AIC Notes Top         Issue 2012-17          April 26, 2012 
Editor's Note - There will be no AIC Notes on May 3rd, next issue May 10, 2012.
In This Issue
Why Science Has To Promise Profits
Ag Policy Framework Will Promote Science, Innovation
'Industrial Agriculture' Operations Come With Hidden Costs to Health, Environment: Report
CFIA to Require Licensing for Food Importers
Cut Now, Pay Later For Lack Of Vision
Ontario Agri-Food Exports Hit Record High
The Difficulties of Tying Food and Health Together in a Food Strategy
What You'll Be Eating Soon
Ag Issues and Activist Solutions Connected to Earth Day
Canada's Agricultural Activity Poised for Growth-BMO Economics
Study Urges Mixture of Organic, Conventional Agriculture
UBCO Lands Major Grant to Reduce GHG Emissions, Improving Watering and Fertilization
Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food
Coming Events

Why Science Has To Promise Profits 


By Timothy Caulfield


Over the past two decades, the popular press has been in love with the idea of a genetic revolution. But the mood has changed. Headlines such as "A.M.A. Heralds a Genetics Revolution" (The New York Times, 1993) and "Genetics: The Future Is Now" (Time Magazine, 1994) have been replaced with banners that drip disappointment, such as "The Failure of the Genome" (The Guardian, 2011), "Did They Oversell the Genomic Revolution?" (Globe and Mail, 2011) and from a recent New York Times article: "Study Says DNA's Power to Predict Illness Is Limited."


While this is not a full-blown pop-culture backlash, the love affair seems to have fizzled. Similar disenchantment might be emerging in that other "revolutionizing" realm of science, stem cells. Upbeat headlines about "How the Coming Revolution in Stem Cells Could Save Your Life" (Time Magazine, 2009) now compete with pronouncements such as this one: "Stem-Cell Trial Failed to Treat Heart Failure" (NewsDay, 2012).


It is not that genetics and stem cell research haven't delivered. They have, at least from a scientific and technical perspective. But they haven't delivered big from a clinical and economic perspective and that was the public promise: new therapies and fuel for economic growth.


To date, there are no revolutionizing medical breakthroughs, few highly predictive genetic tests for common diseases, no transforming and widely applicable regenerative therapies and almost no wealth-promoting products. Some of these may arrive one day. I sincerely hope so. But for this to happen quickly would be an exception to the general rule that science, particularly the biosciences, moves forward by way of tiny, unsteady and (often necessarily retraced and highly regulated) steps.


Many may think I am being too harsh. These are, after all, early days for genetics and stem cell research. But a plea for public patience has rarely been part of the rhetoric attached to these fields. We were promised a near-future revolution, not plodding progress.


Big science is expensive. So big science must promise big things quick.


This is one of the many reasons the federal government's recently announced research strategy is so disappointing and frustrating. The focus is now squarely on supporting research positioned to promote rapid translation of technologies, economic growth and industry partnerships.


In an increasingly knowledge-based economy, this push to position government-funded research as an engine of economic growth may seem logical. But there are innumerable problems with this commercialization strategy, beyond the reality that it is unclear how areas such as stem cell research and genetics will generate billions in profits.


First, in addition to all the well-documented social issues associated with industry/researcher collaborations and commercialization pressure - biased results, reduced researcher collaborations, data withholding and the potential for the premature and possibly harmful application of technologies - the emphasis on economics will inevitably lead to more of the kind of hype and overly optimistic predictions described above. When research funding is conditional on the potential for economic growth and rapid translation, the research community will find ways to promise economic growth and rapid translation.


Second, as more and more of the publicly funded research community becomes associated with this commercialization agenda, it will become increasingly difficult to find truly independent voices to critique the hype and calibrate expectations. The best science is dispassionate, independent and objective. The promised pursuit of profits is one of the surest ways to erode these qualities.


Third, it will reduce public trust in the science and the scientific community. Our research team recently completed a survey of more than 1,200 Albertans. We found university researchers funded by government to be among the most trusted. But that trust erodes significantly when those same researchers receive funds from industry.


