New Farm vs. New Science

By some remarkable bit of serendipity, two-page spreads started to appear in the local Innisfil Journal extolling the success of DeKalb GMO products among local farmers only a week after I published my article about the financial and environmental success of The New Farm near Creemore – as described in the book by the same name.

The local PR campaign for DeKalb by one of the largest and most powerful agriscience corporations provides us with an interesting comparison of two very divergent approaches to agriculture in Simcoe County.

Dekalb is a crop seed brand owned by Monsanto [$2.68 billion revenue, 2017], which also produces the controversial Roundup brand of “systemic, broad-spectrum glyphosate-based herbicide … Monsanto also produced seeds, which grow into plants genetically engineered to be tolerant to glyphosate, which are known as Roundup Ready crops.” (Wikipedia). “In 2014, farmers sprayed 1.65 billion pounds of glyphosate — that’s enough to cover every acre of our globe’s cropland in about half a pound of the chemical.” (The Sneaky Place Glyphosate Is Hiding in Your Food, Emma Rose, January 2018)

Now, more concerns are being raised about health, safety, efficacy and financial impact. The industry rationale has always been that these interventions are needed to feed a growing world population – “it’s going to take a huge amount of innovation in order to double the world’s food supply.” according to a Monsanto Technology Officer. But some farmers are skeptical. “They’re locking in their profit and they’re cornering the market by getting bigger, not by creating new products,” says a Nebraska farmer. “They’re [Bayer & Monsanto] just choking out the rest of the competition. “

“If you look at how much of the farmers’ seed and pesticide dollars are going to these companies, Monsanto-Bayer [as] one company today — would be getting $1 out of every $3,” Connelly [agriculture analyst] says. “Dow-Dupont would be taking one out of every $4.” (The $66 billion Bayer-Monsanto merger just got a major green light — but farmers are terrified, Business Insider, May 2018) Continue reading


Preserving a Viable Agricultural System

The agricultural sector reportedly contributes more than 37 billion dollars to Ontario’s GDP. As population continues to grow, the Ontario government has released a draft document, Implementation Procedures for the Agricultural System in Ontario’s Greater Golden Horseshoe. It is intended to provide greater clarity and guidance to municipal planners for the preservation of prime agricultural lands.

Especially closer to Toronto, the fear is that remaining farming enterprises are becoming more scattered and isolated from the necessary agricultural support services that would help them remain viable. Farmers have told the government that they need assurance that agricultural lands will have long-term protection in order to plan for new investments in farming assets.

“At this time, protection of agricultural land varies across the GGH. Similar land may be designated prime agricultural area in one municipality and designated rural lands across the municipal boundary, even when soils and other land use characteristics are comparable. While all planning decisions must be consistent with the PPS [Provincial Policy Statement] and conform with other applicable provincial land use plans, there may be differences in policy interpretation and application due to differing study methodologies and growth pressures from one municipality to another.”  Continue reading

Climate Change Survival

It’s another season of local flooding, see-saw temperatures, western wild fires and severe storms to the south. Locally, we are hearing some farmers around Simcoe County lament the losses that they are, and will be, suffering this year.

Now, a new study published in the journal, Science, predicts that “unmitigated climate change will damage the poorest-third of US counties to the tune of 20% of total income. The regions that will be hit the hardest in the US over the coming years economically will be primarily in the South and in the lower Midwest. In other words, economic centers will be likely to move northwards, leaving the hotter, southern parts of the US impoverished …”.

(Perhaps not wanting to wait, Missouri just voted to lower the minimum wage in St. Louis by 23% from $10/hour to $7.70/hour, but that’s another story.)  Continue reading

Growing Urgent

It’s interesting that, just as the U.S. is pondering whether to honour the Paris Climate Change agreement, Clean Technica is drawing attention to research with alarming implications for the future of food security by 2050:

“Global production of the 4 most important staple crops in the world — maize/corn, wheat, rice, and soybeans — will be reduced by around 23% by the 2050s as a result of worsening anthropogenic climate change, according to new research published in the journal Economics of Disasters and Climate Change.

Notably, even by the 2030s — not that long from now — production of the staple crops mentioned above are expected to fall by ~9%, owing to rising temperatures (both rising minimums and maximums), increasingly extreme weather, and drought.

It should be noted that the findings don’t take into account rising soil depletion/erosion problems, the possibility of synthetic fertilizer shortages, or the possibility of large-scale wars or social breakdown. In other words, things could get notably worse than the figures above, which are already quite extreme.”  Continue reading

Food for Thought

A while back I mentioned a report that suggested more than half of the province’s $20 billion of food imports could be replaced with locally sourced products. (Of Bubbles and Bushels). Replacing just 10% of fruit and vegetable imports was projected to add $242 million to provincial GDP and add up to 3,400 FTE [full time equivalent] jobs.

Since then we’ve had a glimpse of how unstable things could become economically, and politically as well as environmentally, in the coming years. A political storm could outweigh climate change as our biggest threat. It would make sense to give this food security proposal some serious consideration.

The report, Dollars and Sense, suggested increasing some production, diverting a portion of exports and redistributing this fruit and vegetable surplus to Ontario regions where supply is lacking. This would achieve the goal of reducing transportation ‘food miles’, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It also suggested increasing processing and storage of more products for winter consumption.

“A 10% reduction in imports of the top 10 imported vegetables does not necessarily call for additional local production to make up the difference. In some cases, such as tomatoes, peppers, carrots and sweet corn, it may involve diverting some exports to offset the import reduction. In others — for example, cabbage, lettuce and green beans — increased production may be needed. These different situations have somewhat different economic and environmental impacts.”

Our region, included in ‘The Outer Greater Golden Horseshoe’ accounts for “at least $2.4 billion worth of farm products” but has a “deficit position” for most fruits and vegetables. Carrots, onions, sweet corn and potatoes are the exception.  Continue reading

Of Bubbles and Bushels

Here we are approaching the end of another year. It seems many of us will be glad to call an end to 2016 but equally anxious about what’s ahead in 2017. There should be a sign, “Caution – Bumpy Road Ahead”. I’d like to share some of the reading I’ve been doing that seems particularly relevant now.

First off, I came across an interesting discussion of the Carbon Bubble, “the idea that there is a bubble in valuation of companies dependent on fossil-fuel-based energy production” (Wikipedia):

“As futurist Alex Steffen recently explained, vast amounts of the world’s carbon reserves can never be tapped, so their pricing represents a “carbon bubble” analogous to but even worse than the subprime housing bubble. The Carbon Bubble will pop,” Steffen wrote, not when high-carbon practices become impossible, but when their profits cease to be seen as reliable.”

To maintain the carbon bubble, an array of strategies are required: disputing the science of climate change, attacking global climate agreements, undercutting low-carbon
 alternatives and preserving fossil fuel subsidies.” (What Populist Revolution?, Salon Media, Dec 26, 2016)  Continue reading