Monthly Archives: September 2014

Observing Canada’s National Biotechnology Week in 5 Posts — A Retrospective

Now in its 11th year, September 26 – October 3, 2014 marks National Biotechnology Week.

Initiated by BIOTECanada (the national biotechnology industry association), this week is a dedication to exploring biotech across sectors and across Canada, with events including lectures, tours, networking and workshops (a full list of events here).

Of course, biotechnology has and does play a massive role in agriculture, creating intrigue and courting controversy. RealAgriculture has covered all kinds of stories and articles around biotechnology, within Canada and abroad. You can find a list by simply typing “biotechnology” or “GMO” into the search bar. Alternatively, for the sake of convenience and in light of National Biotechnology Week, we’ve included excerpts from some of our most popular stories, interviews and articles below.

5. Support GM Alfalfa? You’ll Have to Let Someone Know


Alfalfa seedling NMSUOn Tuesday, April 9th, a widespread day of protest will be held against – of all things troubling our country – GM alfalfa. Activists will be gathering at about 20 locales, including 12 in Ontario, to show their opposition to its pending arrival.

The Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, a relatively benign group with agricultural ties to the National Farmers Union, is leading the charge. The network is working to make the public believe farmers neither want nor need Roundup Ready alfalfa.

4. Where Would We Be Without Biotechnology? An Interview with Julie Borlaug

Another day, another petition pushing for a ban of biotechnology in a region. The latest that crossed my desk is one out of Prince Edward Island, seeking support to convert the entire island-province to organic production, banning GMOs and non-organic-approved pesticides.

There’s choosing not to consume GMOs (genetically modified organisms) or support conventional agriculture — a valid choice — and then there’s removing others right to either choose this system or choose to use this technology on their farms — which I don’t see as valid. As consumers and farmers, I think we should continue to have that choice.

I turned to Julie Borlaug, associate director for external relations for the Norman E. Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture at Texas A&M. In the audio interview, Ms. Borlaug and I discuss not just the history of technological advancements in agriculture, but also the very real crop threats both here at home and in growing regions all over the world.

3. An Organic Farmer Walks Into Monsanto…And This is What Happened

Rob bio photoI’d say that I arrived open-minded but skeptical. I expected that we’d be coming from radically different perspectives, and I was prepared to listen to theirs (how else could I expect anyone to listen to mine?). I was also prepared for the “hard sell” — lots of promotional propaganda. What I ended up getting was quite different, and four months later, I’m still digesting it.

2. Why Consumers Hate Monsanto, But Love Their iPhones

protest-signsThere is even an annual March Against Monsanto, but, I wonder, why no Strike on Syngenta or Down with DuPont? And even stranger, to me, is the argument that a big corporation can’t have the public’s interest in mind.

1. A Ban on Bans — Should Farmers Fight to Enshrine, in Law, Access To Tech?

Lyndsey SmithHave we allowed consumer sentiment — based on belief, feelings and an ideal, not science, economics or production realities — too much weight? At what point do farmers stand up and say, “You have your choice of production system, but my choice is valid, too.”

Follow #NBW2014 on Twitter

The post Observing Canada’s National Biotechnology Week in 5 Posts — A Retrospective appeared first on Real Agriculture.

Potential Opening of Ontario’s Great Clay Belt to Beef Producers Could be a Boon for Young Ranchers

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

If Ontario wants to build an industry, the Beef Farmers of Ontario have a solution — open up just a portion of the Great Clay Belt crown lands to aspiring ranchers.

The Clay Belt in northern Ontario and Quebec covers an astounding 180,000 sq. km, split into the Lesser and Great Clay Belt areas, the bulk of which sits on the Ontario side. The land is not suited for grain production, but the fertile soil makes for great grass, perfect for grazing cattle.

As Dave Stewart, executive director of the Beef Farmers of Ontario, explains in the audio interview above this land provides an ideal opportunity to solve several issues, not just for Ontario, but also for the beef production industry in general.

The Beef Farmers of Ontario say that the Great Clay Belt is a largely undeveloped agricultural resource and a major economic opportunity for Northern Ontario. By making new lands in the region available to farmers at a reasonable cost, Ontario’s beef farmers will be able to create a new source of stable jobs in Northern Ontario, protect existing jobs by providing a vital supply to meat processors in Ontario, and enable Ontarians to continue to buy local food and support local farmers.