Finally, this strategy fails to recognize how science usually unfolds. It is very difficult to predict what research will be beneficial or commercially viable. This is especially so in areas as scientifically complex as genetics and stem cell research. As the great physicist Marie Curie said: "We must not forget that when radium was discovered no one knew that it would prove useful in hospitals. The work was one of pure science. And this is a proof that scientific work must not be considered from the point of view of the direct usefulness of it. It must be done for itself, for the beauty of science, and then there is always the chance that a scientific discovery may become, like the radium, a benefit for humanity."


Timothy Caulfield is Canada Research Chair in Health, Law and Policy and author of The Cure for Everything: Untangling the Twisted Messages about Health, Fitness and Happiness.


Globe and Mail, April 23, 2012


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Ag Policy Framework Will Promote Science, Innovation 


Canadian provincial, territorial and federal agriculture ministers have set September as the deadline to sign on to a new agricultural policy framework scheduled to take effect April 2013.


But federal agriculture minister Gerry Ritz has quashed any lingering hopes that the new framework would contain federal support for Ontario's industry developed risk management program.


Speaking to media Friday following the ministers' meeting in Gatineau Quebec, Ritz explained that Canada's neighbours to the south have warned the country could face trade challenges because of the program. The program uses provincial and producer contributions to provide protection from market downturns. It applies to several livestock commodities as well as to grains and oilseeds and horticulture.


The National Pork Producers Council recently used the provincial program to exemplify what it described as Canadian "trade-distorting federal and provincial programs" in an open letter to members of the U.S. Congress. The March 26 letter cites research that suggests the program would increase Ontario hog production by 600,000 pigs, which in turn would displace production elsewhere in Canada and North America, "likely reducing U.S. pork exports."


The provincial government introduced the program last year with the goal of obtaining federal buy-in. However, in March, Ted McMeekin, the province's agriculture minister, said they had abandoned that goal and planned to rework the program. Changes would take effect in the next fiscal year. The program remains the same for this fiscal year (2012-2013).


Ritz noted the new national policy framework will place greater emphasis on science, research and innovation. Speaking in the context of past support programs, he observed farmers should look to the "marketplace" rather than the "mailbox." Farmers currently enjoy good production levels and cost returns, he said. He later noted an approach to the policy's business risk programming had not been finalized.


"Just as farmers constantly adjust their farm practices to suit changing market or weather conditions, so too must governments review and adapt programs so they continue to support the evolving needs of the industry," he said.


Securing access to international markets also continues to be a priority. At the same time, the government remains "steadfast" in maintaining its supply-managed industries, he said.


The ministers meet again September 12 to 14 in Whitehorse, Yukon.


Better Farming, April 21, 2012


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'Industrial Agriculture' Operations Come With Hidden Costs to Health, Environment: Report 


Poultry waste fed to cattle, pigs pumped with growth-promoting antibiotics, and mounds of manure dumped in ditches.


These and other scenarios are used to take aim at the "largely hidden" costs of intensive livestock operations to public health, the environment and rural community development in a report to be released Tuesday by the Canadian office of the World Society for the Protection of Animals.


"Our industrial animal agriculture system is actually quite expensive. That's the biggest myth we're trying to bust with this report - that there are so many hidden costs. As an animal welfare group, we know that this food system causes the most animal suffering, but it has more far-reaching impacts than that," Melissa Matlow, the group's campaign manager for humane and sustainable agriculture, said in an interview.


The 163-page report - titled What's on Your Plate: The Hidden Costs of Industrial Animal Agriculture in Canada - is the culmination of an 20-month project that began when the organization convened recognized experts in their fields and commissioned a multidisciplinary review of the impacts of Canada's industrial animal agriculture practices.


The team developed a set of policy recommendations, examined by external reviewers with expertise in Canadian food policy, resource management and environmental law. Queen's University's Thomas Axworthy, who served as a senior policy adviser to prime minister Pierre Trudeau, wrote the foreword to the report.


"Industrial agriculture has given us plentiful and cheap food, but at great cost. The value of the WSPA study is that these costs are described in detail so that Canadians can be better informed about the trade-offs in our agricultural policies," Axworthy writes.


