AIC Notes TopIssue 2011-34       September 29, 2011 
In This Issue
Alternatives to Antibiotics for Farm Animals Sought
Agricultural Irrigation Declines
Government of Canada Investing in New Bovine TB Screening Tests
Saskatchewan Biodiesel Maker to Ramp Up Production
Farm Product Price Index Keeps Climbing
More Than Just Taste: Comparisons of Organic and Conventional Bread
Commentary: Women are Agriculture's Best Hope
New Study Challenges Ideas on Plant Diversity
Coming Events

Alternatives to Antibiotics for Farm Animals Sought


The federal government is funding a team of 16 scientists to try to figure out how farmers can use fewer antibiotics in the chickens, pigs and cows Canadians eat.


Antibiotics are used in animal feed to prevent disease and promote growth.


In one experiment, scientists are replacing antibiotics with mixtures of antioxidants and probiotic bacteria. Other experiments include giving animals cranberry extract to treat intestinal necrosis, and trying essential oils as immune boosters.


Gabriel Piette, a researcher with Agriculture Canada who is involved in the experiment exploring alternatives to antibiotic use, told CBC-TV's Marketplace that the Treasury Board is spending $4 million on various projects across the country.


The research will wrap up in 2013.


The experiments on alternative treatments are revealed in a letter signed by Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, and sent to members of the public who wrote letters of concern to the federal government after viewing a Marketplace episode about the overuse of antibiotics in chickens.


In that episode, Marketplace tested 100 samples of chicken from major grocery stores across Canada and found widespread contamination with superbugs - bacteria resistant to antibiotics crucial to human health.


The letter was obtained by Marketplace through an Access to Information Request. Included in the material were dozens of letter and emails from Canadians who had viewed Marketplace, and were asking the government to place limits on the use of antibiotics in poultry farming.


There is no federal program to track just how often or how many antibiotics are fed to feed animals, despite calls for such a program from numerous environmental and health experts.


Ritz's letter does not address demands for legislation curbing the use of antibiotics, nor does it comment on viewers' concerns that antibiotics are often fed to chickens to make them grow fatter, more quickly.

Of the 100 chicken samples tested by Marketplace, two-thirds were contaminated with superbugs.

Studies have documented that when humans come into contact with those bacteria, they can also become resistant to antibiotics.


At B.C.'s Surrey Memorial Hospital, Dr. Yazdan Mirzanejad is finding that increasingly, antibiotics are not working on seriously ill people. "I feel desperate, horrified, that I was not able to do what I was supposed to do," he told Marketplace.


He blames the overuse of antibiotics in feed animals.


"As long as we continue to do antibiotics feeding to the livestock, this is going to happen. And it's going to get worse," he said.


In the United States, a scathing report released recently by the Government Accountability Office accused federal officials of doing little to monitor antibiotic use on farms. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration estimates that in the U.S., livestock consume 80 per cent of the country's antibiotics.


Critics have suggested that one way to prevent disease is to limit overcrowded conditions for animals on Canadian farms.


Erica Johnson, CBC News, September 26, 2011


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Agricultural Irrigation Declines


Statistics Canada is reporting a significant decline in the area and amount of water used for agricultural irrigation in 2010, but many irrigators question the accuracy of the survey.


According to the report, Canadian producers irrigated 528,600 hectares last year. That is down 27 per cent from 2007. At the same time, the volume of water used declined 44 per cent.


Much of the decline occurred in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario. All three provinces had wetter growing seasons in 2010 and required less irrigation.


Alberta led the way with 356,500 hectares. British Columbia was next at 76,570 hectares, with Saskatchewan third at 40,810 hectares.


The Statistics Canada survey noted that the Saskatchewan number should be "used with caution." The chair of the Saskatchewan Irrigation Projects Association believes the estimate is very low, even if it was very wet.


"We know there is in excess of 100,000 acres irrigated yearly out of Lake Diefenbaker, says SIPA chair Roger Pederson, who also farms in the Outlook area. "There is easily another 50,000 or 60,000 (acres) of intensive irrigation in other parts of the province. Plus another 100,000 or more that is irrigated in the southwest part of the province in some years."


Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food estimates 2010 irrigation at 138,400 hectares. That includes 98,000 hectares of intensive irrigation. About 3,000 producers use some form of irrigation.


The Statistics Canada numbers are also being questioned in Alberta. The Alberta Irrigation Projects Association says provincial irrigation districts have 552,400 hectares of land. That does not include an approximate 121,400 hectares owned by private irrigators.


Everyone agrees that irrigators are making more efficient use of the valuable water resource.


