Terry Stevenson’s Agricultural Weblog

A blog about news and events occuring in Canadian agriculture

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Farms and Antibiotics

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An editorial in the July 24, 2009 edition of the New York Times called, “Farms and Antibiotics” strongly advocates that the way farm animals receive drugs is putting both humans and animals at risk. It suggests that because drugs are so popular within our industrialized agriculture system, antibiotic-resistant strains of diseases are more likely to develop, thus rendering other drugs such as penicillin and tetracycline less effective.

 They say that restricting drug use for industrial farms would help prevent inhumane overcrowding and unhealthy conditions for the animals. The conclusion they draw is that the Federal Drug Administration should severely restrict the regular use of drugs and supplements in agriculture and allow only veterinarians to prescribe specific antibiotics to individual animals for the prevention or treatment of diseases.

 This would seem to be a very narrow view of a very large and complex issue. To start with it suggests that farmers are only interested in profits at the expense of their animals with no real serious regard for their living conditions or overall health. I’m sure across the United States and even in Canada examples can be found of some unscrupulous operators running a “factory farm” with inhumane living conditions and the unrestricted use of drugs to maximize their profits. No one would disagree that these farm operators should be dealt with and immediate corrective measures taken.

 The truth is that the overwhelming majority of these so called “industrial or factory farms” in the United Sates and Canada are very professionally run by highly ethical and responsible farmers who care deeply about their animals. They follow very strict governmental guidelines and industry standards helping to ensure that consumers receive only the very best quality and safe food for their families. Farmers provide their animals with supplements and antibiotics to help provide a healthy environment and maximize their growing potential. For the most part this all done responsibly by farmers who take great pride and care of the animals that they raise in their farming operations

 No one would argue that the correct application of any supplement or antibiotic needs to be carefully monitored not only for the health of the animals but also the safety of our food for human consumption. By all means clamp down on farm operations that ignore the rules and regulations that are currently in place for overcrowding, including excessive application of supplements and antibiotics for animals.

  Let’s remember though, that in Canada and the United States we produce some of the safest and highest quality food found anywhere in the world. This is in part because the vast majority of farmers take enormous pride in their farming operations and believe in providing the highest standards in raising their animals. Let’s not tarnish the whole farming industry in an editorial.


Written by terrystevenson

July 24, 2009 at 11:24 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Crop scouting

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In some ways it seems hard to believe that summer has actually arrived. The weather for the most part has been cool and wet in southwestern Ontario. Wheat crops are roughly a week or so away from being harvested with corn and soybean fields growing very well for the most part. 

For farmers there is no time off and one of the most important areas of concern for their corn and soybeans is “crop scouting.” Insect infestation and a wide range of plant diseases’ can devastate these crops if not caught in time and appropriate action taken. 

Crop scouting is an integral part of ensuring healthy corn and soybean plants reach full maturity, maximizing their yield potential for farmers. It is not unusual while crop scouting for a farmer to discover a weed, disease or insect which is not easily identifiable and until this is done they cannot even begin to establish a corrective course of action to eliminate the particular problem. 

Some farmers depend on outside help in scouting their fields such as an AGRIS Co-operative or Wanstead Farmers Co-operative crop specialist to assist them walking their fields looking for potential problems. Even then, they can run across a situation that requires the expertise of a professional and in southwestern Ontario our co-operatives work closely with the experts at the University of Guelph, Ridgetown Campus

Leading industry staff at the Ridgetown Campus like Albert Tenuta, Tracey Baute, Horst Bohner, Mike Cowbrough, Peter Johnson and Greg Stewart to name just a few, help provide a wealth of experience and research knowledge for farmers finding solutions to their crop problems. The Ridgetown Campus is again holding a very successful and well respected “Crop Diagnostic Days” on July 8th and 9th, 2009 where farmers and agricultural industry personnel can receive, as detailed on their website, “state-of-the-art training in all aspects of crop production and management.”

 Another welcome development for the agriculture industry has been a new blog to hit the internet this spring. It has been an instant hit and is called “Baute Bug Blog.com.” Tracey Baute from the University of Guelph, Ridgetown Campus is a field crop entomologist for the Ontario Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Rural Affairs. Tracey’s blog keeps everyone up to date with the latest in insect problems being identified in fields and possible solutions to deal with the infestations.  

