Why is Everyone Interested in Wheat Breeding?

September 26, 2009

As I have noted before on this site, this summer has been very interesting in terms of the changing landscape in wheat research and breeding. Monsanto, Bayer, and Syngenta are all engaged in the wheat breeding game. I have received, many emails from readers, asking the same question.

“What will this mean for my farm in the future?”

This is a great question. One can only speculate at this point but from a genetics standpoint it does really provide some interesting potential outcomes. Higher yields and lower environmental impacts are the most discussed by breeders and stakeholders. The other side of this discussion is the questions around saved seed and the possibilities of technology use agreements. In my mind if the product has benefits to the farmer, the farmer will pay for the technology. If there is no advantage then the farmer will not pay. This is simple economics and applicable in any market segment and not just agriculture. I think that it is silly for people to suggest that farmers are forced to buy hybrid seed. In my experience, farmers that have the right land and environmental conditions, demand hybrid seed. If you don’t have the proper land or conditions use choose other options.

The following video was produced by Monsanto but shows why wheat is such an important crop to farmers and seed companies.

The reality is that the future really is wide open for global wheat production. With large biotech companies now engaged the next ten years will prove to be interesting at the very least. On top of this is the huge contribution that conventional breeders will provide. Wheat is the global staple crop. There is a wheat harvest happening every month of the year somewhere in the world.

The following video with Jay Bradshaw, President of Syngenta Canada discusses why biotech wheat will have benefits and why the variety registration system is too slow to enable innovation. It was filmed in February 2009.

Please let me know what you think about the future of wheat. What kind of improvements would you like to see in wheat vareties?


Dave Zino – What is the NCBA Culinary Center

September 25, 2009

Dave Zino is the Executive Director of the NCBA Beef Culinary Center in Chicago. I had a chance to meet Dave at the Elanco Beef Consultants Forum 2009 in Banff earlier this month. Dave is a truly fascinating guy who has a real passion for how beef is cooked and trying to educate the public on how it should be cooked to truly enjoy the beef eating experience. Dave is an asset to the beef industry and I encourage you to watch the video below to get a better idea of the value the NCBA Culinary Center creates for the industry.

I encourage you to check out BeefItsWhatForDinner.com to see some of the great work that Dave and his team do. For all of you Facebook lovers become a fan of the Beef Its Whats for Dinner Facebook Page as well.

RIP Norman Borlaug – A Great Man Discovers Greener Pastures

September 23, 2009

The following article was published on Farms.com and Truthabouttrade.org. It was written by Dean Kleckner, an Iowa farmer, who chairs Truth About Trade & Technology

Norman Borlaug once told me that he would trade away all of his life’s accomplishments just for the chance to play second base for the Chicago Cubs.Thank goodness he couldn’t hit home runs or field ground balls as well as Ryne Sandberg! Billions of people are better off for it.
Borlaug, who died Saturday at the age of 95, was one of the great men of our time. Perhaps you’ve read a few of the obituaries. He was called “the father of the Green Revolution.” He won the Nobel Peace Prize. His pioneering work on high-yield crop varieties changed the way the world feeds itself.
There were a lot of differences between me and Norm, starting with baseball: I’m a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals, the arch-rivals of the Cubs. Yet I’ve always felt a slight kinship with him because both of us grew up on farms in northeast Iowa, about 30 miles away from each other.
One day, he returned home, as he often did. This time, however, he was a celebrity because he had accepted his Nobel Prize just ten days earlier. At a church in Cresco, he talked about what he had learned: “In Iowa, we live in a privileged world,” he said. “We take the prayer, ‘give us our daily bread’ as automatic and always so. But it isn’t for half of the people of the world, who go hungry several times a week.”

