Behind the Lines - April 2010

Farmers are often puzzled when they encounter bureaucracy. The concept of dealing with a problem in any other way than the one that gets the job done most efficiently is just so foreign to practical people.

Our cover story this month is foreign in every sense. Writer Suzanne Deutsch looks at the current employment insurance system, which allows foreign workers to collect $5,000 in parental benefits from the Canadian government after paying just $200 into the system for a season’s work in this country. The bureaucrats handing out the money can’t say for sure whether there is a real baby involved and don’t seem very receptive when alerted to the possibility of a fraudulent claim.

This story points to a quandary because no one involved has come up with a solid plan for a better system. It is not surprising, therefore, that some industry people approached for information were unwilling to talk.

Tree farmer Adrian de Boer wasn’t one of those people. In fact, he’s someone who has difficulty accepting wrongdoing and feels compelled to try to make things right. He tried dealing with the bureaucrats by writing letters. When he felt he wasn’t being taken seriously, he approached Better Farming. That puts him in the distinguished company of many other so-called whistle blowers who, with nothing to gain personally and much to lose with colleagues, have turned to the media.

Unless the current system changes, abuses will get worse. According to a 2008 survey conducted by the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council, agricultural employers will need an additional 38,000 seasonal workers by 2013.

Labour isn’t the only challenge farmers face. There is clearly a shortage of organic material in some fields these days and growers are looking for answers.

In the London area, farmers are trying an urban compost mix from Orgaworld.

­It hasn’t been subjected to widespread independent research yet and it comes with an unwanted ingredient: salt. Nevertheless, farmers have been willing to pay $12 per tonne plus trucking to get it into their soil. Mike Mulhern’s story about this development begins on page 48.

Keeping the emphasis on soil for a moment, we think you’ll find Keith Reid’s account of variable rate N technology a profitable read. To be sure, the bugs aren’t all out yet, but the idea of improving crop yields while reducing costs through variable rate N truly is, as Keith terms it, the “Holy Grail” of fertilizer application technology. BF

Robert Irwin & Don Stoneman

Better Farming - April 2010