"It's moved the discussion from animal cruelty to the whole food system and the whole system of human well-being and animal well-being and environmental well-being and lock(ed) them together," added external reviewer Wayne Roberts, author of The No-Nonsense Guide to World Food, in an interview.


"To me, that's a huge contribution that it makes to a new way of seeing things."


The number of farms in Canada has fallen 60 per cent over the last 50 years, while the overall farm size has increased by 141 per cent. A team lead by George Khachatourians from the University of Saskatchewan's department of food and bioproduct sciences links the size of these operations to their over-use of antibiotics.


The report calls for the phase-out of non-therapeutic antibiotics used for growth promotion and other agricultural antibiotics that are vital in human and veterinary medicine, including the new generation of antimicrobials used in poultry feed and drinks.


"A critical first step is for provincial governments to follow Quebec's lead and require veterinary prescriptions for all antibiotics used in animal agriculture," the report states.


And despite tougher regulations in place to ensure ruminant feed is safe for humans, animals and the environment, the University of Saskatchewan team also highlights that some livestock producers continue to feed poultry manure to livestock. This may inadvertently result in the ingestion of ruminant meat and bone meal by cattle and contravene the Health of Animals regulations, they write.


"Although the practice has shown significant decline, some producers continue with the custom and risk prosecution," the report states, citing a recent reminder sent out to producers by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency that "poultry manure is not an approved feed ingredient in Canada."


Irresponsible composting, storage or disposal of manure, a carrier of pathogens like E. coli O157:H7, is also a significant problem, according to University of Winnipeg biologist Eva Pip, who authored a chapter on pathogens and human health.


"You not only have the source from exposure to the waste, but this can be carried through all down the line from the slaughtering facility to the processing and ultimately at the consumer end, where the product is contaminated. Every year, we have numerous recalls of meat products and also produce where inadvertently vegetables have become contaminated because of these pathogens ending up in soil where the crop is going to be consumed raw," Pip said in an interview.


The report, bolstered by a chapter on environmental impacts by University of Western Ontario geographer Tony Weis, recommends that all levels of government should regulate intensive livestock operations as they do other major polluting industrial operations - "subject to the same rules regarding waste treatment and pollutants and enforced by independent inspectors with the authority to issue stiff penalties for infractions."


Meanwhile, Ian Duncan, professor emeritus in the Department of Animal and Poultry Science at the University of Guelph, and Bernard Rollin, professor of biomedical sciences and animals sciences at Colorado State University, outline in the report how large operations rely on environments that severely restrict animals' movement (such as small gestation stalls for pigs for most their pregnancy, which are being phased out in Europe) and procedures that cause pain to animals (including beef calves that are dehorned, castrated and sometimes branded).


Federal and provincial governments should prohibit painful mutilations without anesthetic and phase out the most restrictive confinement systems, the report states. Ottawa also should update its labelling law to require that food be properly labelled according to origin and production methods.


"Canadians have the right to know how and where their food is produced," the report states, pointing out legislation in Europe requires that all eggs be labelled as "eggs from caged hens," "barn eggs" or "free-range eggs."


The report also calls for the redirecting of farm subsidies to smaller sustainable farms, pointing out that in 2009, the largest 28 per cent of farms (those with annual revenues greater than $1 million) received 72 per cent of the support.


Sarah Schmidt, Postmedia News, April 24, 2012


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CFIA to Require Licensing for Food Importers 


Canada's food importers will have to be licensed and renew their licenses every two years under proposed new food inspection regulations.


The Canadian Food Inspection Agency on Friday said it will consult between now and June 29 on a proposed user fee schedule as cost recovery for an importer licensing system.


The proposal calls for the estimated 25,000 food importing entities in Canada to pay fees of $259.48 per entity in 2013-14, increasing to $277.80 by 2017-18.


"The proposed regulations would include a range of tools and streamlined processes to help importers -- particularly small enterprises -- transition to the new requirements," CFIA said in a release.