"Since 1976, we have seen an increase in irrigated land (in Alberta) of about 72 per cent," says Ron McMullin, AIPA executive director. "However, in that same time frame, we have also seen a decline in water use of 10 per cent."


Several factors account for the improved efficiency including better equipment, upgraded distribution systems and the development of more water-efficient crops. The latest improvement is low-pressure drop tubes. They come down from spans on the pivots and the water is applied through a low-pressure nozzle.


"These low-pressure nozzles kind of throw the water out, but without breaking it into fine droplets," says McMullin. "The droplet size is increased and is more resistant to wind and more resistant to evaporation. It also falls a shorter distance to the crop because the tubes have dropped the height of the nozzles."


Alberta irrigation districts are farmer co-ops. Members vote on whether additional hectares are added in any given year. McMullin says the average annual growth rate is about one per cent.


Saskatchewan irrigators continue to lobby the provincial government about the need to expand capacity. SIPA would like to see another 202,343 hectares added in the Lake Diefenbaker area over the next 20 to 40 years.


"The water is there," says Pederson. "Even in the most drought-prone year, if you had 500,000 more irrigated acres, you would only use 18 per cent of the available water in Lake Diefenbaker."


The cost to the public purse would be in the $2.5 to $3 billion range, with farmers investing more than that. The end result would be higher agricultural production and economic spinoffs for the province.


Neil Billinger, FCC Express, September 23, 2011 


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Government of Canada Investing in New Bovine TB Screening Tests


The Government of Canada is working with industry to identify a new diagnostic test for bovine tuberculosis (TB) in cattle that will be simpler and more cost-effective for regulatory agencies to administer. Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz announced an investment of nearly $320,000 to the Canadian Cattlemen's Association at the CCA's annual fall picnic on Parliament Hill today.


"We continue to invest in finding new and cost-effective screening tests to detect animal diseases," Minister Ritz told the annual gathering of beef producers from across the country. "The faster we can pinpoint disease, the shorter the downtime for our hardworking cattle producers and the sooner they can get their businesses back up and running."


This investment through the Canadian Agricultural Adaptation Program (CAAP) is designed to help the CCA evaluate alternative bovine TB tests that will be more reliable and cost-effective than the current tuberculin skin test. The CCA will work with regulatory agencies such as the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to design and provide input to the evaluation study. If successful, the study will identify one or a combination of tests that will be less cumbersome and less expensive for regulatory agencies to administer.


"Having a rapid, simple and inexpensive blood test that can detect bovine TB in cattle will help to achieve the final eradication of this insidious disease sooner than is possible with existing tools," said CCA President Travis Toews. "We thank the Government of Canada for investing in research that will assist industry efforts to create an effective disease eradication program and lessen the often negative economic impacts associated with bovine TB." 


The CCA is a national organization established in 1932 that represents the interests of approximately 83,000 beef producers in every phase of the beef production system.


CAAP is a five-year (2009-2014), $163-million initiative that aims to help the Canadian agricultural sector adapt and remain competitive. The next phase of Canada's Economic Action Plan, coupled with other Government of Canada programs and initiatives such as CAAP, continues to help farmers by focusing on creating jobs and strengthening the economy. Investments in new and emerging market opportunities will help build an even stronger agriculture industry and Canadian economy for the future.


AAFC Press Release, September 27, 2011


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Saskatchewan Biodiesel Maker to Ramp Up Production


An eastern Saskatchewan company that's been pumping out canola biodiesel for 10 years plans to quintuple its maximum output by year's end.


Milligan Bio-Tech, operating at Foam Lake, about 90 km northwest of Yorkton, said Friday it's completed a $4 million private placement of unsecured convertible debentures and lined up a $4 million credit facility to finance an $8 million "debottlenecking" of its biodiesel plant.


The plant's annual biodiesel production capacity, which now sits at about four million litres, would be expanded to over 20 million litres once the debottleneck project is complete, the company said.

The increased capacity would equal about half of the forecasted requirements for biodiesel in Saskatchewan when that province's biodiesel mandate comes into force next July, the company said.


Milligan, which uses non-food-grade canola seed as its feedstock, would then essentially become the biggest producer of biodiesel in Western Canada, the company said.


Debottlenecking, generally, is a re-engineering of a production line, aimed at removing previously imposed unit limits or restrictions on its rate of output.


"With the announcement of federal and provincial mandates for biodiesel, we see that the time is right to round out the capacity of the Foam Lake facility and increase our production efforts," Milligan CEO Joe Holash said in a release.


"Competitive issues"


"The Saskatchewan government has responded favourably to the competitive issues of our new and growing industry and has put a rebate program in place that will help to keep us competitive with out-of-province producers who already benefit from similar programs."