The idea of using, leasing or selling crown land to convert it to beef production has recently gained traction, as Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne included a discussion on the topic in the mandate letter provided to the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Jeff Leal. (Read that here.)

Young and aspiring ranchers may especially benefit, says Stewart, as many farms and ranches struggle to expand ahead of succession planning in grain growing regions of the province. The Great Clay Belt could provide a reasonabley-priced land base for new entrants to the industry, he says.

As Stewart says in the audio interview, an upcoming economic analysis of the development of the Great Clay Belt for cattle production will be available for the public very soon.

The post Potential Opening of Ontario’s Great Clay Belt to Beef Producers Could be a Boon for Young Ranchers appeared first on Real Agriculture.

Mildew and Frost Could Result in Grading Differences Between Grain Buyers

The results are in. Wet weather early in the growing season and again during harvest took a toll on the quality of this year’s crop in Western Canada.

Mildew is the most common downgrading factor in spring wheat this year, reports Daryl Beswitherick, Manager of Quality Assurance and Reinspection with the Canadian Grain Commission.

“Last year, in the red spring crop, about 75 percent of the crop was in the top two grades. This year we’re anticipating that number could be down into the 30 to 40 percent range, maybe lower,” he says in the video below.

Samples submitted to the CGC’s Harvest Sample Program have confirmed what farmers have been reporting in the field; along with the mildew in spring wheat, fusarium levels are very high in the red winter wheat crop and mildew, sprouting and midge damage have led to downgrading in durum. Beswitherick says they’re also starting to see frost as a grading factor.

“We haven’t seen a lot of frost in wheat yet, but with the frost and snow that we got in Alberta, we expect to see some frost damage in wheat this year as well,” he says.

The prevalence of mildew and frost — both grading factors that are assessed on a subjective basis — could result in more variability in grading between elevators, he notes.

“There’s no exact percentage that’s applied to it. We create standards and guide samples that we share with the industry to help guide everybody onto the same page,” he says. “This year with mildew as the prevalent grading factor and frost probably coming a bit later, it’s who’s looking at it. The grading lights are very important — you need the proper lighting to see it. So it is a bit more of a challenge, as it’s subjective and more of an opinion.”

If a producer disagrees with the grade, dockage, moisture or protein assessed by an elevator, they can submit a sample to the CGC for a binding grade that the grain company must honour.

With premium prices being offered for high protein wheat, some farmers are also concerned about variability in protein tests between elevators.

“They shouldn’t be different, but it is the responsibility of each elevator and elevator company to monitor and calibrate their own protein machines,” explains Beswitherick. “Is there a chance that some are slightly different? Yes. There’s also an error rate that goes with the protein machines of plus or minus 0.2, so you could get a slight difference from two machines, and both would be accurate.”

Again, if a producer disagrees with an elevator’s protein test result, they can appeal to the CGC for a binding certificate. Beswitherick notes they can also get their sample checked by an independent third party or receive an unofficial grade through the CGC’s Harvest Sample Program.

Can’t see the video? Watch it here.

Or don’t have time to watch? You can also listen:

The post Mildew and Frost Could Result in Grading Differences Between Grain Buyers appeared first on Real Agriculture.

Elevator Co’s Allege CN and CP Didn’t Meet Grain Shipping Minimums for Months

The organization representing major grain elevator companies in Western Canada says it believes both Canadian National Railway (CN) and Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) have failed to meet weekly grain shipping requirements for extended periods of time since the weekly minimum thresholds were implemented back in March.

The federal agriculture minister confirmed last week that the government is penalizing CN Rail for violating the Order in Council requiring the railway move just over 500,000 tonnes of grain per week.

“We had suspected for a number of months that neither CN nor CP were meeting their volume thresholds,” says Wade Sobkowich, executive director for the Western Grain Elevator Association in the interview below. “We don’t have good information though, so all we could do was take a look at what each of the grain companies were shipping on an individual basis and do some rough calculations to identify if the railways could possibly have been meeting the volume thresholds. We felt they couldn’t be.”

