Terry Stevenson’s Agricultural Weblog

A blog about news and events occuring in Canadian agriculture

Farmers’ continue strong support of the Canadian Foodgrains Bank

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Canadians are a very generous society when it comes to donating their time and money towards the literally 100’s of various worthwhile charities that fund raise every year. Many organizations have full-time staff to help coordinate their  fund raising efforts for their particular cause. They are not only able to raise monetary funds, but also at the same time raise public awareness of their organization. Some of these events such as a walk-a-thon, BBQ’s and many others too numerous to mention, often attract area civic, business and sport leaders which in turn raises their profile by increased coverage by local newspapers and television reporters. 


Quietly flying under the mainstream media radar is the non-profit Canadian Foodgrains Bank. Established in 1983 the Canadian Foodgrains Bank is and I quote from their website, “a partnership of Canadian church-based agencies working to end hunger in developing countries by increasing and deepening the involvement of Canadians in efforts to end hunger.” In their recent news release it was announced that the Canadian Foodgrains Bank had received record donations for the 2008-2009 fiscal year of $12.4 million, more than $4 million then any previous year.


The money and grain donated in large part by farmers is symbolic of the well earned reputation that they have for being generous to their fellow man. At AGRIS Co-operative they have worked with local area farmers in Essex, Kent, Lambton, Elgin and Middlesex counties since almost the beginning of the Foodgrains program. AGRIS Co-operative elevators facilitate the grain handling and administrative paperwork for the Canadian Foodgrains Bank and farmers.


Some quick facts are that the Canadian Foodgrains Bank has supported projects in 23 countries that has helped more than 1.3 million people in the form of food aid, nutrition and development assistance with the largest programs taking place in  Zimbabwe, Uganda, India, Ethiopia and Kenya.


It is no secret that Canadian agriculture in general has been going through some very difficult financial times the past number of years. The generosity and good will that farmers have demonstrated by continuing to support the Canadian Foodgrains Bank program even as they face tough times is incredible. Congratulations to all the farmers who donated portions of their crop to help make it a record setting year! 



Written by terrystevenson

April 21, 2009 at 11:46 am

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Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff meets with Chatham-Kent farmers

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The relatively new leader of the federal Liberal Party Michael Ignatieff, made a trip west down the 401 this past week to speak and listen to farmers’ concerns in Chatham-Kent. There is no immediate sign of a federal election however the Liberals have some valuable ground to make up if and when one is called, to topple the ruling Conservative Party.


 Clearly Ignatieff and the Liberals need every vote they can muster and are looking to open a meaningful dialogue with farmers in hopes of gathering their support across rural ridings. Traditionally rural ridings have not been a Liberal strong point. All reports about this meeting were very positive from both sides. I spoke with one farmer who attended  and he was very upbeat about the overall tone of the conversations.


He pointed out to me that it is not unusual when farmers have an opportunity to voice their opinions with politicians that it turns into a “bitch” session. This time he felt there was constructive dialogue on both sides. Farmers were very respectful when speaking with Ignatieff and consequently their concerns were well received. For his part Ignatieff covered a variety of topics with farmers including expanding marketing opportunities for farm products in export markets, risk management policy review and rewarding farmers for their environmental stewardship of the land.


This was a great step for Michael Ignatieff to reach out to farmers in southwest Ontario and learning first hand the farming issues that he and the Liberal Party will have to successfully deal with if they hope to win the next federal election. Congratulations to the farmers who participated in this meeting and very clearly spelled out from their perspective what the federal government should be doing to improve the agricultural economy and help the family farm. Success usually happens when two sides can speak and listen to each others point of view in the spirit of cooperation.


Let’s hope Ignatieff and the Liberal Party can develop a strong agricultural program before the next election is called. If they do, there is a good chance they will receive the coveted rural support they need from farmers and find themselves leading the greatest country in the world again, Canada.     

Written by terrystevenson

April 14, 2009 at 5:51 pm

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Ontario grown foods get a boost

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Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty recently announced that Ontario grown foods should be served in all of its public institutions such as schools, hospitals and prisons. This is not only great news for Ontario farmers, but consumers too. It will have the two-fold affect of increasing food demand for provincial farmers and allow Ontarians to enjoy some of the finest grown food in the world.


To kick-start this new initiative the Ontario government will be investing $24 million over a three year period. This comes on the heels of the tremendously successful Foodland Ontario program which initially began with highlighting provincially grown produce and now includes beef, dairy and egg products.


Consumers are becoming increasingly better educated when making their food selections and looking to buy Canadian first and if offered the choice, Ontario grown food. Ontario agriculture practices and maintains some of the highest standards in producing their products. The result is Ontario farmers consistently grow and raise safe, healthy food, which cannot always be said of their competitors in other countries who sometimes operate with less than ideal growing and inspection standards.