Combined, the federal and provincial assistance "puts us on equal footing" with larger U.S. biofuel processors who currently supply biodiesel in Western Canada, he said.


Milligan currently sells its biodiesel into markets in Western Canada, while selling its biodiesel coproducts, such as diesel fuel conditioner, penetrating oil, road dust suppressant and rust inhibitor, via dealers and distributors throughout North America.


The company set up in 1996 and began making methyl ester biodiesel at first on a laboratory scale in 1999. It added a crush plant at Foam Lake in 2006 and started work on a biodiesel optimization plant in 2007 that was ultimately meant to ramp up Milligan's capacity to seven million tonnes a year.


Country Guide, September 23, 2011


Farm Product Price Index Keeps Climbing


Prices farmers received for their commodities in July rose 14.8% from July 2010, as product prices for livestock and animal products and most crops continued to advance. July marked the seventh consecutive double-digit increase that has ranged from 12.2% to 18.9%.

In the 12 months to July, both the total crops index (19.4%) and the livestock and animal product index (10.4%) recorded increases. The year-over-year upward trend started in September 2010 for the crops index and in May 2010 for the livestock and animal products index.

The largest contributors to the advance in crop prices were oilseeds (+34.3%) and grains (+30.1%). The year-over-year increase of the crops index was moderated by lower prices for potatoes (-4.5%) and vegetables (-2.5%).

Canola, Canada's largest oilseed crop, set record crush levels for the August 2010 to July 2011 crop year, with 6.3 million tonnes of canola crushed, up 31.8% from the previous year's record.

Compared with July 2010, increases were recorded in all livestock commodities, ranging from 1.8% for dairy to 16.7% for poultry. The cattle and calves index (+15.7%), the largest contributor to the livestock and animal products index, continued its strong advance, with double-digit growth since August 2010.

On a monthly basis, following an increase in June, the July index fell 0.1%, the second decrease since December 2010. Both the crops index and the livestock and animal products index edged down in July.


StatsCan, in AgriLink, September 26, 2011


More Than Just Taste: Comparisons of Organic and Conventional Bread


Sensory profiles of bread made from organic and conventional wheat have produced results of interest to both types of farmers.


Though there had been anecdotal evidence that organic bread might taste and smell better, a series of tests could find no differences compared with conventional bread.


"We observed no differences in flavor and aroma between organic and conventional bread," states a study conducted by researchers at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.


"I think it would confirm for the conventional producer that there still is a market for conventionally produced grain and the products made from it," says Wendy Wismer, one of three study authors. The lead author was L.E. Annett and the other was D. Spaner.


"I think it indicates that a lot of organic products are consumed because of the belief that a person is maybe improving their health or helping the environment," said Wismer in a phone interview.


Perception is important. "We have this belief that products of organic production are valuable and they are good," says Wismer. "And so associated with that would be the idea that they taste better."


The implications of the study - "Sensory Profiles of Bread Made from Paired Samples of Organic and Conventionally Grown Wheat Grain," published in the Journal of Food Science - are that consumer purchases are based on several factors. "One of the things about consumers is that when they evaluate their liking or the quality of a food product it's really the integration of a lot of factors," says Wismer.


Even the look of a product can affect decisions. For example, one of the differences in the 60% whole wheat organic bread was that it was denser than the conventional bread. As a result, the organic loaf was often smaller.


Though care was taken in the study not to let the look of the bread influence testers, for consumers the look and texture may have an effect on other senses.


"Even if you liked the way an organic product looked, that might have a bit of a halo effect and then you consider that the sensory properties, like the taste, were better as well," says Wismer.


Wismer notes that findings for less processed foods, such as fresh fruit and vegetables, might be different than for bread or other processed products.


One of the study's conclusions was that in future consumer research, the influence of nonsensory characteristics affecting perceptions of organic products should be evaluated.


Steve Harder, Organic Agriculture Centre of Canada, September 26, 2011


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Commentary: Women are Agriculture's Best Hope 


It seems there is a renewed interest in Africa in recent months. PepsiCo recently announced its plans to help develop improved chickpeas for growing in Africa to provide a more stable source of protein.

PepsiCo's investment is no small matter. In addition, over the summer the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced funding of other biotech crops to help feed Africa's population.


But what seems to be the most significant factor that could help African farmers is the support of improved agricultural technologies for women farmers. The United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization released a report last week, "FAO at Work: Women-key to food security," which was written by Jacques Diouf, director-general, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.


