Behind the Lines - October 2011

A decade ago, with consumers concerned about genetically modified organisms in food, organic production, registering high growth rates year after year, was the darling of an otherwise mostly flat agricultural sector. Things have changed, as Better Farming staff writer Mike Mulhern found out when he looked at the state of this micro-sector.

Economic realities present one challenge. Others are coming from “local,” “sustainable” and “natural” products, even though – as diehard organic proponents point out – there is no force of law behind them such as there is behind “certified organic” labels. What is the future for organic? This story starts on page 16.

Ontario’s major non-supply-managed commodity groups have been lobbying for years for a risk management program (RMP) to cover beef, pork, sheep and fruits and vegetables, as well as grains and oilseeds. This fall they have one.

At the grassroots level, the grains and oilseeds program is particularly controversial. Does it provide farmers with what they need to manage risk in volatile markets? Senior Staff Editor Don Stoneman looks at that issue through the eyes of farmers and it is a particularly touchy one in the run-up to a provincial election early this month. We will be covering the election results from an agricultural point of view on our website,

The RMP program requires that farm premises be registered with OnTrace, the provincial traceability agency. Like it or hate it, traceability of food products in Ontario took a couple of big steps forward this summer. Read about staff writer Mary Baxter’s take on the advantages of this process starting on page 28.

In another story, Baxter found out that concerns about salmonella spread by fowl aren’t just in the milk; disease can be spread to cows. Getting birds out of the barn and keeping them out can be a challenge. That story starts on page 46.

This issue also contains Better Farming’s annual report on sewage spills and bypasses from urban sources.  Federal and provincial governments are aware that effluent from sewage plants, treated or otherwise, is a threat to water quality and human and animal health.  They are spending money to improve and upgrade infrastructure, but it’s not clear how well this strategy is working to make the environment better. That story starts on page 60.

Tractor manufacturers, too, have been working to safeguard the environment as they develop innovative ways to meet emission requirements and boost fuel efficiency. These improvements, though, haven’t come at the expense of horsepower or speed, as you’ll see in Mike Mulhern’s report beginning on page 80.

Two of our most popular features, Crop Scene Investigation and Up Close, will end their summer hiatus and will return to Better Farming pages next month. BF



Better Farming - October 2011