"Whether food comes from across the street or across the ocean, consumers should have confidence in their purchases," Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said in the same release. "The measures being proposed would tighten controls on imported foods and build on the significant investments we've already made to safeguard Canada's food supply."


The CFIA said it consulted nationally on the regulatory proposal in the fall of 2010, and received "overall support" for the proposal.


Imports of food and food products into Canada have increased in value by about 45 per cent in the past nine years, from $20.9 billion in 2001 to $30.5 billion in 2010, CFIA said. Raw ingredients and food products are imported from an estimated 190 countries, "which have varying levels of food safety controls."


The proposed regulations would impose "general obligations prescribing food safety requirements" on importers, and "would meet the principal objectives of strengthening the accountability of importers in the non-federally registered sector (NFRS) and enhance the CFIA's ability to communicate important food safety information to potentially affected parties," the agency said.


The NFRS consists of all foods regulated solely under the federal Food and Drugs Act (FDA) and accounts for 70 per cent of food products available in the Canadian marketplace, such as alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, fats and oils, bakery products, infant formula, cereals, juices, coffee or tea, spices and seasonings, confectionery and snack foods.


The proposed licensing regime would make it mandatory for importers of food products to have an import licence, except where a product:

- is not intended for sale in Canada,

- weighs 20 kilograms or less,

- is used as food for the crew or passengers on any vessel, train, motor vehicle, aircraft or other means of transportation, or

- is imported from the U.S. into the Akwesasne Reserve straddling Quebec and Ontario, for use by an Akwesasne resident.


The CFIA said it expects the information "obtained through a licensing requirement" would help the agency to

- provide "fundamental guidance to, and oversight of, industry,"

- target inspection and enforcement activities to areas of greater risk,

- conduct "timely recalls" where problems turn up with imported foods, and

- alert importers when a problem has been discovered with a product they import.


Country Guide, April 23, 2012


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Cut Now, Pay Later For Lack Of Vision 


Laura Rance


Four years ago, the future looked pretty bright for Winnipeg's spot as an anchor for cereal research in Canada.


Today, the door is swinging on the way out for up to 80 per cent of the employees at the Canadian Wheat Board, which was one of the core funders for CIGI. The Cereal Research Centre is to close by 2014, and the Canadian Grain Commission is facing changes that could ultimately see many of its services outsourced to the private sector.


Rather than a centre, Winnipeg's critical mass in cereal expertise is rapidly becoming a shell. It is tough to quantify the value that culminated from the interaction between science and industry in this city over time, but it was real and it was significant. The 89-year-old Cereal Research Centre produced the varieties that earned Canada its reputation for being a breadbasket and made it a global leader in genetics resistant to rust, a fungal disease that caused huge crop losses in the early part of the last century.


Employees have been ordered not to speak to the media and federal officials are vague when it comes to the number of jobs to be lost. However, inside sources say 41 positions have been deemed surplus, 51 positions will be moved to Morden, and six to Brandon. In all, AAFC is terminating 689 positions, with 132 of those coming from research.


Senior department official Stephen Morgan Jones told the Manitoba Co-operator the decision to close Winnipeg is mostly about retiring an outdated building.


The Winnipeg lab was identified as being badly in need of an upgrade nearly a decade ago. Morgan Jones says it would have cost $150 million to replace it, money the department simply didn't have.

Besides, Morden and Brandon boast relatively new facilities, some of which are underutilized.

That point is tough to argue. And Winnipeg's loss of highly skilled jobs will be Morden and Brandon's gain.


Research will continue on developing varieties resistant to Ug99, a rapidly spreading rust strain first discovered in Uganda in 1999 that has the capability of overwhelming the defences of most varieties of wheat grown in the world. The research will be operated solely out of the Morden facility.


But it is the department's stated objective to concentrate its breeding efforts on germplasm, selling promising lines to the private sector for development and commercialization rather than its past practice of commercializing its own that makes outside and inside observers nervous.


"Anyone (who) believes that the same amount of research and development will occur will be sorely mistaken," said one affected employee.


Even the Grain Growers of Canada, which was a big fan of the federal government's change to the Canadian Wheat Board, is upset. It wasn't opposed to closing some facilities, it wanted any savings to be poured back into building Canada's human capacity in research.


