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farmer working on laptop computer

A new scientific text, Convergence of Food Security, Energy Security and Sustainable Agriculture  is now available through Springer Science+Business Media. The book explores the concept of “convergence,” as the foundation of a stable global agricultural platform.

Edited by David Songstad, Ph.D., Director of Research/Cell Biology, Cibus; Jerry Hatfield, Ph.D., Laboratory Director and Supervisory Plant Physiologist, USDA; and Dwight Tomes, Ph.D., recently retired Senior Scientist at Pioneer Hi-Bred, the text also features the world’s leading researchers within each field.

“Clearly a balance is necessary regarding the definition of Sustainable Agriculture and, more so, regarding the interaction of Food Security, Energy Security, and Sustainable Agriculture. This was the impetus behind the creation of this book and its title Convergence of Food Security, Energy Security and Sustainable Agriculture.

It is the convergence where we need to be as a global community to serve the caloric needs of humanity.

It is the convergence where we need to be as a global community to grow the food that we need for life.

It is the convergence where we need to be as a global community to insure that our children and grandchildren have food to eat in the next generation and beyond,” said Dr. Songstad. “Convergence of Food Security, Energy Security and Sustainable Agriculture brings together the leading work in this field, from researchers around the world, and will be an important guide moving forward.”

From the use of farming chemicals to agricultural policy to cutting-edge genetics, Convergence of Food Security, Energy Security and Sustainable Agriculture seeks to address some of the world’s most pressing scientific and humanitarian issues.

By curating the work of leading experts in disparate fields, this text gives a complete and digestible picture of what obstacles lay ahead and what our current capabilities are in advancing food and energy sustainability.


For the full article click here.

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train engines at grain elevator

Alberta farm groups welcomed the federal government’s weekend decision to extend minimum grain hauling mandates, but cautioned more still needs to be done if producers are to have long-term confidence in Canada’s grain transportation system.

With just hours remaining before the expiration of a government order put in place last March, Transport Minister Lisa Raitt and Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz announced Saturday that minimum grain volume requirements will be extended until March 28, 2015. Under the new order, Canadian Pacific Railway and Canadian National Railway will be required to move specified amounts of grain — ranging from 200,000 metric tonnes per week to 465,000 metric tonnes per week — all winter long.

The volume targets are smaller than the 500,000 metric tonnes per week the railways were required to haul under the last government order, put in place after Canada’s railways struggled last year to transport a record-breaking crop in the midst of one of the harshest winters on record. This year’s harvest is smaller than 2013’s.

Farmers have alleged grain shipments are being rejected by the railways in favour of crude oil.

The new rules carry the threat of a $100,000 per week penalty for non-compliance, and the railways will also be required to submit detailed winter contingency plans to the government.

CN spokesperson Mark Hallman said in a statement that the regulations should have been lifted, since CN has been meeting demand since the new crop year began on Aug. 1 and continues to set a record-setting pace.

“More regulation threatens to increase costs, stifle innovation and potentially discourage investments that are critical to building the strong, safe and resilient supply chains of the future,” Hallman said in an e-mail.

Canadian Pacific also questioned the need for extended government intervention, issuing a statement saying it is working with all its commodity customers to improve efficiency and increase capacity.

“More than anything, it is market forces that have driven the record volumes of grain that CP has delivered this year and last,” the statement read.

But Lynn Jacobson, president of the Alberta Federation of Agriculture, said his organization had been pushing for the government to renew the regulations. He estimates last year’s transportation backlog cost Prairie farmers an estimated $7 billion to $8 billion, as crops that could have been sold at premium prices sat in bins and elevators instead.

He said there’s no reason to think a similar situation couldn’t happen again, especially in the event of another harsh winter.

“We’ve been pushing for this, because it’s about the only lever we can bring against the railways,” Jacobson said. “If they took all the penalties off and transportation went sideways again like it did last year, that wouldn’t look too good for the government.”

Jacobson cautioned the minimum volume regulations are only a short-term solution. The federal government is currently conducting a review of Canada’s Transportation Act, and many farm groups believe legislative changes are needed to ensure the rail system can meet the needs of the agricultural sector for decades to come.

“The railways have never been compelled to do anything they didn’t want to do. They’ve basically been allowed to do whatever they want,” he said. “And that’s good for them and their shareholders, but it sure doesn’t mean much for the rest of Western Canada.”

Many farm groups, including the Alberta Wheat Commission and the Grain Growers of Canada, have called for a mechanism that would allow for reciprocal penalties to be part of any service agreement signed between a railway and a grain company.

Jacobson said he also wants to see more transparency in the system, so that farmers know how many cars are available and what a railway’s capacity is in any given week.