Norman Borlaug Discusses Biotech Benefits
by biotechconversations

I wish I could say that I was in attendance at that particular gathering in 1970. (My knowledge of this event comes from an account in the Des Moines Register.) I didn’t have the benefit of meeting Norm until a number of years later. Since then, I’ve listened to him speak many times. His energy and intelligence always struck me. He was active into his nineties, supporting advances such as genetically modified plants.
Norm’s most impressive quality was his profound humility. He felt embarrassed to be called “the father of the Green Revolution” because he knew that so many people had contributed to its success.
Yet he truly deserved the honor. “Through his work in the laboratory and in the wheat fields,” said the chairman of the Nobel committee, Borlaug “has helped to create a new food situation in the world and … has turned pessimism into optimism in the dramatic race between population explosion and our production of food.”
Consider just one example of Norm’s impact: In the 1960s, Indian farmers were able to adopt the tools of the Green Revolution and increase their wheat production in just four years by an order greater than had been achieved in the previous four millennia.
I once experienced a role reversal with Norm. I was giving a talk and he was in the audience. I knew he was out there. It made me a little uncomfortable. This was no time to mess up.
I made one of my standard points: Without advances in technology, farmers wouldn’t be able to feed all of the people in the world. Afterward, Norm approached me and said that I was wrong.
Uh oh. Who was I to disagree with him? The surest way to lose an argument is to start one with Norman Borlaug.
Norm, however, reinforced my point by making it in a more powerful way. “We’ll always feed the people who are here,” he said. “The question is, which ones won’t be here?”
Thanks to the ingenuity of Norm and many others, a billion extra people are probably alive today. Maybe two billion.
None of this was inevitable. About forty years ago, lots of people, including distinguished scientists, worried about the “population bomb.” They believed that a growing global population would outpace the availability of natural resources, leading to widespread famine and death.
This may be Norm’s greatest legacy: Before catastrophe struck, he defused the “population bomb.”
A lot of American kids dream of playing in the big leagues. Only a lucky few earn the opportunity. Even fewer, however, accomplish as much as this Iowa farm boy.
The Cubs will always have a second baseman. We’ll never have another Norman Borlaug.

American Dairymen Have the Blues

September 17, 2009

The US dairy industry is really struggling to survive. Milk prices are depreciated which is causing significant financial hardship. In Canada, this seems to a bit of a foreign concept considering that Canadian dairies are supply managed. The current situation will definitely provide argument from the US to file to WTO and will entice Canadian dairyman to fight even harder to keep their sacred quota. It is no doubt that Canada’s quota system will be coming up on many occasions as the US negotiates any sort of agricultural trade. I think that it is going to become ever more difficult for the Canadian dairy industry to justify internationally the supply managed concept. In Canada, if I was a dairy farmer I would fight with every last breathe to hold on to the quota system so that I could avoid the situation the US is in.

Whether it is the economy, demand supply or other factors, the US dairy industry needs to stabilize because milk products are so integral to the foundation of human health. Please support your local dairy and drink milk eat cheese.

On a humorous note, here is a video by Will Gilmer of Alabama, who tells us why his dairy has the blues during this hard financial time for the industry.

Beef Market Update – Anne Dunford – 09-16-2009

September 17, 2009

Anne breaks down the Alberta – Saskatchewan Cattle on Feed Report and how the bearish feed market may be offset by the volatile Canadian Dollar. I also ask whether or not there are cattle to be placed in feedlots at lockable profits. Anne also discusses the impact that the US dairy situation has had on cow kill numbers in the US.

What is Left in the Soil After the 2009 Season

September 15, 2009

By Garth Donald, CCA, Western Canadian Manager of Agronomy, DynagraVRT

With this being a very trying year with a lot of challenges along the way, a large question emerges. What is left in my soil for nutrients? This is a very good question because some areas were very dry and produced below average yields. Others were very wet and produced an above average yield. But definitely the worst cases are the hailed fields. The reason the hailed fields are so tough to figure out is because the crops were at 70 to 75% moisture in the kernel or early dough stage. This means that a good portion of our fertilizer that was placed in the ground at seeding time was already used. Then we started to see some intense regrowth from the hailed crop which started to pull large amounts of nutrient again. So one of the best tools you can you to determine what is left in the soil is a soil test.

There are a few things you need to make sure when you are ordering your soil test. The first thing you need to make sure is that your agronomist is GPS referencing your soil points. With the lack of GPS referencing this is the biggest factor why in western Canada only 30% of our agricultural land gets soil tested and the growers feel this step is a waste of time. With GPS points you take away the large peaks and valleys that you will see on your tests and will see a consistency with your nutrients. Without referencing your points you are basically wasting your time and money doing any soil testing.

Second, do a complete analysis in your topsoil depths. You are trying to make a decision based on the information you have in front of you. The more information the better and easier your decision will become. There are a lot of relationships in your soil test results. For example, phosphate-calcium, potassium-magnesium and sodium-sulphur. With a basic N-P-K-S test it is like wearing a blindfold and having two pin holes to look out. Yes you may be able to see out but you can’t see the whole picture of what is around you and things are not very clear. If your agronomist is only doing an N-P-K-S test then ask him why he doesn’t want to give you a complete picture to look at.

