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


Better Farming - January 2012