provide you, as a farm business owner, with good roads to travel on, fire and police protection, and also deals with key concerns such as drainage.

Since the late 1990s, when the provincial government reformed municipal and property taxes on a huge scale, municipalities have periodically struggled with how to make ends meet while delivering the services that residents and the province expects. While individual assessments are a  worry, our writer has identified a larger one – the winding down of a number of federal and provincial infrastructure programs that were supposed to make the end of the farm tax rebate revenue neutral.

The business of providing seed corn to farmers is changing as fast as the hybrids that are available. There is pressure on seed companies to make growers aware of refuge requirements when they sell them Bt corn. More farmers are making seed decisions and buying in the fall rather than waiting for the New Year. Better Farming has canvassed seed corn providers for their new genetics and they will be available on a searchable chart on our website this month. For more information about refuge requirements and those new corn varieties, see the story by Don Stoneman on page 41.

The government’s move to abolish the Canadian Wheat Board has generated the largest public relations campaign we have ever encountered. “Marketing Freedom Will Unleash Business Opportunities,” says the latest release from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. It’s an account of a speech given by Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce. A day earlier: same topic, same minister, different headline, different audience. “Red Deer Grain Farmers and Business Community Need Marketing Freedom.” And so it’s been for weeks now.

Ontario wheat growers who have a different system  don’t have a dog in this fight. There are, however, some nagging questions and maybe there are some political lessons we can learn. For one thing, as Barry Wilson argues in his regular column, The Hill, on page 62, Ontario wheat farmers voted to end their monopoly. That democratic option wasn’t available to Western growers.

As the holiday season approaches, we want to extend our best wishes and take this opportunity to thank you, the readers and advertisers, whose support makes Better Farming possible. And, on page 30, we think we have the perfect story to capture the spirit of the season. Let us introduce you to Ontario Christian Gleaners, a Cambridge-based organization that uses volunteers to turn farm produce, which might ordinarily be wasted, into a nutritious soup mix to feed the hungry. BF


Behind the Lines - November 2011

Your name is on a registered land title. Every year, you pay the taxes that the municipality levies. But just what are you allowed to do with that land that you own and what can various levels of government make you do, or not do with that land?

It’s a common enough refrain from frustrated landowners in some circles of rural Ontario these days. They believe that the original land patents conferred on the settlers who cleared farm land, perhaps hundreds of years ago, protect them from incursions by current governments.

According to the Ministry of Natural Resources website, “A Crown Patent (sometimes called a Crown Grant or Letters Patent) is a document that is used to transfer Crown land into private ownership, subject to any reservations or conditions that the patent may contain.”

Whether the original land patents confirm special property rights to the registered owner is very contentious. Field Editor Mary Baxter explains the arguments for and against over-riding property owners’ rights in our cover story this month, beginning on page 18. This debate will be carried out in the province’s courts over the next few months, or perhaps years.

Ontario’s ginseng crop of about five million pounds is worth about $100 million a year. Roots planted in a bed this year may be worth much more than that when harvested four years from now if promising markets continue to grow and competitors continue a declining trend. New Crops and Technology editor Mike Mulhern’s story begins on page 34.

Berry growers are worried that funding for a federal program that helps them get access to pesticides for minor crops is being cut. Writer Susan Mann addresses the issue of minor crop competitiveness in the face of across-the-board federal budget cuts in her story, which can be found on page 48.

Other topics addressed in this issue of Better Farming include sustainable food production and fuel economy on lower-emitting new tractors.

Two regular winter-season features return with this issue: UpClose profiles a farmer in an often-overlooked agricultural belt in north-western Ontario. And, if you are up to the task, Crop Scene Investigation provides you with an opportunity to win a wireless weather station: simply try to solve the mystery of Karl’s corn planter. BF