The third thing would be to do at least a double depth test. A single depth test of a 0-12” will give you your nitrogen and sulphur levels but will not give you a clear indication of your phosphorus, potassium and micro nutrients. At a minimum look at doing a 0-6” complete analysis then a 6-12” sub soil test for your nitrogen and sulphur. I find a 0-6” complete and a 6-24” sub soil give a very good window of what is happening in your field.

Lastly, your nutrient recommendation should be made by your agronomist. That is their job not the labs. The labs recommendation is a computer generated recommendation based on averages. Your agronomist should be able to make sound agronomic recommendations based on your yield goals and knowledge of the soil.

Don’t be afraid to ask your agronomist questions about their soil testing protocol and if you don’t like the answer you are given don’t be afraid to look elsewhere for those answers. It is a big decision going into the next growing season so line yourself with people who can help you with those decisions.

Those are my thoughts,

Norman Bourlag, the Father of the Green Revolution Passes On

September 14, 2009

Norman Borlaug Discusses Biotech Benefits
by biotechconversations

New Cattle Price Insurance Program Offers Alberta Producers Much-Needed Protection

September 10, 2009

The following is the official press release from AFSC on the Cattle Price Insurance Program CPIP. This truly is a revolutionary program that will allow Albertan cattle feeders to hedge some risk. I have not fully investigated the nuts and bolts of the program but I think on the surface it is a great step in the right direction.

Alberta-Only Program Launched

As Alberta beef producers prepare to move cattle off pasture and onto feed for the winter, many in the industry are glad to see the launch of Alberta’s long-awaited Cattle Price Insurance Program (CPIP) for fed cattle – saying it provides much-needed price protection that could offer welcome relief amid rising feed costs, weak cattle prices and a strong Canadian dollar.

“CPIP gives us a tool we can use today to put a bottom price on our cattle and manage our risk going forward,” says beef industry specialist Anne Dunford, who works with producers across Alberta to market their finished cattle. Dunford is general manager of Gateway Livestock Exchange in Taber, and was the senior cattle market analyst at Canfax for more than two decades.

‘Huge Volatility and Risks’

“Anytime we have a new tool to help manage price risk, it’s a good thing, especially in today’s environment of huge volatility and more risks than I think our industry has ever had to deal with over the last several years,” says Dunford. In the last few years, she says Alberta fed cattle prices have been severely impacted by factors like the global financial collapse, an oversupply of beef and pork that resulted from the H1N1 outbreak, mandatory Country of Origin Labelling (COOL), and extreme exchange rate volatility “which is taking the limelight today.”

Dunford says CPIP fills an important gap in the risk management tools available to producers because it’s made-in-Alberta risk management that gives them a minimum Alberta price for their fed cattle – protecting them from basis risk, which is the difference between U.S. and Canadian cattle prices.

Basis Risk Protection

“Most risk management tools are based on U.S. futures markets and directly reflect American cattle prices. So when there’s a border or trade issue that sends Canadian cattle prices tumbling sharply below American prices – like we saw with BSE and COOL – these U.S. futures market instruments leave Alberta producers exposed to severe losses caused by basis risk,” explains Jennifer Wood, CPIP Coordinator with Agriculture Financial Services Corporation (AFSC), the provincial Crown Corporation administering CPIP.

“Anyone who feeds cattle in Canada understands how extreme and unpredictable basis risk can be,” says Dunford, adding American producers don’t face the same kind of basis risk that Canadians do. “CPIP helps give us a leg back up to equality.”

“By insuring an Alberta price for their fed cattle, CPIP protects Alberta beef producers from basis risk. That’s why the program was created,” says Wood. CPIP began taking shape five years ago – not long after BSE closed the border to Canadian cattle – when Alberta Beef Producers sponsored initial research exploring the idea. Since then, Alberta Feeder Associations, Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development, and AFSC have joined in the development of the program. While the first CPIP products target finished cattle, work is underway on a yearling product that will extend coverage to feeder cattle “hopefully next year,” says Wood.

Alberta Minimum Price for Fed Cattle

CPIP offers Alberta cattle feeders two products: Basis-only Insurance to protect against a widening basis; and full Price Insurance, which covers all three components of price risk – the futures price risk, currency exchange risk, and basis. “It gives Alberta cattle producers a minimum price for fed cattle, so they know in advance the minimum they’ll receive once those animals reach market weight,” explains Wood.

Lyle Miller, part owner and manager of Highway 21 Feeders, a 20,000-head custom feedlot near Acme, says the Basis-only product appeals to him. “We use a lot of futures and options which leaves our basis open. Until now, the only way to cover basis was to contract with a packer. And at times what packers want to pay can be less than what people think their cattle are worth. That’s where CPIP could offer us some value.”