"FAO's research shows that women farmers are 20-30 percent less productive than men, but not because they manage their farms less well, or work less hard. The main reason for the gap between men's and women's performance is that the former have access to resources seldom available to female farmers - including land, financing and technology, among other things. In addition, women do not share fairly in benefits such as training, information and knowledge," according to the report.


"But if women had the same access to those resources as men, they would produce 20-30 percent more food, and their families would enjoy better health, nutrition and education. If women had equal access to agricultural resources and services, food security would be greatly improved and societies would grow richer, and not only in economic terms."


The report goes on to explain the challenges faced by women farmers. It also said closing the gender gap in agriculture is a top priority both today and tomorrow.


Improving women's access to technology, land and resources would help feed Africa. Unfortunately, maintaining status quo culturally will continue to keep Africa hungry. If Africa could embrace educating women and allowing them to own land, women, who are nearly half of the world's population, could help feed the world.


Where is the support and resources for empowering women? Research and sharing wealth is important, but it's only a piece of the puzzle in poor countries.


"Feeding a world population set to grow to more than nine billion in the next four decades means harnessing all our energies and resources," according to the report. "Only the full and equal participation of women - more than half of the world's population - will set the ground for a world free from hunger."


Click here to view the report:


Colleen Scherer, AgProfessional, September 27, 2011  


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New Study Challenges Ideas on Plant Diversity


It's time to scrap the textbook model used for decades to explain plant diversity in grasslands in Canada and worldwide, according to a paper published this week in Science by a global team of ecologists that includes a University of Guelph researcher.


The authors call for new models to help understand and manage these increasingly threatened ecosystems, including Western Canada's oak savannah, the salt marshes of the American South, the alpine meadows of Europe and Africa's Serengeti plains.


The paper describes a worldwide study that tested the so-called "hump" model of grassland diversity used for more than 30 years. Referring to the paper's results, Prof. Andrew MacDougall, Department of Integrative Biology, said, "I think it's the death of the hump."


That longtime model says grasslands in differing climates or continents should develop in the same way. "In ecosystems with limited productivity, for example, there is low diversity because only a few different plant species are able to handle the poor growing conditions," he said.


Past the hump's peak, the amount of material - plant productivity for ecologists - keeps rising. But diversity, or species richness, then falls as only a few top plants come to dominate the ecosystem.


Ecologists and resource managers have applied this productivity-species richness relationship to predict how periodic burns and the culling of grazing animals might affect the restoration of native grasslands.

This new global study by 58 researchers on five continents disproves that classic relationship, said MacDougall. Measuring plant productivity and species richness in nearly 50 plant communities in North America, Africa, Europe, Asia and Australia, the scientists found no consistent pattern linking productivity and species diversity.


In their paper, the team members call for ecologists to develop new approaches to studying these complex ecosystems, including factors such as grazing impacts and human disturbance.


MacDougall said the accepted productivity-richness relationship had made intuitive sense; undergrads still find it in many ecology textbooks. More and more, ecologists had begun to question it.


Running this global experiment allowed the collaborators to test the model properly. Until this year, MacDougall had been the only Canadian researcher on the team since it began in 2007. He works in Garry oak savannah on Vancouver Island.


A University of Toronto researcher has since joined the group. A new researcher in Argentina has also widened the team's scope to South America. Including other new members, the network - co-ordinated by researchers at the University of Minnesota - now runs in more than 70 sites worldwide.


University of Guelph Press Release, September 23, 2011

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Coming Events


Canadian Society of Soil Science and Soil Science Society of America joint conference, Fundamental for Life: Soil, Crop, & Environmental Sciences, San Antonio, Texas, October 16-20, 2011


Feeding a Hungry World: A Summit for Animal Agriculture, Ottawa, Ontario, October 17-18, 2011 


Catalyst Canada Honours Celebrating Champions of Women in Business, Toronto, Ontario, October 18, 2011


2011 Joint Annual Meeting of the Entomological Society of Canada and the Acadian Entomological Society, Halifax, Nova Scotia, November 6-9, 2011  


Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance, National Hemp Convention, Winnipeg, Manitoba, November 21-22, 2011 


Canadian Weed Science Society Conference, Niagara Falls, November 21-24, 2011 


Canadian Agricultural Economics Society, Growing Forward in a Volatile Environment, Second Annual Canadian Agriculture Policy Conference, Ottawa, January 12-13, 2012


Canadian Organic Science Conference, February 21-23, 2012, Winnipeg, Manitoba 


6th Annual Growing the Margins: Rural Green Energy Conference and Exhibition and 4th Annual Canadian Farm and Food Biogas Conference and Exhibition, London, Ontario, March 5-7, 2012



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Frances Rodenburg, Editor