In a statement announcing the government’s decision, Ritz called on all parties in the supply chain to work together to ensure the efficient movement of grain to markets this winter.

Read the full article here.

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combine harvesting wheat

One of the accepted truisms about agriculture in Western Canada is farms will continue to get bigger.
Prairie farmers began expanding almost as soon as they took up residence under the homesteading law of 1872, a trend that continues. The 2011 census of agriculture saw average farm sizes grow between 13 and 15 per cent in the three Prairie provinces during five years.
Averages don’t tell the whole story. There are viable farms that crop tens of thousands of acres, just as there are equally viable operations that still function quite nicely on several hundred. Studies show that while small farms often achieve a higher return per acre, they don’t generate enough to support the family, which is why more than half of family farms rely on off-farm income.
But both past and recent history suggest there is such a thing as too big. There were about 90 so-called Bonanza farms of between 3,000 and 100,000 acres on the northern Great Plains in the late 1800s.
Most failed within a generation. Hired management was able to leverage their scale for marketing and input purchases, but when things didn’t go according to plan — as is the norm in farming — they were unable to weather the downturns. One of their biggest weaknesses was finding labour — up to 1,000 men per farm plus the women to cook for them.
A few years ago, One Earth Farms, a subsidiary of Toronto-based Sprott Management Resource Corp., announced plans to crop up to a million acres in Western Canada. At one point, it reached 200,000. It’s now down to 5,000 acres and has quit crop production altogether to focus on producing organic beef.
Earlier this month, Broadacre Agriculture Inc., a modern-day mega-farm operating 65,000 acres of owned and leased land in Saskatchewan, entered creditor protection just four years into its business plan to become the “pre-eminent farm operator in Canada.”
According to the affidavit from its chief financial officer, its crops didn’t yield as well as expected, it fell behind on its payments and its investors and creditors lost faith. It also didn’t help that it had recently borrowed from private lenders at 20 per cent interest.
“The unfortunate reality is the company has never been profitable,” the affidavit states.
Here in Canada, where the cost of land, a lack of labour, outside capital and agronomic management have all emerged as constraints to sheer scale — the owner-operator model is the only one that has demonstrated it can thrive through multiple generations.
U.S. agricultural economist John Ikerd once characterized the big-little farm debate as having less to do with the actual acres on the farm, than the philosophy of the farmer farming it.
As Ikerd described it, a farmer who has five acres and dreams about owning 10 is a big farmer. A farmer with 1,000 acres who’d like to draw the same production and revenue from 600 is small.
It’s an important context as global attention increasingly turns to how best to increase production but not acreage.
Commodity markets are drowning right now under record world production of corn, wheat and soybeans, but global yield gains have been stagnating in recent times — a disturbing trend a team of U.S. researchers set out to quantify in 2013.
“During the 1980s and 1990s, nearly all of the increased food production was met on existing land by increasing yields,” said Ken Cassman, a University of Nebraska agronomist who worked on the study.
He noted an abrupt increase of 24 million acres of farmed land per year starting in 2000.
“This is the fastest rate of crop area expansion in human history. Some have called this an agricultural time bomb, because it is not sustainable,” Cassman said, noting an urgent need to increase yields through better management and implement policies that hold agriculture on existing area.
The answer to the big-little question remains elusive. But it seems farmers of all sizes are facing increasing pressure to grow bigger — without becoming bigger.

Full article here.

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young farmer in field

More than 60 young people took part in this year’s Ontario Young Farmers Forum.

The forum is an annual event held in conjunction with the Ontario Federation of Agriculture annual convention.

The Executive Director of Agricultural Programs for Junior Farmers of Ontario – Justin Williams – was among the attendees.

He says the delegates all appeared to have a positive outlook on the future of the industry.

Forum Administrator Amy Matheson says they also talked about the importance of telling the story about farming.

She points out that what farmers find ordinary in agriculture, non-farmers find extraordinary.

And she says while there are a lot of people talking about food, few are involved in agriculture.

The 2014 Ontario Young Farmers Forum was held this week in Niagara Falls.

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thanksgiving dinner on table

Agriculture Officials Encourage Shopping Local For Thanksgiving Meals

As Massachusetts residents plan their Thanksgiving Day menus, state agriculture officials are asking that they consider buying local.

Several communities are planning to hold holiday farmers’ markets over the weekend and leading up the holiday, featuring turkeys, cranberries, pumpkins and other Massachusetts-grown food products.
For example, America’s Hometown Thanksgiving Celebration Harvest Market will be held from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday at Pilgrim Memorial Park in Plymouth.

The Department of Agriculture also says Red Apple Farm is sponsoring its 12th annual Thanksgiving Harvest Festival in Philipston over the weekend.