But many cattle producers aren’t comfortable using futures markets, says Miller. “So the full meal deal Price Insurance will be more attractive for them because it covers all of their price risk with one simple tool. It’s an alternative to contracting with a packer or just staying in the cash market and crossing their fingers and praying. And with CPIP, they won’t take huge losses from the big price swings we’ve been seeing.”

“Producers tell us they’d rather use insurance to manage risk than deal with the uncertainty of futures markets, which require a fair bit of expertise and can be almost a full-time job,” says Wood. “With CPIP, they just pick a coverage level, policy length, and pay a premium up front to insure a price for their cattle. It’s similar to a put option on the futures market, but it’s sold as insurance. There are no bid-ask spreads, margin calls, or minimum number of pounds to insure. Even the smallest cattle finishing operation can participate.”

Secure Online Program Delivery

CPIP premiums and coverage levels are calculated and sold each Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday afternoon, says Wood. “They’re tied to what’s happening in the futures markets, so they change daily. That’s why CPIP is being delivered entirely online – so producers can monitor premiums from their own computers, and react quickly when they want to purchase coverage or file a claim. Considerable time and effort has gone into building a fully secure and user-friendly system.”
The following if the press release from AFSC on the official release of the Cattle Price Insurance Program CPIP. This truly is a revolutionary facility to

Producer-Funded Premiums

CPIP premiums are completely producer-funded and based on a forecast of where Alberta fed cattle prices will be when the policy expires, says Wood. Those Alberta forward prices reflect Chicago Mercantile Exchange live cattle futures prices, Canada-U.S. exchange rates, and a forecast of the Canada-U.S. basis. She says coverage levels range from 75 to 95 per cent of the Alberta forward price. Producers can choose policies from 12 to 36 weeks long. “The policy length should match the time it will take their cattle to reach market weight,” says Wood.

Claims can only be made during the last four weeks of the policy, but producers aren’t required to sell their cattle to make a claim – giving them flexibility if the animals haven’t gained at the expected rate, adds Wood. Policies are settled using a weekly Alberta average fed cattle price index based on steer and heifer sales each week. “If the settlement index is lower than the insured price, a claim cheque will be mailed out when the policy expires. Or if the spread between the Nebraska cash price and the Alberta average fed cattle price is wider than their insured basis, they’ll be paid.”

Premium Rates Change Quickly

To get started, Wood says producers must visit their local AFSC office to obtain a username and password giving them secure online access. CPIP transactions can be conducted online, through an AFSC office or the AFSC Call Centre at 1-888-786-7475, she adds. “We’re advising producers to check premium rates and coverage levels frequently because sometimes they’ll look expensive, but a few weeks later, once the markets calm down, that can all change.”

Brent Heidecker, co-owner of Coro View Farms near Coronation, says he plans to log on to the CPIP website daily to watch premiums and coverage levels. Heidecker already uses futures and options to manage risk on his 5,000-head feedlot. He says some of the sample premiums he saw earlier this year while CPIP was still being developed were quite attractive. “CPIP will be a good tool to cover our basis risk and an effective way to protect us against some pretty catastrophic risk” such as trade disruptions or border closures, he says.

Ross Purdy, senior manager of agriculture and agri-business for the Bank of Montreal in Alberta, says his bank will also be keeping a close eye on CPIP. He says producers who use the program will probably find it easier to access credit when they need it most. “As we all know, prices in agriculture are subject to rapid changes and fluctuations. So if we have two producers – one that has price insurance, and the other not – we will probably have a higher comfort level lending money to the one with insurance,” says Purdy.

More information on CPIP is available at http://www.afsc.ca/.

BioFuel Beat – Local Application for Leading European Biogas Technology

September 8, 2009

By Erik Vandist, Renewable Energy Division Manager, Trimark Engineering

Europe is a world leader in the development of advanced renewable energy technologies. In the early summer of 2009, a delegation from Lethbridge, Alberta-based Trimark Engineering toured a biogas facility near Venice, Italy. The purpose of the visit was to investigate an advanced biogas technology suitable for applications in Canada. The process was developed by Austrian based ‘enbasys’, a company specialized in biotech energy. Markus Grasmug, Chief Technology Officer of ‘enbasys’ led the facility tour.