In today’s food chain unlike 50 years ago, many foods that are produced are not all sold locally. It’s not unusual to find products in your local grocery store from other countries such as Chile or Mexico. Because of this extended food chain it becomes increasing more difficult to accurately track not only the specific origin of product, but exactly where it was distributed to. Sometimes food safety can be compromised when it is shipped over vast distances.


I am not certainly suggesting that food grown in other counties is not safe. However given the choice wouldn’t you prefer to buy delicious, healthy and safe Ontario grown food products? Not only is good for you and your family, its good for the Ontario economy!

Written by terrystevenson

April 7, 2009 at 8:50 am

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University of Guelph – Agricultural Communications cohort excel at the Ontario AgriCentre

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A couple weeks ago I received an e-mail from Marjory Gaouette, who is the manager of Program Development, Office of Open Learning at the University of Guelph. Marjory invited me to sit in on presentations being completed by this year’s cohort enrolled in the Agricultural Communications program, under the direction of my former professor, Owen Roberts.


I gladly accepted Marjory and Owens invitation to attend this important class presentation, which was being held at the Ontario AgriCentre, Media Centre in Guelph. Having completed this same course curriculum just last year myself, I was eager to see and hear how this year’s class was progressing.


The Agricultural Communications program is hosted by the University of Guelph under the direction of Owen Roberts. It is designed to strengthen and enhance each student’s communication skills, allowing them to effectively communicate diverse and complex agricultural issues to wide variety of audiences. Having being part of the first cohort to graduate from this program last year, I can say that it’s an excellent program and prepares the student by developing and applying practical journalism skills.    


In this part of the course, Studio II, each of the students was to select their own communications campaign around an agricultural theme. Once these themes were approved by Owen, the cohort would not only create a communications campaign, but also hold a “mock” media conference in front of actual working journalists. I can tell you from my own personal experience this is a very stressful time for these students.


They have been working very hard on these projects for approximately 12 weeks and put an incredible amount of time and effort in developing their campaigns. Now all those weeks of hard work come to a climax, presenting them not only to their professor, but representatives from the media too!


There were four presentations in all. Kathie McDonald did her campaign around the “Advanced Agricultural Leadership Program,” Marnie Johnson did hers on the “Alliance Against Raw Milk Distribution,” Christine Schoonderwoerd’s was on bringing the “Rural Bounty” program to Canada and Sarah Van Engelen’s presentation was built around the development of “Ag Careers.com.”


Every one of their presentations were absolutely fantastic! Kathie, Marnie, Christine, and Sarah had all done an amazing amount of background work and detail in creating their communication campaigns and it showed. What really struck me was the “passion” that each of them demonstrated when speaking about their campaigns. They handled the really difficult questions from the media in attendance with patience and true professionalism. Some of the questions they faced were very tough, but they were not thrown off balance and stayed focused on their message.


Owen Roberts and Marjory Gaouette can be very proud of this year’s Agricultural Communications cohort. From what I saw of this year’s communications campaigns, these students are excelling in this course and some agricultural organization will be very lucky to add these talented students to their staff when they graduate in December. Owen Roberts is now starting to consider applications for the 2009/2010 class. If you would like more information about this comprehensive Agricultural Communications program, Owen Roberts can be reached at owen@uog.ca    

Written by terrystevenson

March 30, 2009 at 10:14 am

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85 per cent is not good enough for Canadian consumers

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Our Canadian Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Gerry Ritz has been under fire recently for the new food labeling standards that came into law January 1, 2009. The new standard states that in order to be labeled “Product of Canada,” 98 per cent of the ingredients must come from Canada. This has some food processors up in arms who are complaining that the new standards are too rigid and unrealistic.


Opposition parties are also taking up the cause, questioning why the current government went beyond their own standing committee on agriculture’s recommendation, to set the bar at only 85 per cent. The processors argument is that many times they add small ingredients such as sugar that isn’t readily available in Canada to their products and now with the new label standards they will not meet the new requirements in order to label it “Product of Canada.”


I would suggest there are already enough information loopholes in many of the labels for products and food that we as consumers purchase not only from Canada but other countries too. Canadian food safety demands that the labeling of food products should maintain nothing but the highest standards in honesty of information. Consumers deserve to know where their food comes from and its ingredients. The new label standard of 98 per cent while seemingly high to many is probably about right.


What’s wrong with saying exactly where a food product is from? As Canadians we produce some the of finest food products grown anywhere in the world. We should be leading the way for the rest of the world, setting honest and straightforward labeling standards for other counties to follow.