"Farmers across Canada are divided on many issues in agriculture, but the one issue we all agree on being important is research," said GGC president Stephen Vandervalk.


"Unfortunately, it looks like the spring wheat program for the black and dark brown soils zones has been slashed by about one-third at a time when the world needs more production," said Vandervalk.


Turning variety development over to the private trade will effectively end farmers' ability to save seed for replanting the following year. Requiring farmers to buy new seed for every crop is the only means the private trade has for recapturing its investment in development, registration and marketing.


True, farmers have mixed opinions on this transition, which has already taken place for other key crops. But more than half of the wheat sown each year still comes out of a bin instead of a bag, so many farmers will find the change onerous as well as expensive.


Plus, the department axed the position of a scientist who focused on improving pesticide application techniques and technology. Given the amount of spraying that takes place, a source of independent advice for farmers has proven invaluable.


The funny thing about this budget is that farm support programs, which essentially prop up the status quo, escaped unscathed. Research, which explores new options for current and future problems, was trimmed. Those dollars saved now could well cost us in the future.


Laura Rance, Winnipeg Free Press, April 21, 2012


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Ontario Agri-Food Exports Hit Record High 


Agriculture's positive contribution to Canada's economic recovery is being reflected in the Ontario government's announcement that agri-food exports reached a record high in 2011.


According to the province, exports hit nearly $10 billion last year. That's a 5.4 per cent increase over 2010, and continues the trend from 2009 when exports grew six per cent.


Ontario accounts for more than 20 per cent of Canada's agri-food exports. Its top destination by far is the United States, followed by Asia and Europe.


The province is home to Canada's largest food processing sector, accounting for 3,000 businesses that employ 100,000 people across the province.


Ted McMeekin, Ontario Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, says helping small- and medium-sized food processing companies export their goods and link to international buyers is part of the government's plan for jobs and growth.


He says agricultural exports "help protect the gains Ontario has made in health care and education."


The province urges companies to get involved in exports. It says by expanding into foreign markets, companies "are no longer held captive to economic changes, consumer demands and seasonal fluctuations within the domestic economy."


Owen Roberts, FCC Express, April 20, 2012


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The Difficulties of Tying Food and Health Together in a Food Strategy 


Nathan Stevens


The University of Guelph recently hosted a conference in Ottawa to discuss agriculture policy and the merits of the new ideas in a variety of food strategies that have been developed over the last few years. John Cranfield of the University of Guelph provided an outline of the potential downsides of trying to connect agri-food policy and health policy.

First, there are many health concerns that agri-food policy cannot influence. For example, food has little to with communicable diseases. Some non-communicable diseases, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes have a clear connection with food and nutrition. But even then, food is mostly limited to behavioral aspects of health policy.

One policy tool is to use regulation to force better food content. However, Canadian food manufacturers exist in a very competitive environment. Forcing change in product content could be very costly to the system and may threaten some businesses. Finally, it is unclear if the potential health care savings outweigh the cost of compliance for businesses.

Cranfield then focused on the potential of "thin" subsidies and "fat" taxes to induce healthy eating. One study cited showed that the benefit of a one percent subsidy on fruit and vegetables resulted in most of the benefits being accrued to those in higher income brackets, which is a poor policy goal. On the other hand, "fat" taxes also have unintended outcomes. It hurts the poor the most, as they are the most likely to buy calorically dense processed food due to limited options in their local stores. Finally, implementing a "fat" tax and "thin" subsidies carries heavy administrative costs in a time of fiscal restraint.

Cranfield concludes that education and information sharing are the most likely to have high impact success. Labels with facts, accurate health claims or a "scarlet letter" to indicate concerns can work. Teaching kitchen sense and cooking skills has greater potential to impact the health of Canadians. And while agriculture is a stakeholder, that doesn't mean that it should be the engine that drives this process.

Cranfield demonstrated that mixing agriculture and health policy carries the significant risk of unintended consequences. Food and health have a connection, but the right ministry needs to provide leadership and direction for the appropriate policy concerns. For those interested in tying food and health together, these are serious challenges that need to be addressed if these ideas hope to become a reality and achieve positive outcomes.

