Archive for February, 2009

NFU Loses Credibility With Canadian Cattlemen

February 24, 2009

I have no problem debating with the NFU over whether or not the Competition Bureau should approve the sale of Lakeside to XL. I definitely have my opinions on it and so does the NFU but boy have they wore out their welcome by spending collaborative time with R-Calf. From the moment that the story broke last week the fire is burning under their feet as farmers and the media want answers as to why they would even be talking to the Canadian cattleman’s number one enemy. As a result ever since Kevin Hursh of Hursh Communications wrote about the meeting the NFU has been trying the separate itself from R-Calf.

The NFU, they said Thursday, “it is not working with the U.S. cattle organization R-CALF, we have no plans to do so in the future, and we have no agreements to collaborate with R-CALF on any initiative.”

The CCA released a statement yesterday saying “the two groups deserve each other.”

My personal opinion is that finally the NFU has done something to show just how radical and ridiculous it is willing to be to accomplish its goals. I think that it is fine to debate over issues like the Canadian Wheat Board, GMO vs non-GMO and whether or not there should be captive cattle but this latest stunt has a lot of people wondering where the NFU’s interests really lie. R-Calf’s mission has been to close the US border to Canadian beef and has willingly drug the Canadian beef product through the mud for a decade. You cannot attend a meeting with the most radical agricultural group in North America (R-Calf) and then afterwards say you have nothing in common. The funny part is that two NFU Board members were quoted at the conference basically celebrating the collaborative efforts of the two groups and about how much they have in common.

If the NFU had any hope of getting the Canadian cattle sector on board with its challenge to the Lakeside sale it has been evaporated whether they were going to work more closely with R-Calf or not. It appears that for once in the NFU’s history they are having a hard time spinning the story and have weakened their position with Canadian farmers and cattleman forever.

Fertilizer Still the Top Topic For Farmers

February 24, 2009

Fertilizer prices have been on the minds of farmers all winter and that trend still continues into the spring. Almost every single day on the fertilizer label or a fertilizer story is the most viewed page. I checked out Google Trends and the data on the search for the word fertilizer. You can type any word into Google Trends and it will provide you with search data back. When you look up fertilizer search over the last 12 months, Canada ranks 7th in the world behind countries like Pakistan and India to name a few. The top five cities in Canada for search of “fertilizer” in the last 12 months are Winnipeg, Calgary, Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal.

The fertilizer buzz has died slightly but it still seems to be forging ahead as we get closer to spring. In one week Ag Expo in Lethbridge, Alberta begins and it will be interesting to get a better sense of where farmers and dealers think the price is headed in the short and medium term.

Part 2: Jay Bradshaw – Syngenta – How the Farm Customer Base is Changing and the Commodity Price Outlook

February 20, 2009

This is part two of my interview with Jay Bradshaw from Syngenta Canada. In this interview Jay discusses Syngenta’s strategy in Canada and how the decreasing amount of farmers is changing Canadian agriculture. Jay also talks about commodity prices over the last two years and what he thinks farmers can expect in the future.

My Chile Trip: A Closer Look at Chile Irrigation Systems

February 20, 2009

After visiting different fields across Chile, I really came to appreciate the differences in irrigation methods.  On the larger fields, pivots are becoming more common but there is still many stationary guns and even flood irrigation.  Most irrigation water is transported by dirt ditch while cement ditch infrastructure is underway.  Chilean farmers are able to grow very good crops with quite primitive irrigation methods.    

Vilsack and Obama Continue Protectionist Plan

February 19, 2009

Today, President Obama visits Canada and sits down with Prime Minister Harper. Currently, the Democrats are using the poor economy as an excuse to push their protectionist agenda forward. Canada and Mexico need to be very aware of what is transpiring and how it will affect agriculture in the future. Please do not think that the steel and iron “Buy American” clause incident two weeks ago will be an isolated incident. Did you see 60 minutes last week? Check out this link to the video and listen to the protectionist rhetoric by the CEO of Nucor.

We need our political leaders to in the US and Canada to work together during this hard economic time. Based on the fact that Canada and the US share the longest open border in the world, there is large amounts of trade between the two countries. As stated on the CBC National last night, there is a lot of trade that is actual business to business collaboration which benefits both economies. After the Vilsack announcement yesterday, the protectionist objectives of the new US administration is very clear and becoming more of a main stream concern. It drives me crazy to watch the TV and see people in Canada cheering Obama as he drives the streets of Ottawa like it is a rock concert. President Obama in his short term in office is appearing to be a real threat to our ability to trade with our largest trading partner, the United States. Canadian agriculture requires trade with the United States to thrive and we desperately need the US to reconsider its protectionist agenda so that both countries can prosper in the long term.

