A day of passion for agriculture! Cont.

March 25, 2010

In the midst of all the excitement of Pizza Perfect I managed to interview Ashraf Tubeileh, a professor from Kemptville College, for a research story I will be writing on his research into biomass production on marginal lands.

After all this, I made it back to campus for a talk by Troy Bishopp a grazing expert from New York state. He spoke with passion about his career and life in agriculture and provided a refreshing view of the agricultural world. He asked us all what we were passionate about and encouraged us to use everything within our grasp to move towards that goal.

All in all, today was a day full of agricultural passion,  farmers with a passion to teach children about farming and food, a researchers with a passion for a more sustainable fuel and a truly passionate speaker.


“American agriculture is responsible for feeding the world.”

March 17, 2010

There is a major debate going on right now in the US over the competitive nature of the seed industry and its impacts on food and family farms.

There is one quote that both sides seem to be using over and over, “American agriculture is responsible for feeding the world.” it was taken from a letter written by two republican senators to the secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack in an effort to get business interests key positions in the debate.

The question I haven’t seen asked is since when? and according to who?

Since when, is the United States of America responsible for producing food for the entire world. And if they are who is holding them responsible?

In case your Wondering: The two senators were Senator Saxby Chambliss and Senator Pat Roberts. In 2008 Chamblais and Roberts received $257,300 and $44,837 respectively in campaign contributions from crop production and basic processing. 

American agriculture is responsible for feeding America

March 17, 2010

Is it not the world that is responsible to provide food to the world. Why is it even a question that America has to feed the world, should it not work first at feeding its own citizens.

The food stamp program, in 2000, served 17.2 million people each month, half of which were children.

On top of all those hungry their are 76 million cases of food borne illness in the states every year, and I know not all those are agriculturally related but it is clearly a symptom of a broken food system.

On top of all those hungry and sick because of food their are many more dieing due to their diet.  As of 2008, In 32 states more then 25% of the population was obese.  The list of diet linked diseases go on and on from heart disease to diabetes and many others are at least partially related to the American diet.

I know that these aren’t all the result of the agricultural system, but agriculture is the start of the food chain, so maybe american agriculture should focus on being responsible for feeding Americans first before trying to feed the whole world.

Seeds, frozen for the future.

March 15, 2010

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is slowly being filled by agricultural and ecological scientists and seed collectors from around the world.  This month the USDA and the ARS have sent their third shipment of seeds to the vault to be stored for future use.

This shipment of 10,522  samples included a variety of major food crops including both cultivated and wild soybeans, semi dwarf wheat and rice. It also included a rare wild strawberry plant.

The seed vault currently houses around 500,000 seeds from around the world which is around 10% of its total capacity.  The ARS itself has 511,000 seeds, the majority of which will eventually be held at the facility in norway. This gene-bank is one of around 1400 around the world that are working to preserve the genetic of wild, rare and agriculturally important species.

The vault has come about its funding and support from a diverse group of backers from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, Monsanto Corporation, Syngenta Foundation and the Government of Norway.

A story of a fish and extensive agriculture!

March 10, 2010

Chef Dan Barber giving a talk at the TED conference in February, about his search for a sustainable fish to put on his menu.

His comparison of two fish farms and their incredible differences brings up a lot of topics that would be interesting to debate, from wanting food that actually tastes good, wanting to be environmentally responsible, feeding the world, the agribusiness paradigm, elitism and many more.

“Want to feed the world, lets start by asking how are we going to feed ourselves, or better, how can we create conditions that will enable every community to feed itself.”

Barber asks questions that dig to the core of our agricultural ideas and systems, and he’s a chef. We need to be finding answers and we need to be looking at our own system and related industries to put ourselves into perspective.

Is this what you mean?

March 7, 2010

There is a lot a interest and conversation within the agricultural community about farmers talking to customers. There are commonly calls for farmers to step up and educate the public about food and issues that face farmers. That’s one of the primary reasons I’m writing this blog, and has been discussed in some of my past entries.   So my ears perk up anytime I hear about local farmers in the local media or participating in public events such as fairs, parades and open houses. So yesterday when my mom told me that my Uncle had written a letter to the editor in the local paper I instantly tried to find it online, with no luck, so I got her to send it to me.