So whether its a shopper in Los Angeles, California or Red Deer, Alberta, if a consumer picks up a food item with a label that says, “Product of Canada” they can make an informed buying decision. They will have the comfort of knowing that they are truly purchasing a quality food item and the information on the label is truthful, including the country of origin – Canada. As consumers we should expect and demand nothing less than the whole truth about the food we consume.   


Written by terrystevenson

March 23, 2009 at 9:59 am

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The future of Canadian farming never looked better!

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2009 Ontario Outstanding Young Farmers’ Award Winners 

 Jason and Christina Pyke

(Photograph courtesy of Better Farmimg Magazine)

This past week my wife Connie and I had the pleasure of attending the 2009 Ontario’s Outstanding Young Farmers’ Awards Banquet, held at the Four Points Sheraton Hotel in London, Ontario. Connie and I were representing GROWMARK Inc. who is one of the corporate sponsors of this prestigious event, now in its 29th year.

The tempo of this amazing evening was set early by last year’s winners from Aylmer, Chris and Christy Hiemstra who gave an informative and at times funny overview about their successful farming operation, primarily running an apiary.

From the many entries across the province of Ontario, the field had been narrowed down to six finalists. They were Kevin and Jo-Ann MacLean from Napanee, Shawn and Tara McRae from Bainsville, Jason and Christina Pyke from Wolfe Island, Jeff and Eleanor Robinson from Osgoode, Edwin Sterrenburg from Stayner and Len and Tracey Vis from Jerseyville.

Each of the six finalists gave an approximately 10 minute Power Point show about their farming operation to the crowd of more than 200 people. Each of these young farmers’ presentations was inspiring and motivational. You could just feel the passion they have for farming and agriculture in every word they said. They all very clearly articulated the many of the core values so long associated with farmers. Honesty, hard work, family, church, community, respect for their animals, land and Mother Nature.

The final winners for 2009 were Jason and Christina Pyke from Wolfe Island who operate a unique farm raising more than 130 bison. They also expect to add to their herd this spring with the addition of 30 to 40 calves being born. The bison meat is extremely healthy to eat and they are now selling it to restaurants’ and meat shops from Kingston to Ottawa. They are truly deserving winners and I offer my congratulations and best of luck to the Pykes as they go on to represent Ontario at the national Outstanding Young Farmers’ Program event, being held during the first week of December in Ottawa.

All of these couples represented the future of farming in not only Ontario, but Canada and around the world. The basic core values that these young farmers’ not only believe in so deeply, but practice in their every day farm life, is an inspiration to us all. In fact the only real shame is that city folk did not have the opportunity to see and hear the fantastic and outstanding work that is being done in agriculture today.  I have seen some examples this past week of the tremendous innovation and leadership taking place in farming and I can tell you this, the future of Canadian farming is in great hands and never looked more promising.

Written by terrystevenson

March 17, 2009 at 6:54 am

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Indentity preserved crops and commodity outlook for 2009

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  Cal Whewell, risk management consultant from FC Stone in Bowling Green, Ohio

This past week I had the opportunity to attend a Wanstead Farmers Co-operative grower information meeting, held in Watford, Ontario. The focus was on identity preserved crop production in corn and soybeans. Special guest speakers included Peter Sikkema an associate professor and weed management specialist from the University of Guelph, Ridgetown Campus, Tracey Baute a field crop entomologist from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and Cal Whewell a risk management consultant from FC Stone in Bowling Green, Ohio. 

Sikkema discussed the effectiveness of various herbicide products for controlling weeds and grasses on identity preserved corn and soybean fields. Farmers have great respect for Peter and his advice on weed control, which is always backed up by scientific data. He also included in his presentation, actual field pictures including check strips which were very powerful in clearly demonstrating to farmers the points he was trying to get across.

Tracey Baute reviewed some of the destructive insect pests for farmers to look for while scouting fields, including the dreaded army worm that caused such extensive damage across southern Ontario last year. Baute too used many pictures in her presentation, including maps of North America and identifying previous years’ infestation problem locations and possible projected area of concern for 2009.

Cal Whewell gave farmers a very thorough and often humorous review of the past and current grain markets outlook for corn, soybeans and wheat in North America. Whewell, unlike Sikkema and Baute used graphs to get his various points across about the commodity markets. Whewell has the unique ability as a speaker to use just the right amount of humour and seriousness when trying to make a point with farmers.

Unfortunately this year, the general message to farmers from Cal was that although there are many variables in play that could tilt the commodity markets one way or the other, realistically farmers probably won’t see significant change in corn, soybean or wheat values either up or down in 2009. This made the information shared with farmers by Peter Sikkema and Tracey Baute even more important, if farmers want to grow profitable crops in 2009. 

Written by terrystevenson

March 9, 2009 at 8:59 am

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