Behind the Lines - October 2008

Readers of Better Farming are familiar with the story of Pigeon King International, published last December. And those who read our website ( have watched the saga unfold over recent months. A company, which once promised to save the small family farm through breeding its pigeons, buying them back and selling the offspring to other breeders, is now bankrupt and many farmers have lost their investment and worse. As we watched the crisis unfold, a serious question remained unanswered. How does a potential investor know when a business venture is sound and whether there are solid markets to maintain sales?

We began a quest for answers, looking at a number of exotic ventures which have taken root in Ontario in recent years. Some have been failures, some have struggled and some producers have flourished. This feature story begins on page 14.

One solid warning came from a study of “speculative bubbles” in agriculture at the University of California Davis in the United States. The study says, in part: “Advertising that focuses on attracting additional producers, limited information on the investment, control of the available information by industry representatives, investment appeals directly mostly to small-scale investors, and commonly held misconceptions perpetuating unreasonable prices are telltale signs that have been prominent throughout the history of speculative bubbles in agriculture.”

This issue marks the ninth time in as many years that Better Farming has published information collected from the Ontario Ministry of Environment’s Spills Action Centre about the frequency and location of sewage spills and overflows and bypasses, mostly from municipal sewage facilities and services.

We began this annual report in 2000, a few months after the Walkerton tainted water crisis, when livestock agriculture in particular was at the centre of all things wrong, in the public mind, with water in Ontario. This year, Ground Zero for concern about what happens to municipal sewage waste dumped into streams and rivers is the City of Ottawa, where beach closures downstream from a ­malfunctioning sewage system have caused an uproar.

This story begins on page 34. For something more local to readers, the charts, recording spills and bypasses, recorded by municipality, can be found on page 39. How is your municipality doing?

Often, when we publish, it feels like we are preaching to the choir. Maybe this year, with public concern about sewage spills centred on Canada’s capital, things will be different. BF

Robert Irwin & Don Stoneman

Better Farming - October 2008