So while farmers walk their corn and soybean fields this summer scouting for potential problems it is very reassuring for them to know that they can rely on the crop experts from the University of Guelph’s Ridgetown Campus to assist them in identifying field problems and providing solutions to help them maximize their crop yields.

Written by terrystevenson

July 6, 2009 at 9:20 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Farmers keep pace with advances in internet usage

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I had the opportunity this week to attend a presentation about an eBusiness in Agriculture Report that was hosted by the Canadian Agri-Marketing Association at the Cutten Club in Guelph. This report was completed by IPSOS FORWARD RESEARCH and is repeated every two years and represents more than 1000 farmers from the prairies, Ontario and Quebec. The base criterion was that the farmers had to have more than $50,000 in annual sales in order to participate in the survey.

The results demonstrated that farmers as a group were keeping pace with their internet usage as much as urban folks. The biggest single factor identified as the catalyst for farmers increased internet activity has been the rapid expansion of high-speed service, particularly in rural areas. There are still pockets where high-speed internet service is not available, but this is changing rapidly with almost all provinces having commitments to establish access for everyone by 2011.

Some interesting survey results (random)

1)      More than 53 per cent read a blog

2)      More than 53 per cent watch streaming video

3)      33 per cent visit social networks – chat rooms (modern coffee shops)

4)      More than 55 per cent reported purchasing products online in the last 12 months

5)      82 per cent use the internet to view their financial statements

6)      Farmers spend on average more than 8.5 hours a week on the internet

Some of the conclusions reached by researchers are that the internet is the mainstream tool for commercial farmers and e-mail is the most cost effective way for suppliers and or advertisers to reach them. Farmers are also looking for ways to electronically interact with their chosen suppliers providing convenience for them in business transactions.

As identified in the survey results farmers are avid readers of blogs and watching streaming video. As our newspapers continue to experience a downward trend in readership and advertisers and suppliers are increasingly finding it more difficult to reach their farm customers, the internet is proving to be fertile ground for them to expand their communication skills. These survey results confirm that not only do farmers adapt to new technology – they embrace it!

Written by terrystevenson

June 20, 2009 at 9:21 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Genetically modified crop debate heats up – again

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The debate over genetically modified crops, especially for wheat is heating up again. This recent escalation in opposing viewpoints started when three wheat organizations from Australia, Canada and the United States made a joint announcement that they would begin working towards “synchronized commercialization of biotech traits in wheat.” 

This announcement has brought a chorus of condemnation from many groups and organizations around the world. Many of those opposed to this step of genetically modifying wheat are in fact farmers themselves. The arguments that both sides put forward are very powerful.

 Those in favour of genetically modifying wheat state that the declining wheat acres being grown is in part because of competition from other biotech crops (corn and soybeans) and stagnant yields in comparison to other crops over the past number of years. This has resulted in a reduction in wheat production and overall wheat research. Those in favour also point out that a result of genetically modified crops is a reduction in crop protection products that are applied which is better for the enviroment. 

 On the other side, opposing opinions argue that the current generation of genetically modified crops has yet to prove that there are any significant yield advantages. Some opponents like to point their finger at Monsanto as some kind of purveyor of monster genetics and mostly motivated by the almighty dollar. Still many question the integrity of the science and research results that have been conducted to date on genetically modified crops. There is no question that food safety is at the top of consumers’ minds today and any food genetically modified or not must be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt to be safe for the environment and to eat.

 One common thread that runs through both sides of this debate is passion. While passion is an admirable quality when making a case for your point of view, the danger lies in that  it can sometimes make a person become blind to the facts being presented by the other side.

 This past fall I had the opportunity to tour Monsanto’s research facilities in St. Louis, Missouri. The scientists and researchers I met there were very passionate about their work, finding solutions to assist farmers in increasing crop production and help feed the world. I work for two farmer-owned agricultural co-operatives’, AGRIS and Wanstead Farmers. I can assure you that these farmers are just as passionate about growing their crops, maximizing yield potentials and feeding the world.

 Both sides in this debate make excellent points supporting their respective points of view. I certainly don’t have the perfect answer to settle this hotly contested debate. I do think that considering scientifically based facts is usually the best direction to take in helping to resolve these types of issues.

 Science can address some the key arguments;

1)      will genetically modified wheat result in higher yields?

