Monthly Archives: August 2014

Observations on a Rainy Day in Scotland

It’s drizzling rain, with autumn on its way. The telly is on, to provide background noise and prevent the inevitable feeling of loneliness that so often accompanies travel. The video pans across a house inspired by “earthship” designs.  An angry accent trembles through the air outside: a worried father.

I’m writing from a hotel near Aberdeen, Scotland. It’s hard not to feel slightly uprooted, even in another English-speaking country. Though I’ve been to the United Kingdom before, I’ve never ventured this far north. Flowers embellish yards, roads twist beneath arched bridges, pubs open early and tourism is booming.

I’m here for the International Farm Association of Journalists’ Congress, which kicks off this week. This is an incredible opportunity for me and I’m nervous, yet increasingly excited.

The short period of time I’ve been here has hardly been enough to make sound observations, particularly considering much of my time has been hiking, camping, scratching (midge bites) and exploring geographical formations with my best friend. Still, it’s important to reflect, lest we forget what we never realized. And I’d like to share some of what I’ve seen with you.


yes campaign

The land is buzzing with anticipation over the upcoming Scottish independence referendum. The cities in Scotland are dotted with bold “Yes” signs. Citizen beliefs stick to windows, windshields and lapels. It’s hard to say which way the referendum will sway, even though pro-independence paraphernalia outweighs its competition 30:1 (in an anecdotal, purely observational, amateur survey). Many believe the overwhelming “Yes” campaign is merely an example of what a loud minority with busy hands can accomplish, and there are still many questions needing answers. According to the BBC’s poll tracker, polls indicate only a slight difference in voter intention at this time. But it won’t be until Thursday, September 18, that see which path Scotland will take.



Frugality is not well-rewarded, if the intent is to eat out. Meals are relatively expensive, though grocery shopping isn’t as extreme and dairy products seem quite affordable. There appears to be much promotion of locally-produced foods, and though the gluten-free market doesn’t appear as large as back home, it pops up every now and then. Oh, and eggs are sold from the aisles, not the fridges.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

not a plastic cup

Responsible reuse and disposal of materials appears to be a priority in the UK, with recycling containers rarely discriminating between urban and rural geography. At the international market in Aberdeen, consumers drank lemonade from completely compostable glasses. “Gummy Bins” and “Gumdrop” stations are available for used gum disposal, and though completely new to me, recycling gum isn’t new to the UK. In fact, there are already many recycled gum products available for purchase, from frisbees to rubber boots.

There’s far too much to cover in just one post. Mostly, I just wanted you to know I’m still alive and well.

I hope to further explore many topics. The prominence of recycling receptacles certainly has me thinking; I’ll have to make a note to follow up with the agricultural community on how farm plastics are handled. We toured a distillery and cooperage, so once I speak with a few farmers, I can begin to put all the pieces together, from white oak casks to barley and eventually: Scotch. I would also like to learn more about the preservation of forest lands and the importance of ecological goods and services in Scotland. And of course my greatest desire is to share what I learn with all of you.

No shortage of aspirations, it seems. We’ll see. For now, it’s off to bed.

Good afternoon, Canada.


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This Week in Markets — Truth Behind the Numbers

As we close the month of August, the harvest itch was replaced in most areas with frustration as most of the U.S. Midwest and Canadian Prairies got hit with some untimely, heavy rains. The recent rains were seen as positive for both sides of the cornbelt with Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, & Nebraska all getting a drink that was overdue, hence the decrease in soybean prices over the course of the week. After their crop tour last week, ProFarmer pegged their overall U.S. corn yield at 169.3 bu/ac (U.S.D.A. at 169.3 in the last W.A.S.D.E.) and total production at 14.093 billion bushels (14.032 billion). As for soybeans, the group says 45.35 bu/ac will come off, on average, from American fields (U.S.D.A. at 45.4 bu/ac), creating an output of 3.812 billion bushels (U.S.D.A. at 3.816 billion). The questions that remain as the corn and soybean harvests start up now is just how much of a record will the crop be and where will it all go? To answer the second question, there’s definitely going to be more than a few grain piles on U.S. fields this year and if rail companies don’t improve service in some parts, said grain will continue to sit there. Frustration is certainly building in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota (tell us about it eh!).

That being said, the rains that fell in the northern U.S. and here in the Canadian Prairies aren’t helping much, as the cereals and pulses are trying to finish out and farmers are trying to get into the fields to cut down crops that are ready. Early indications are that green lentil prices and pea prices could see a climb over the next couple weeks but red lentils won’t match the move, and if you have the quality that’s been sought for wheat, you will likely be able to earn a premium. Already, reports are growing of disease issues across the earliest harvested winter and spring wheat crops, suggesting that knowing what quality you have this year will be important (one of the reasons that FarmLead partnered with S.G.S. so you could order grain tests from directly from the website!). The numbers will be critical this year, in terms of potentially getting a bounce in market prices and also getting the best price for your grain if you’re looking to sell some. On the canola end of things, swathing is getting going, but it’s behind schedule almost everywhere, which isn’t necessarily a great thing. Further, risk of disease and weather effects could push the market higher and given the fact that we’ve dropped significantly from the $500/MT level in mid-May, canola prices may be due for a short-term correction.