Nathan Stevens, CFFO, in, April 19, 2012


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What You'll Be Eating Soon


It's the year 2035. Craving a burger and a beer, a hungry traveller wanders into a nondescript gastropub, the type that's found in almost any city. What's on the menu? As an appetizer, there's a salad of blue lettuce sprinkled with elderflowers and cloudberries, or a Zanzibari pizza: Indian-spiced rabbit meat served on a piece of naan. For the main course, the traveller can choose between fish-the "catch of the day" is plucked from a nearby indoor fish farm-or he can order a burger, made of cow, bison, chicken or pork, fresh out of the bioreactor. "We have an excellent meat-grower," the waitress says.


This is the scenario imagined by Chicago-based writer Josh Schonwald in his new book, The Taste of Tomorrow: Dispatches from the Future of Food. For the past several years, Schonwald has been on a mission to discover what the "salad, meat, seafood and pad Thai of the future" will be. He's explored everything from genetically engineered foods-like a cherry tomato modified to carry a lemon basil gene, which is said to be delicious-to meat grown in a test tube. Canadian scientists are working on this too, building healthier hot dogs and other processed foods.


In an age of rampant foodie-ism that prizes the traditional, local and organic above all, writer Michael Pollan's famous advice not to eat anything packaged or anything with more than five ingredients has become a well-known principle. Schonwald disagrees, criticizing what he calls the "rising tide of food-specific neo-Luddism" that insists food and technology shouldn't mix. If we're going to feed the planet, solutions won't just come from farms, but from the lab, too-and if scientists can engineer food that's tastier, more nutritious and sustainable, all the better.


Read more here


Kate Lunau, Macleans, April 20, 2012


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Ag Issues and Activist Solutions Connected to Earth Day


For the last 40 years, Earth Day has been celebrated around the world to call attention to some of our most pressing environmental and social problems, including climate change, biodiversity loss, and dwindling natural resources. This year, the Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet ( highlights 15 agricultural innovations that are already working on the ground to address some of those problems.


"Agriculture provides food for all of us and income for more than 1 billion people around the world," said Danielle Nierenberg, director of Worldwatch's Nourishing the Planet project. "Relatively simple innovations to reduce the amount of food we waste, or to help the urban poor become more self-sufficient, can help agriculture feed the world without destroying the planet. The progress we have witnessed in these areas over the last year is definitely encouraging."


The 15 innovations are used by farmers, scientists, activists, politicians, and businesses and promote a healthier environment and a more food-secure future.


1. Guaranteeing the Right to Food. Some 1 billion people worldwide experience chronic hunger, and 98 percent of these people live in developing countries. To combat hunger in rural or remote communities, the Brazilian government operates the Food Acquisition Program, which funds local organizations, including community kitchens, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and schools, to buy and distribute fruits, vegetables, and animal products from smallholder farmers in their region.


2. Harnessing the Nutritional and Economic Potential of Vegetables. Micronutrient deficiencies, including lack of vitamin A, iodine, and iron, affect 1 billion people worldwide and stem partly from a lack of variety in people's diets. Slow Food International works to broaden diets, and preserve biodiversity, by helping farmers grow local and indigenous varieties of fruits and vegetables, organizing cooking workshops, and helping producers get access to traditional seeds.


3. Reducing Food Waste. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that roughly a third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally, which amounts to about 1.3 billion tons per year. In New York City, City Harvest collects nearly 28 million pounds of excess food each year from restaurants, grocers, corporate cafeterias, manufacturers, and farms and delivers it to some 600 local food programs.


Read more here.


AgProfessional, April 20, 2012


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Canada's Agricultural Activity Poised for Growth-BMO Economics 


Canada's agricultural sector is poised for growth above average yearly rates seen over the past two decades, according to the new Canadian Agricultural Prospects report released today by BMO Capital Markets Economics.


The sector is projected to expand between 2.5 per cent and 3 per cent in 2012 and in the 2 per cent to 3 per cent range in subsequent years, reflecting an increasing demand for Canadian agricultural products from emerging markets where incomes are growing briskly and consumption levels have been traditionally low.