More than 40 farmers markets continue operating through the winter in Massachusetts.

Read the full article here.

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In order to slow global climate change and achieve greater energy independence, Americans are showing an increasing interest in switching over to clean, renewable fuels made from home-grown crops. In fact, Congress has mandated that at least 16 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol be added to the U.S. fuel supply by 2022.
However, estimates suggest that growing crops to produce that much biofuel would require 40 to 50 million acres of land, an area roughly equivalent in size to the entire state of Nebraska.

“If we convert cropland that now produces food into fuel production, what will that do to our food supply?” asks Maggi Kelly, UC Cooperative Extension specialist and the director of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources Statewide IGIS Program. “If we begin growing fuel crops on land that isn’t currently in agriculture, will that come at the expense of wildlife habitat and open space, clean water and scenic views?”

Kelly and UC Berkeley graduate student Sarah Lewis are conducting research to better understand land-use options for growing biofuel feed stock. They used a literature search, in which the results of multiple projects conducted around the world are reviewed, aggregated and compared.

“When food vs. fuel land questions are raised in the literature, authors often suggest fuel crops be planted on ‘marginal land,’” Kelly said. “But what does that actually mean? Delving into the literature, we found there was no standard definition of ‘marginal land.’”

Kelly and Lewis’ literature review focused on projects that used geospatial technology to explicitly map marginal, abandoned or degraded lands specifically for the purpose of planting bioenergy crops. They narrowed their search to 21 papers from 2008 to 2013, and among them they found no common working definition of marginal land.

Read the full article here.

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Young Farmer

Modern farmers and tech startups bring their digital culture to bear on farming, creating online fruit and veg shops, apps and other tools for environmental sustainability.

Old meets new economy on fields. Young people who are involved in farming aim industry innovation and there are increasing numbers of digital farmers, online veg shops and tech startups that are making agriculture their business. In Italy that’s called agriculture 2.0. There is a lot of talk about it, in view of the food-themed Expo 2015. But the theme concerns the whole Europe, where belief that agriculture industry needs new blood and innovative workers to grow is emerging.
Beyond the enthusiasm of a happy return to the land, we need to acknowledge that the percentages of farmers under 35 are still low. While in Poland they reach 14,7%, the figures are more daunting in other countries, such as Italy (5,1%), Uk (4,1%) and Portugal (2,6%). For this reason, the EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council has just approved a document to support young farmers, focused on access to credit, land and knowledge. It aims for generational change and innovation to combat the economic and employment crisis.

In anticipation of institutional incentives, a first push for innovation comes from the bottom, from young who decided to bring their digital culture to bear on agriculture, often combining ecommerce and organic farming. It’s the case of Contadini per passione, three guys who grow an orange grove in Sicily and use the web to promote themselves and sell their products. Through their website they do storytelling, by describing their activity on the fields. Social media and web marketing are used to acquire new customers, ecommerce shortens the supply chain and eliminates intermediation between producer and consumer. “Arms aren’t enough. It is finally understood that agriculture also needs brains. It needs to involve new people, smart, dynamic, brilliant, so as to improve the relationship between innovation and tradition”, 31-year-old founder Paolo Barbera said.

Oscar Green winner 2014, Straberry is a startup that grows and sells berries through sustainable technology and in two years has achieved a turnover of 1 million euros. The photovoltaic panels on the greenhouse roof enable the company to produce clean energy for itself and other 5000 people. Strawberries grow out of the soil, in hanging gutters suspended 1,50 metre above the ground. Fruit, along with jams, juices and salads, is delivered in the city by Ape cars and every consumer, by using a code, can verify when it was harvested, where and by whom, through a certified traceability system.

Ecommerce-based Cortilia is a digital agricultural marketplace that allows users to get fresh and seasonal products boxes at home from local farmers, in subscription or occasionally. Its purchase model responds to the increasingly consumers demand to eat healthily and sustainable, saving time. Here too, the farmers use the website to tell their stories and describe work behind their products. This business model has convinced investors and the company raised 2,5 million funds since its founding in 2011.

Innovative ideas are also coming from experienced entrepreneurs like Oscar Farinetti, founder of high-end Italian food chain Eataly. He plans to sell fresh products online from a big garden, which will equipped with cameras to show how vegetables will be farmed.

Then there are startups inventing apps and high-tech products to optimize agricultural practices such as Smart Ground, which simplifies activities and reduces the waste of water resources through environmental detection devices and a user-friendly software. The main aim is to promote sustainable use of water – more and more limited and subject to waste – by monitoring the amount in the soil and allowing irrigation only when and where there is a genuine need, according to the different crops.

This and other innovative tools from all around the world will be showcased during the next universal exposition in Milan.