In the wheat market, increasing geopolitical risk premium – nay, Putin Premium – was built in this week although the complex has retreated from its mid-week highs. Why? There are definitely Russian troops in Ukraine assisting the pro-Russian Ukrainian separatists. Russia is denying their military presence while everyone from the Ukrainian President, Petro Poroshenko, to N.A.T.O. is accusing Russia of entering Ukraine sovereign territory. Good ol’ Vlad is certainly playing his cards very sharply, especially given the fact that Poroshenko and him just met face-to-face on August 26th! Theoretically, that’s like having your ex telling you they’re not seeing anyone and then coming home to supper and seeing them at the dinner table with your sibling! Ultimately, Russia has many reasons why it wants control of more of Ukrainian territory than just Crimea, including manufacturing and natural resource extraction in the eastern part of the country.

Coming back to North America, there’s increasing buzz in the market about the sudden death syndrome (S.D.S.) hitting some soybean fields in parts of Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, & Indiana. In my opinion, there’s not a lot of bullish news out there right now, so to even out the playing field, this story is being pushed. If anything, the technical components of the market are what’s showing a possible short-term correction in soybean prices, not a few fields seeing yield potential drop from 50 to 10 bu/ac. That being said, S.D.S. is a disease that can overwinter and so re-planting those fields next year likely won’t happen. That being said, the earliest of Plant 2015 surveys from Farm Futures suggests U.S. farmers will  increase their soybean acres by 2.6 per cent in 2015 to a second consecutive record area of 86.6 million acres, while dropping corn acres again by 1.25 per cent to 90.5 million acres.

This week, ICE Canada put out some press on its “new” barley futures contract, saying that if additional participants join major Canadian grain industry players, liquidity will grow and the contract could a feed barley benchmark for price-discovery and risk-management. Ironically, ICE Canada President & CEO Brad Vannan went on to say that “futures markets do not create cash market” but rather it’s the other way around. Anyone know of an easily-available system that provides cash grains price discovery? I do! And the numbers don’t lie!

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Hog Prices Fall From Record Highs (Will Bacon Prices Drop Too?)

Hog prices have dropped sharply since hitting record highs in the middle of July.

It turns out PED (porcine epidemic diarrhea) virus took a smaller toll on U.S. hog supplies than was expected, explains Tyler Fulton, director of risk management for Manitoba-based Hams Marketing Services, in the interview below.

Fulton says traders were expecting an 8-10 percent drop in supplies due to PED, but heavier hog weights limited the impact.

Russia’s ban on North American pork has also contributed to the price slide, but only in a small way — maybe accounting for 2-3 per cent of the drop in pork prices, he says.

So what does this mean for the consumer price of pork? Fulton says there could be some sales on bacon in the grocery store in the near future, but the long-term impact of PED will continue to support higher pork prices.

If you can’t see the embedded audio player, click here.

Related: PED Crisis Underlines Need for Rural Vets

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TechTour: Captain the Seed Hawk Seeder From the Cab With Your iPad

If your tractor cab is beginning to look more like NASA’s launch station, you’re not alone. With a monitor for this and a monitor for that, plus your own phone or tablet to track what you’re doing (or stay entertained listening to a machinery podcast or two), before long, you’re out of room or frustrated by basic monitors with not-so-cutting-edge displays.

When Seed Hawk rolled out all that is new with its new seeding system at Canada’s Farm Progress Show, farmers may have taken note of one very smart thing they’ve done — instead of a monitor, managing and setting the seeding unit is all done from an app on an iPad.

In this Dow AgroSciences’ TechTour episode, Shaun Haney gets a tour of the new seeder set up, via Bob Higgins and Pat Beaujot, of Seed Hawk, and learns what all this app can do, plus what’s new on the 2015 Seed Hawk seeder cart models.

Have you entered the Dow AgroSciences’ TechTour contest? Click here to do that now!

If you can’t see the embedded video, click here.

Want more TechTour? Follow this link to see more videos!

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Suspend COOL If WTO Rules Against US, Says Coalition

Following a report that says the World Trade Organization has sided with Canada and Mexico in the dispute over U.S. country of origin labelling rules, a coalition of American food and agriculture organizations is urging Congress and U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack to immediately suspend COOL if the WTO rules against the U.S.

Although the ruling has not yet been made public, a report in the Wall Street Journal last week said the WTO has determined the U.S. is not complying with its international trade obligations.

The decision was shared confidentially with the governments for all three countries involved in the trade dispute in early July. It’s now expected the ruling will be made public in September.