There’s been some confusion over the fine amount CN will have to pay, as the original mandate from the federal government back in March included penalties of up to $100,000 per day. In passing a second Order in Council on August 1st, the fines were quietly changed to $100,000 “per violation,” or per week.

“We need to identify whether the penalties are enough, regardless of what the legal interpretation is,” says Sobkowich. “We need to identify whether it’s enough to motivate behaviour and get the railways to comply with the order. The whole purpose of the financial consequences is to ensure there’s accountability.”

While high volume movement has been the focus after last year’s bumper crop, a wider range in quality with the 2015 crop will require a more detailed approach to logistics in the coming months.

“Whereas last year we had a large volume of a more homogenous crop, this year we have a smaller volume a crop that has a wider span of specifications, so our logistics system is going to have to be more precise,” notes Sobkowich.

With more on grain movement, CN’s penalties and interswitching changes, here’s Wade Sobkowich’s conversation with Kelvin Heppner:

Click here to listen to the interview on Soundcloud.


The post Elevator Co’s Allege CN and CP Didn’t Meet Grain Shipping Minimums for Months appeared first on Real Agriculture.

Why Aren’t Beekeepers Suing Farmers? A Closer Look at the Neonic Class-Action Lawsuit

Two large honey producers in Ontario recently hired a law firm to launch a class-action lawsuit against Syngenta and Bayer (the parent of Bayer CropScience) regarding the sale of the companies’ nenonicotinoid seed treatments for corn and soybean.

The beekeepers are seeking $450 million in damages and losses to bee hives and honey production dating back to 2006 on behalf of those beekeepers who join the suit.

I’ve already stated I’m not a big fan of bans, but this suit in particular has really not sat well with me since its announcement. My big issue? Something doesn’t add up — if beekeepers want to claim negligence or sue for damages based on neonics harming their bees, why aren’t they suing farmers? Or, to take it one step further, why not the PMRA?

After all, the suit claims damages and bee losses stemming from negligent use of neonics. Farmers — not crop protection companies —  are those using the products. What’s more, farmers are using the products according to a registered label, a label approved by Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency. If beekeepers want to point a finger and demand compensation, who really has been negligent? PMRA for approving it, or farmers who are using it?

The reality, of course, is that the class action lawsuit names neither for one reason, as far as I see it: the public sure isn’t going to support a lawsuit that pits salt-of-the-earth farmers against one another. Attacking farmers just isn’t going to play into anyone’s sympathies, but “Big Ag shall pay!”  has a much better ring to it, don’t you think?

Now, let’s pretend for a moment, that these beekeepers did place the blame squarely on corn and soybean growers. What then? Perhaps farmers should then turn it around — beekeepers are caring for livestock, livestock that leaves their property to collect nectar, moving pollen around in the process. While some crops need pollinators to set seed, most field crops do not (though some do benefit from the added pollination). If I had cattle that needed grass, can I let them loose on a neighbour’s land? The manure is beneficial! Perhaps grain farmers should consider bees as livestock and ask that beekeepers put up better fences. Or maybe beekeepers, in the interest of bee safety should limit bee movement to within their own land boundaries.

I’m not seriously suggesting this, of course, but if you look to Western Canada (where farmers there also use neonicotinoids), beekeepers and farmers work in tandem. In fact, we know that bees foraging on canola bumps yield (yes, even though the crop has been treated with neonics) and we know that beekeepers depend on the yellow-flowering crop to reach the production levels they do. (Sorry, consumers, but there are very few clover fields anymore). But don’t take my word for it; hear from beekeepers themselves in a short video series on the topic available here.

We know that bees and neonics CAN and DO interact safely. So much so, in fact, that the Alberta Beekeepers Commission has publicly stated they won’t be joining or supporting the Ontario-based lawsuit. What’s more, in Ontario, farmers moved swiftly this last growing season to spend their money paying for Fluency Agent to minimize dusting off (and climbed on to the back of planters to mix it in by hand). Farmers are willing to add deflectors to planters (though not all models had available units for 2014) and place earlier-than-normal seed orders for non-neonic-treated seed — the evidence suggests not just an understanding of the value of protecting pollinators, but also a real willingness on the part of farmers to take real action in this protection.