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Turkey production is at its lowest level in nearly three decades and wholesale prices are at an all-time high, but Thanksgiving cooks probably won’t see much difference in the price they pay at the stores for their frozen birds.

This year’s anticipated stock is 235 million, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service — the lowest since 1986, when U.S. farmers produced roughly 207 million birds.

While the estimated 2014 number doesn’t indicate a shortage of turkeys, which can remain in cold storage for a year or longer, it does reflect a pullback in recent years by poultry producers who were forced to reduce their flocks to remain afloat.

“Last year was a bloodbath. It was bad,” said John Zimmerman, a farmer in Northfield, Minnesota, who produces about 300,000 turkeys a year. He said scaled back his numbers in recent years because higher feed and transportation prices, among other things, cut into his bottom line. Even the price of soybean meal — which accounts for about 30 per cent of turkey feed — is at a historical high, he said.

All areas of livestock production — poultry included — were drastically cut after the widespread 2012 drought in an attempt to stifle losses, says Corinne Alexander, a Purdue University agricultural economist. Plus, many farmers are using feed that they bought in the wake of the drought, which cost more than the current market price.

“What’s happening in the turkey sector is a mini-story of what is happening in other sectors, where the impact has been really dramatic,” Alexander said. “If you look at beef cattle, we have the smallest beef cattle herd since 1951, and prices for beef are up 17 per cent this year.”

October wholesale prices for live turkeys jumped 12 per cent from 2013, from 72 cents per pound to 81 cents, NASS commodities statistician Michael Klamm said. And frozen turkey wholesale prices were expected to be between $1.12 and $1.16 per pound in the fourth quarter — up from $1.05 per pound at this time last year, the USDA said.

But consumers won’t necessarily see that reflected in the price of their Thanksgiving meal centerpiece.

“There’s really no correlation between what grocery store chains are paying and what they’re selling them at,” USDA agriculture economist David Harvey said.

Turkey numbers peaked in 1996, with nearly 303 million birds.

Read the full article here.

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golden wheat field

Monsanto Co. said Wednesday it will pay nearly $2.4 million to settle a dispute with farmers in the Pacific Northwest over genetically modified wheat.

No genetically engineered wheat has been approved for U.S. farming, but it was found in Oregon in 2013.

That discovery prompted Japan and South Korea to temporarily suspend some wheat orders, and the European Union called for more rigorous testing of U.S. shipments.

Agriculture Department officials said the modified wheat discovered in the Oregon field is the same strain as a genetically modified wheat that was designed to be herbicide-resistant and was tested by seed giant Monsanto a decade ago but never approved.

St. Louis-based Monsanto said that it is settling the case rather than pay for an extended legal battle.

The company will put roughly $2.1 million into a settlement fund to pay farmers in Washington, Oregon and Idaho who sold soft white wheat between May 30 and Nov. 30 of 2013.

Monsanto will also pay a total of $250,000 to wheat growers’ associations, including the National Wheat Foundation, the Washington Association of Wheat Growers, the Oregon Wheat Growers’ League and the Idaho Grain Producers Association.

Representatives for the growers’ groups could not be reached immediately for comment.

The USDA said in September that it believes the genetically modified wheat in Oregon was the result of an isolated incident and that there is no evidence of that wheat in commerce. The report said the government still doesn’t know how the modified seeds got into the fields.

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red combine harvester corn

Canada is the world’s top agricultural trader compared to all other countries on a per capita basis, according to Farm Credit Canada’s (FCC) annual report on global trade.

In 2013, the value of Canada’s agricultural imports and exports was more than $2,100 US per person, followed by Australia at about $1,900 US per person, says the report by FCC Ag Economics entitled A 2014 Look at Global Trade.

The report takes the combined value of all agriculture exports and imports from each of the major agriculture trading countries and divides that number by each country’s respective population. “It shows the agriculture sector is more important to Canada than all other countries, including the United States, Australia and the European Union,” J.P. Gervais, FCC’s chief agricultural economist, said in a press release.

Overall, the report shows Canada as the fifth-largest agriculture exporter in the world — behind the European Union, United States, Brazil and China — and the sixth-largest agriculture importer. China and India — with their huge and growing populations — represent major markets for Canadian agricultural producers.

“The combination of rising household incomes and population growth in India and China present major market opportunities for Canadian exports of beef, pork and pulse crops,” Gervais said. “Canada appears well-positioned as an important agriculture trader in the world and the expansion of trade relations will only help to sustain and build on that.”

The removal of trade barriers for Canadian lentils to India could result in a 147 per cent increase in exports over five years, while rising incomes in China present major market opportunities for beef, the report said. However, pork will remain the preferred protein of the Chinese population.