The facility operates on the principles of composting and anaerobic digestion. Anaerobic digestion is a biochemical process where, in the absence of oxygen, bacteria decompose organic matter to produce biogas. The organic matter used as feedstock for the Venice facility consists of municipal solid waste and residues from food industries. The biogas is used as a fuel source for generators that feed power onto the utility grid. By-products of the process consist of compost and water.

The facility is jointly owned by a private investor and the local municipality. It is located in a rural area, adjoining two villages. The operation receives organic waste by truck from a 150 km radius containing a population of 2.5 million. Approximately 400,000 tonne of waste is processed annually. Given the proximity of the facility to the nearby villages, odour control is critical. Buildings handling organic waste are tightly sealed. Ventilation air is exhausted through bio-filters. The bio-filters consist of wood and bark collected from the retention filters at the entrance of hydro power stations. The bio-filters were effective. In spite of the hot weather, during the visit no waste odours were detected outside of the processing facilities.

On arrival, the trucks are weighed and directed into the receiving area of the waste processing building. The waste material is unloaded onto the floor. Front-end loaders are used to rough sort industrial and municipal organic materials and to load the conveyor feeding the processing equipment. Processing consists of screening and grinding which separates foreign materials and then shreds and screens the waste to the appropriate size for stable digestion performance. A substrate, which is a mix of prepared waste, is then pumped to the two digesters, each holding 2,900 m³

The methane gas produced in the digesters is fed to three cogeneration units. The cogeneration units feed 4.0 to 4.5 megawatts of electricity to the utility grid. Waste heat from the cogeneration units is recovered and directed by a common pipeline to the hospital, school and a number of homes in the neighbouring villages.

Mr. Grasmug indicated that the ‘enbasys’ technology is the culmination of over 10 years of research and development. This technology provides an efficient, compact, reliable, low maintenance process at a low operating cost compared to conventional technologies. The technology is capable of efficiently handling both varying volume streams and complex substrates with high chemical oxygen demand.

The digesters at the Venice facility have operated continuously since the initial commissioning in 2005. The unique design of the digesters provides low retention times and no foaming issues. The digesters operate without the need for microbiological substrate additives, enzyme additives or pH adjustments. These characteristics enable the use of smaller, less costly vessels than other systems.

The residue from the digesters is transferred to a centrifuge to separate the solid and liquid phases. The solids are composted for use as fertilizer. The liquid is treated in a membrane bioreactor to purify the water to potable quality. This water is recycled for process requirements including maintaining the bio-filter moisture level. Yearly, 140,000 tonnes of fertilizer and 80 million litres of clean water are produced from waste. Only 15% of the total input is land-filled.

According to Grasmug, the capacity of the ‘enbasys’ system is easily sized for adaption to local availability and type of feedstocks. The design is scalable to installations as small as 10 kW. The effectiveness of the system for specific applications can be verified using the company’s portable demonstration plant.

Beyond municipal waste applications, the technology is well suited to integration with processing operations. These include food and sugar beet processors, breweries, potato growers and other agriculture-based industries. A favourable business case may be made for system capacities of less than 500 kW.

The ‘enbasys’ technology also provides the opportunity to address the disposal and pollution concerns associated with animal waste. Manure from livestock operations can be converted into useful energy and sterile fertilizer. The ‘enbasys’ technology will efficiently process cattle manure, which is normally a barrier to conventional technologies due to the high content of straw and sand.

There are ample opportunities to apply biogas technologies to address both waste and energy challenges in Canada. Although North American developed technologies are emerging, the learning curve is steep. The Venice facility tour confirmed specific advantages of European biogas technology for applications in Canada. These advantages include adaptability of size for decentralized applications and low operating costs. As the next step to verify effectiveness and economics,

Trimark Engineering will coordinate trials of the “enbasys” technology in Canada. Federal and provincial government grant programs provide financial incentives for investment in alternate energy initiatives including biogas. These incentives will support the increased use of biogas technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address other environmental concerns.

About the author: Erik Vandist is the Manager of Biofuels and Renewable Energy at Trimark Engineering. Based in Lethbridge, Alberta, Trimark Engineering specializes in process design for the industrial agricultural, food processing and renewable energy sectors. Currently the company is involved in a number of renewable energy projects including integrated biodiesel facilities. For further information regarding biogas technology, please contact Erik at erik@trimarkeng.com or (866) 328-2910.

Is Winter Wheat a Silage Option?

September 8, 2009

Ross McKenzie discusses if winter wheat is a good silage option. More and more farmers are curious if winter wheat will be good for silage. From a time management stand point, Ross thinks definitely.