"While farm prices are expected to moderate this year, they should remain elevated in view of continued strong demand, particularly in fast-growth emerging markets," said Kenrick Jordan, Senior Economist, BMO Capital Markets. "Production would likely be even higher in the absence of constraints imposed by the strong loonie and elevated input costs. Given expectations of higher output and continued strong prices, Canadian farmers should experience another year of solid financial performance.


"A beneficial overall demand and pricing environment, along with a return to more favourable growing conditions and some improvement in market access, such as South Korea's lifting of import restrictions on beef, should facilitate increased production of crops and livestock."


Mr. Jordan noted that, on the crops side, farmers are likely to boost output notably in response to last year's stellar prices, with a record large canola crop expected. However, livestock gains are expected to be more modest, constrained by the relatively small size of the cattle and hog herds.


"The sector has shown a remarkable adaptability over the years, evident in superior productivity performance, rising export orientation, a shift in output mix toward value-added products, and the launch of new enterprises," said Mr. Jordan. "These trends should hold as farmers continue to adapt.


Critically, despite their solid record on this score, farmers will have target further productivity gains to offset the challenges of rising input costs and the strong loonie. In addition, sophisticated risk management strategies will be needed to address increasing volatility in input and output prices, production and profits.


"The need for ongoing cost reduction, innovation, market diversification, and risk management capacity is likely to spur consolidation and the development of larger, more capital-intensive, complex operations," concluded Mr. Jordan.


"Canadian agricultural producers faced some challenges last year as many prairie grain growers dealt with significant moisture levels while livestock farmers contended with rising input costs," said David Rinneard, National Manager, Agriculture, BMO Bank of Montreal. "However, Canada's farmers have a wonderful track record of perseverance and success. With continued demand and favourable prices, together with a return to better growing conditions, the 2012 table appears set for the industry to expand in the coming year."


The complete report can be downloaded at


BMO Press Release, April 25, 2012


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Study Urges Mixture of Organic, Conventional Agriculture 


Farmers of the future will use a mixture of organic and conventional growing methods, a new study says.


Organic farmers use more land to produce a smaller amount of crops than conventional farmers, but proponents say their approach means healthier, more environmentally friendly foods.


Canada's organic farmers, more than 3,000 strong, rely on such techniques as crop rotation, green manure, compost and biological pest control. They exclude or severely limit the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and animal hormones.


A single system of "either organic or conventional is much too simplistic," said study co-author Verena Seufert, a researcher in the geography department at McGill University in Montreal. "We should try to learn from those systems that perform well in terms of yield but also environmental performance and just adopt the systems in those places where they do well."


But critics say any environmental gains from organic farming are offset by increased land use, which means more natural areas turned into farmland.


Organic producer Burt Hodgins, who farms 600 acres near Kincardine, Ont., said his yields are lower than similarly sized conventional operations, but argues the benefits of organic farming outweigh that.


"Of course, if you use more acres, eventually you won't have enough acres," he said. "But if your chemical spray pollutes the drinking water, how is that related to whether you've used more acres or not? I don't see the difference whether you use 10 acres or eight acres to produce it."


The new study by Canadian and American researchers, published in the journal Nature on Wednesday, found organic yields are as much as 34 per cent lower for some crops and 25 per cent less overall.


But for some crops, such as fruit and oilseed, organic yields are almost equal.


Beth McMahon, who heads the Canadian Organic Growers association which represents organic farmers and sellers, said farmers are trying to find the best practices in both approaches.


"Oil-based fertilizers and conventional agriculture can be very expensive, for instance," she said. "When oil prices go up, fertilizer prices go up. A lot of farmers are looking to organic research to see what the alternatives are."


The findings contradict those of earlier studies, which showed most organic farming matched, or even exceeded, conventional yields.


But McMahon said the criticism of organic farming often misses the point.


"It's not just about land use," she said. "That's a very limited view of the benefits of organic agriculture."


McMahon said organic farming uses far less energy than conventional farming, because energy isn't wasted producing and using pesticides and fertilizers.