From where I sit — and feel free to tell me I’m wrong — it looks to me like this class action lawsuit has very little to do with what’s best for bees, beekeepers, and agriculture and everything to do with media attention, money and an activist agenda.

Related: Ontario premier mandates OMAFRA to “meaningfully reduce” neonic use by 2015

The post Why Aren’t Beekeepers Suing Farmers? A Closer Look at the Neonic Class-Action Lawsuit appeared first on Real Agriculture.

UAV Plant Stand Counts Help Crop and Marketing Decisions

Beyond the “cool” factor, the value of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for farmers comes down to how they help them make more-informed decisions.


Kris Poulson, North Country Ag Services

That includes helping a producer understand plant stand counts across entire fields early in the growing season, explains Kris Poulson, CEO of Casselton, North Dakota-based North Country Ag Services.

“If we just talk about stand, that one component can really help you with marketing. You can forward market grain with some more confidence, as well as replant decisions, fertility decisions, fungicide decisions — there are a lot of things that relate to that one component,” he explains in the video below.

So far, the plant stand data is mainly collected on corn and soybean acres, he says.

“That’s where we have the most analysis that we can provide to a farmer. We’ll go into some other crops as well — sunflowers, sugar beets, potatoes, but predominately corn and soybeans,” says Poulson.

UAVs and UAS (unmanned aerial systems) will “revolutionize” agriculture in North America, he says.

“It’s opening up an opportunity to look at your crop from above, detect problems sooner and in a timely fashion. It’s going to be a huge industry. There are many other applications that will come later, like spraying and different things,” he says. “It’s going to help us be better stewards to the land, and make better decisions to minimize inputs and maximize outputs.”

Kris Poulson’s conversation with Kelvin Heppner at the Big Iron Farm Show in Fargo, North Dakota:

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

Or listen to the interview:

The post UAV Plant Stand Counts Help Crop and Marketing Decisions appeared first on Real Agriculture.

Eggs in the Aisle: Grocery Shopping in the United Kingdom

Last month, I had the opportunity to head to Scotland’s Aberdeenshire for the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists congress. While there, I received requests to document some of the differences in prices and availability of food products. Instead of writing a comprehensive report outlining the experience (boring!), I decided to do a vlog, which is totally and completely outside my comfort zone. That said, it was also really neat to be a tour guide for an audience on the other side of the planet.

grocery shelf UK
veggies england uk
groceries UK
eggs in the aisle UK

The photos above are from pre-Aberdeen/Dyce travels, but are fairly representative of what you’d find across the United Kingdom. There are strange names, and products you’ve maybe never tried — like the beloved Irn-Bru, a blindingly orange, Scottish soda or Scotch eggs, which are hard-boiled, wrapped in sausage meat and bread-crumbs then typically deep fried. There are also a lot of similarities in the discussions consumers are beginning to have over food miles, sustainability and one of their most precious resources: time.

So, there’s an overabundance of already-made grub, and junk food, as is the case in so many countries. Fortunately, however, the produce is simply fantastic. And after coming home to a certain brand of “Canada No. 1? carrots, I want to forget food miles and order the variety we ate in Scotland.

Anyway, enough of this. You’ll hear and see more by watching the vid.

Don’t feel like watching my ugly mug? Take a listen to our audio-only version on Soundcloud.

Kudos, by the way, to Rob Saik, who is far braver than I, recording most of Saik’s Agri-Treks in front of fellow humans. It’s scarier than it appears.

The post Eggs in the Aisle: Grocery Shopping in the United Kingdom appeared first on Real Agriculture.

Just a reminder that this Wednesday, Oct 1, is the deadline to apply for Agribit…

Just a reminder that this Wednesday, Oct 1, is the deadline to apply for Agribition’s 3 different student scholarships. These scholarships support students pursuing post secondary and graduate education. Visit our website for more info:

CWA Scholarship | Canadian Western Agribition | Official Website
The Canadian Western Agribition Scholarship program is intended to provide financial support and incentive to young people in order to pursue post secondary and graduate education. The funding for the scholarship program is derived from a variety of Agribition activities, as well as from recognized…