Other links:
See what Harry Siemens said about Vilsacks comments

My Chile Trip: A Chilean Silage Pit

February 16, 2009
While looking at fields on a country back road we spotted a silage pit.  Immediately I was interested because of the look of the pit.  It was made very low to the ground due to small equipment owned by the farmer.  The other key characteristic was that the pit was covered in dirt and plastic and not tires.  The dirt was quite loose on the top of the pit and was not packed itself.  To feed his dairy animals, the farmer would pull up to the pit with his small wagon and tractor and pitch the silage into the wagon by hand.  Yes I said by hand.   
Here is a picture of the dairy that owned the silage pit.    

My Chile Trip: Tree Farms Cover the Landscape

February 16, 2009

Very early into my trip I quickly noticed the forests lining the Route Cinco (main highway) were tree farms.  Hectares and hectares of tree farms populate the landscape of Chile.  Forestry is a major industry in Chile and tree farms are a big part of it.  We don’t necessarily think of tree farming as agricultural but on the Chilean landscape it seems much more integrated.  Both of the above pictures were taken from canola fields which shows that grain farming and forestry must coexist side by side.  This is something we are not very used to in Canada.   You can see in the below video that the trees are uniform and easy to spot in comparison to natural forrest.  Chile is known for its rainforest species that are not found anywhere else in the world.    

My Chile Trip: Winter Canola and Salmon Industry Have Trouble

February 11, 2009

Like many industries based on plant science and biology, there is alot of risk. This is definitely the case with the collapse of the Chilean salmon and winter canola industry. Due to lack of proper environmental practices and controls the salmon farms have been infected with a virus which is killing the salmon population. Consequently this has also significantly affected the winter canola business because its used in salmon feed rations. Compounding this issue is that there is no on farm storage in Chile. There are 40,000 acres of winter canola in chile which provides a nice rotation for wheat farmers.

According to a recent story by, “Salmon is not a native species in Chile, but was introduced for farming in the 1980s. Today it is the second most important Chilean export, after copper…The United States and Japan are the world’s leaders in the harvest of wild salmon, while Norway and Chile are close competitors for the top spot in raising farmed salmon, responsible for 38.7 and 37.9 percent, respectively, of global production.”

The virus is called infectious salmon anemia or ISA, and is threatening the waters of chile.
In a March 2008 story in the New York Times “All these problems are related to an underlying lack of sanitary controls,” said Dr. Felipe C. Cabello, a professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at New York Medical College in Valhalla that has studied Chile’s fishing industry. “Parasitic infections, viral infections, fungal infections are all disseminated when the fish are stressed and the centers are too close together.”

For Chilean farmers that grow winter canola it has been a tough year because the salmon industry is struggling and many acres of winter canola have been grown without a contract and they have no on farm storage. I met with one Chilean farmer who told me that it is a very tough time for winter canola growers with the commodity crash and the lack of canola buyers.

The salmon industry is working hard to rebuild itself but not without challenges as output is expected to drop 30 percent in 2009. Fish are still dying while the industry tries to increase the environmental and feeding practices of the industry. Some critics say that not enough is being done while others just want the salmon industry to stabilize so that the winter canola business has an end use market for farmers.

My Trip to Chile

February 5, 2009

I will be in Chile until February 14th. I am going to try and post to the blog as much as I can while I am here but I will probably be able to add the majority of the content after I get back.

So far on my trip I have toured several canola fields and spent time in the back country this afternoon. I am staying in Temuco with a friend and it has really allowed to see the real Chile and stay away from the touristy destinations. Chilean agriculture is very interesting from the sense that there is many different things happening here. In the north around Santiago there is corn seed production and in the south there is a growing canola seed production industry. Chile also has dairies, sheep and cattle.

The main crop seems to be wheat (spring and winter) along with oats and forages. The country is currently harvesting and the yields are lower than past years. While here, I will be visiting different processing plants, field sites and a couple feedlots.
I look forward to sharing some of my trip with you over the coming weeks.

Part 1 – Jay Bradshaw – Syngenta Canada – Optimism in Canadian Agriculture and Who is the Canadian Farmer

February 3, 2009

Today I had a chance to talk to Jay Bradshaw, President of Syngenta Canada in his office in Guelph, Ontario. This is part 1 of several clips that I will be posting from my interview with Jay. In this clip, I asked Jay if there was reason for Canadian farmers to be optimistic in 2009 based on what is in the news regarding the economy and the volatility of 2008. We also discussed the characteristics of the Canadian farmer and what advantages that provides Canadian agriculture in general.

Jay has been in the leadership position at Syngenta Canada for 7 years and has increased the Canadian business significantly over that period of time. The full interview will be posted in two weeks when I return from Chile.