Food crisis not a simple issue
To the editor
Re: Food Crisis here before Bio-fuels
In the Feb. 11 article “State of Their Union”, Mike O’Leary refers to the US Government’s support of bio-fuels – “Even though they have caused a food crisis world-wide.” Like many others, I had the initial reaction of how foolish, if not immoral it is, to divert food from starving people, in order to fuel our North American automobiles.

If only it were so simple!

I believe that the World Food Crisis, O’Leary is referring to is the dramatic (but also short lived) run-up in com, soybean and wheat futures, which occurred, in early 2008. The phenomenal increase in commodity prices had farmers dreaming of riches, but in fact had very little to do with what farmers received or what end users were willing to pay for crops. At that time the number of futures contracts held by investors outside of Agriculture skyrocketed. Enormous sums of money now betrayed by hi-tech stocks and then fearful of the housing market, moved to buy commodity contracts such as gold, oil, corn, wheat and soybean. At the same time world wheat reserves reached I record lows due to drought in Australia and a crop failure in much of central Europe. While the nightly newscast reported the dramatic increase in the cost of wheat, the simplistic view emerged that ethanol made from grain must be the villain. In fact, in North America our ethanol plants are fuelled primarily by com, not food grade wheat.

In my view the real crisis is the disparity of income throughout the world, not a lack of grains. We Canadian taxpayers recognize the need to provide aid when needed, be it a refuge camp in Ethiopia or to an unemployed family in our own community. In doing so, let us recognize that the root of the problem is the lack of the ability to earn an adequate income, rather than imagining a world food shortage because we are using crops to make
fuels. I don’t pretend to know how to solve starvation in much of our world. We, as North American farmers would like to be part of the solution. However, we cannot continue to produce surplus commodities, be it corn, wheat, beef or pork, only to dump it onto a world market, with returns less that our costs of production. While crop shortages may make news they are short lived, while grain surpluses last for years. Our productive capacity in North and South America and most of Europe is enormous. The wheat shortage of 18months ago is gone. At present the North American  year-ending stocks for wheat is projected to be a whopping 40 per cent of annual usage. Today, Ontario produces three time the amount of soft wheats, which we can use. The rest has to find a market somewhere else in the world (ie. Egypt) where we must match the lowest price in the world.

In other industries if there is a surplus, industry reacts by closing factories and reducing supply. In Agriculture when we, as individual farmers, see a decline in prices we react by saying, “Well in order to pay our bills we must produce more.” Rather than asking Government (taxpayers) to subsidize Agricultural exports, only to compete against the primary producers in impoverished nations, we are actively seeking new industrial markets for our products. The soy house now being completed here in Acton is an example of the innovative work being done. We are manufacturing superior, environmentally friendly products made from agricultural crops. Only through such innovation and diversification can North American farmers continue to be economically viable. The truth is, producing food alone does not pay very well! The use of agricultural land to produce non-food crops in not new. In the southern United States cotton has always been a major crop grown on nearly ten million acres. I’m told that prior to 1950over 15percent of all cropland was used to grow “fuel” for horses just to power farm implements.

We read so many articles, which find fault with whatever new energy source is proposed.  Let us recognize the positive impact of renewable, clean, and affordable. Made in Canada bio-fuels.

Keith Aitken

I think its a good example of what more farmers need to be doing, starting a conversation about farmers at the dinner table.

Farming from the throne.

March 4, 2010

Yesterday, in Ottawa the Governor General of Canada presented the throne speech for 2010. The speech came after the long prorogation instituted by the governing conservative party and included only a short section about agriculture.

“It will take steps to support a competitive livestock industry and pursue market access for agricultural products. Our Government will also ensure the freedom of choice for which Western barley farmers overwhelmingly voted, and it will continue to defend supply management of dairy and poultry products.”

The speech has been dismissed almost entirely by the three opposition leaders as being old news and not touching on major issues and when it comes to it’s agricultural content I would have to agree.

Do you see any vision towards the future of agriculture in this speech, or just more of the same old government policy?