Related: WTO Ruling on mCOOL Kept Confidential

Speaking on behalf of the COOL Reform Coalition, the U.S. National Corn Growers Association issued a statement this week, saying suspending COOL would “neither pre-judge the pending WTO litigation on this matter nor allow an on-going period of knowing violation of international trade obligations.”

The Canadian cattle and hog industries say COOL is costing producers north of the border around $1 billion per year.

While the Canadian government has already published a list of U.S. products that could face retaliatory tariffs, a WTO compliance panel ruling against the U.S. would likely be appealed. If the appeal decision is also in Canada’s favour, there’s a possibility those retaliatory tariffs could be implemented by the middle of 2015.

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Calling All Scientists! Agriculture Needs You to Speak Up, Too

If you support research-based solutions to agricultural challenges, rejoice.

A new report from a group called the Council of Canadian Academies says Canadians have the lowest level of reservation toward science among 17 countries considered.

That’s heartening for the pro-science crowd. It runs counter to the growing belief that precaution is prevailing among Canadians, rather than science, for policy and decision making.

And that’s important information for the agri-food sector, which relies heavily on research to maintain a competitive edge.

Here’s even more to be happy about. The report also claims an overwhelming number of Canadians – 93 per cent, in fact – are moderately or very interested in scientific discoveries or technological developments.

That’s encouraging, no question. It’s a huge figure and it more than suggests we are part of an inquisitive culture, one that wants to know what’s going on.

But here’s an alarming stat: Only about 40 per cent of the respondents said they believe they have sufficient knowledge to grasp basic scientific concepts and to understand media coverage of scientific issues.

Depending on your perspective, that could be cause to celebrate. Given shrinking news holes in the media, the intricacies of science and the challenges that come with explaining it, 40 per cent might be considered a healthy number.

But what about the other 60 per cent?

To me, that figure suggests that despite Canadians’ willingness to learn about science, there’s still a lot of confusion about it.

On the upside, though, it also represents a big opportunity to help people figure things out.

And who shall assume this role?

How about scientists!

Farmers are implored by their member organizations to talk to the public and help people understand farming, in which they’ve taken more and more interest thanks to local food and a growing desire for all things community. So likewise, when it comes to explaining science – including the science of farming – who has more facts that scientists?

Certainly, many of them already have some level of public engagement. They realize its importance and the contribution they make when they stand and be counted, when they try explaining their research to farmers and others, when they patiently go over a concept that is elementary to them but difficult to others.

There is indeed an initiative trying to further advance the understanding of science, called Speaking Of Research. It gives researchers a chance to say their piece online. The scientists I’ve met who are associated with it are mainly committed to explaining the 5 Ws and the H about animal research in particular, a hot button with the public despite what it claims is its open attitude towards science.

Often it’s hard to engage in animal research without using animals, but scientists try. Their credo is replacement, reduction and refinement. They try to replace animal studies with other research methods (such as computer models) when they can. They reduce the number of animals in their studies to the bare minimum possible. And they refine research procedures to minimize potential pain and distress for the participating animals.

Sometimes, though, there are no alternatives to involving animals. By law, new medical treatments and some drug treatments require animal testing before they move onto clinical trials for humans. And realistically, animals cannot always be replaced by computer models.

That’s seen in the numbers.  Canadian researchers use a lot of animals in their studies – more than three million a year. About 70 per cent are fish and mice. Dogs, cats and non-human primates together account for about 0.5 per cent of all animals used.

On Canadian university campuses where animals are involved in research, there’s an entire animal care unit and ethics management group dedicated to looking after their interests. Nationally, the independent Canadian Council for Animal Care sets high standards that research institutions must meet, and conducts periodic visits to follow up.

Does the public know all this? I don’t think so. Maybe if it did, support for research would rise even further.

At the very least, Speaking Of Research has an opportunity to advance the dialogue about science. Perhaps through such efforts the public’s ability to comprehend basic science will grow.

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How Corn Planter Deflectors Work & Tips for Installation

Protecting honeybees and pollinators is a key focus for Ontario farmers. Limiting exposure of the bees to certain insecticides, namely neonicotinoid-based corn and soybean seed treatments, plays an important role in a thriving bee population in the province.

Corn planter air exhaust has been identified as a possible risk to moving neonicotinoid particles off the ground and field and into the air, risking bee exposure. To circumvent the problem, farmers have eagerly adopted first the Fluency seed agent to reduce dust, but are waiting to have access to air deflectors on the planters to further decrease the risk.

Related: Assessing the risk and highlighting the solutions to continued honeybee health in Ontario

How do the deflectors work and how easily are they attached to different planters? In this video, Gerard Pynenburg, seed care specialist for Syngenta in Ontario, explains current deflector research in Europe and outlines a recent project by Syngenta to evaluate not just air deflection, but whether or not seed singulation was affected.

Pynenburg also walks us through where the deflectors go on the equipment, and highlights how long it took to install the deflectors on different planter brands, and adds why it was so important to validate the European work here in Ontario.

If you can’t see the embedded video, please click here.

Want more corn production videos? Follow this link!

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