2)       is it economical for farmers to grow and consumers to purchase?

3)       is it safe for the environment and human consumption?

 Moral arguments can and will be made against scientific facts that are established in the case of genetically modified organisms. Science does not take sides and provides us all with proven facts that will hopefully allow opposing groups to come to a reasonable consensus on the future of genetically modified wheat.

Written by terrystevenson

June 2, 2009 at 2:13 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

4- H Canada receives well deserved financial support

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I don’t always agree with our governments and their policies, even more so how and who they choose to send money to. The announcement by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada last Friday May 22, 2009 that they were investing more than $3 million over a four period in 4-H Canada is an exception. 

As noted in the news release the 4-H program has been helping youth for almost 100 years, develop the many skills required to enter the agricultural field. At a time in our history where the family farm is in serious jeopardy and the average age of farmers is in and around the age of 55 years or older, this funding is a welcome shot in the arm for the 4-H organization and agriculture in Canada.

 Besides the agricultural aspect to the 4-H program, social, personal development, communication and leadership skills are stressed for members. Also to be commended are the countless volunteer leaders who help run this incredible organization. Many are farmers themselves who already put in seven days a week running their own farm and yet still find the time to volunteer and mentor these young people.

 I have copied from the Ontario 4-H website their member’s pledge.


 I pledge:

My HEAD to clearer thinking,

My HEART to greater loyalty,

My HANDS to larger service,

My HEALTH to better living,

For my club, My community, And my country. 

What better values and philosophy could we be teaching our young people? These are our future agricultural and community leaders and they all deserve our support. Congratulations to 4-H Canada for the tremendous work they have done over the many years and continue to do with our young people and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada for their monetary support of such a deserving organization.

Written by terrystevenson

May 24, 2009 at 11:14 am

Posted in Uncategorized

When local makes it big

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A recent news column in the on-line version of the New York Times caught my attention called, “When local makes it big” in the “Dining and Wine” section. The story described how five potato farmers on Tuesday May 12, 2009, “rang the bell” at the New York Stock Exchange launching a media campaign trying to position Frito-Lay potato chips, America’s best selling brand as “local food.”

This advertising strategy will see Frito-Lay showcase some of the farmers who grow the potatoes that they use in making their chips. One example cited in the article is that of a potato farmer in Florida that will be featured in the Frito-Lay ads where Frito-Lay has a production facility in Florida. Frito-Lay is trying to embrace and take advantage of the growing consumer movement of “eating locally.”

Another example given is Hunt’s canned tomatoes which are grown within 120 miles of their processing plant in California. They reason that if they can show consumers that their canned tomatoes are grown relatively close to where consumers live, they will more inclined to purchase Hunt’s brand rather than a competitors.

In Ontario we already have the successful “Buy Ontario” program which consumers have embraced whole-heartedly. The “Homegrown Ontario” program which brings together the marketing forces from the Ontario pork, veal, turkey, sheep and independent meat processors has also been a tremendous success with consumers.

I can just imagine how powerful it would be for Canadian food suppliers, for example someone like Heinz who have a plant in Leamington, to start featuring a media campaign around their ketchup and canned tomatoes that were grown by “John Doe” farmer in Essex. Frito-Lay has a plant in Cambridge that could perhaps use the same marketing template they are launching in Florida, again featuring an area farmer or group of farmers.

I like this new marketing approach that Frito-Lay and Hunt’s are developing south of the border and can’t wait to see if they and other food manufacturers try and do the same in Canada. This is a win-win scenario for everyone involved, the farmer, the food manufacturer, the retailer and of course most of all, the consumer.

Written by terrystevenson

May 14, 2009 at 12:47 pm

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Ontario farmers benefit from new grain partnership

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Farmers in Ontario will begin benefiting from a newly formed partnership between AGRIS Co-operative Ltd. and GROWMARK, Inc., and it’s FS PARTNERS branded grain sites, with their ownership of the newly expanded, co-operatively run Great Lakes Grain.  The changes taking place at Great Lakes Grain will make it one of the largest grain merchandising companies in Ontario. This is very positive news for farmers and will help create improved opportunities for them to market their grain in Ontario and North America.

For complete details please click-on the link below.

Marketwire News Release

Written by terrystevenson

May 6, 2009 at 6:35 pm

Posted in Uncategorized