Behind the Lines - October 2009

It’s no surprise that, since rural electrification was completed in Ontario in the middle of the last century, farmers have come to depend as much upon reliable and abundant power as they do on the sun and rain.

It may be a surprise, though, that promises of working with power retailers to save on costs can be an expensive experience, and that more electrical rate shocks are on the way as Hydro One Networks Inc., which delivers power to more than 91,000 farm properties in the province, introduces “time of use” charges.

Field editor Mary Baxter explores the ins and outs of electricity contracting in this month’s cover story starting on page 10.

October marks our annual environmental issue, in which we list and examine spills and bypasses from municipal sewage treatment plants across the province. We began this series of reports in 2000, the year of Walkerton and the peak of the environmental backlash against livestock agriculture in Ontario. Many other media have followed our ongoing coverage, but readers tell us that the need for this information has not gone away.

The environment continues to be an issue, particularly where agricultural and non-agricultural interests clash in recreational areas. We know that farming tends to carry the blame, justly or otherwise, particularly when beaches are polluted.

Last spring, the environment pressure group Ecojustice, formerly known as the Sierra Legal Defence Fund, garnered a lot of exposure for the issue when it released a report concluding that sewage spills, bypasses and combined sewer overflows aren’t good for rivers or lakes where they are discharged and may be a threat to the health of Ontarians.

On another subject of environmental interest, Vancouver based technical writer Peter Ion reports on the advances made in producing oil from algae (“oilgae”) and the promise this holds as a new revenue source for farmers. This story can be found on page 37.

Back to the subject of milestones, this fall marks the 10th anniversary of the launch of Better Farming in November 1999. Next month, we plan to revisit some of the issues that were in the forefront then.

After its regular summer hiatus, our popular Crop Scene Investigation challenge returns this month on page 52. If you can figure out what damaged Matthew’s corn send us your answer and you could be the winner of a weather station.

Of course, this summer you didn’t need a weather station to know there was something wrong with the weather. If you’re wondering what caused the problem, Henry Hengeveld has some answers this month in his regular weather feature. BF

Robert Irwin & Don Stoneman

Better Farming - October 2009