Hodgins grows soybeans and certain types of wheat that the study identified as being the worst performers for organic farming.


But Hodgins said demand in Ontario and the European Union means his specialized organic produce always has buyers.


But whatever the method, he said, it's difficult to tell in any given year how successful a crop will be.

"Organic or conventional, nature doesn't always work together with you."


Peter Henderson, Postmedia News, April 25, 2012


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UBCO Lands Major Grant to Reduce GHG Emissions, Improving Watering and Fertilization 


Researchers at UBCO have won a major grant from Agriculture Canada to suss out the best way to water and fertilize crops in order to maximize resources while minimizing greenhouse gas emissions.


The $1.2-million grant represents more than one-tenth of the research money UBCO draws annually, about $10 million, and should yield published results by 2015.


Coming from a $27-million pot of money tabbed to develop technology for reducing GHG emissions from farming, the research is a major part of Canada's contribution to the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases, an initiative with 30 signatory countries.


"The investigations undertaken by UBC scientists Melanie Jones, Louise Nelson and Craig Nichol will improve our understanding and help increase yields, while still reducing agriculture's environmental footprint in the Okanagan," said Miriam Grant, UBCO vice-provost and dean of research.


Figuring out how to optimize irrigation systems to waste as little water as possible, and finding the perfect amount of fertilizer needed for specific crops to reach full potential, will ultimately save farmers money and make better use of resources that are likely to be in short supply as the effects of climate change unfold.


Leaving water shortages aside, fertilizers are made from fossil fuels, which are finite resources that cannot be replaced at the rate they are being consumed, Nichol explained, so using nitrogen-based fertilizers sparingly is extremely important and has been the focus of significant research already.


The ground-breaking twist to the work these scientists will do lies in how farmers and orchardists can minimize the impact watering and fertilizing have on the environment through the myriad of factors included in plant GHG emissions.


Greenhouse gases are pegged as a major contributor to, if not the main cause, of global warming and plants let off the air pollutants just by growing.


Carbon, one of the main gases involved, is produced during photosynthesis, the process by which plants eat and grow; but it is also emitted when the root systems that store extra carbon, a process known as carbon sequestering, die off. Plants have both long-term root systems, which continually store carbon, and shorter-term root systems that die annually, emitting carbon. The researchers will look at ways fertilization and watering can be done to reduce carbon emissions from those secondary root systems, photosynthesis and whether GHG emissions are coming from the long-term or shorter-term root systems.


The second major GHG involved in farming is nitrous oxide, which causes a further chemical reaction to impact ozone. Nelson's work will look at the nitrous oxide given off by bacteria in the soil with an eye to the impact of various styles and amounts of watering and fertilizing.


Jones will work with colleagues in New Zealand to look at where the carbon emissions from the root systems are coming from and Nichol will look at the process overall.


Jennifer Smith, Kelowna Capital News, April 20, 2012


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Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food


At their meeting on April 23, the Committee agreed that a summary of the evidence and documentation it received related to the study of the biotechnology industry be included as an appendix in their report on Growing Forward 2. Discussions on the draft report continued during their meeting on April 25. 


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Coming Events


International Fascination of Plants Day, May 18, 2012


Canadian Society of Soil Science and Association Québécoise de Spécialistes en Sciences du Sol Joint Conference, Lac Beauport, Quebec, June 3-7, 2012


3rd International Symposium on Beef Cattle Welfare, Saskatoon, June 5-7, 2012

Canadian Society for BioEngineering (CSBE-SCGAB) Annual Technical Conference, Orillia, Ontario, July 15-18, 2012  


Joint Annual Meeting of ADSA - AMPA - ASAS - Canadian Society of Animal Science - WSASAS, Phoenix, Arizona, July 15-19, 2012


Joint Annual Meeting of AIC, the Canadian Society of Agronomy, Certified Crop Advisors and Canadian Society for Horticultural Science, Saskatoon, July 16-19, 2012

5th World Congress of Agronomists and Agrologists, Quebec City, September 17-21, 2012 


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Frances Rodenburg, Editor