Seeds of a Disaster

You would think that farming is already one of the most difficult and least rewarding occupations in existence. Climate change, pests and disease, natural disasters, pollution, transportation issues, tariffs and foreign competition – how could things get any worse? We are about to find out according to alarming information from the National Union of Farmers. They have started a national campaign – SOS – Save Our Seeds.

Ever since scientists started tinkering with the genetics of life, the people who own the scientists – corporations and institutions – have been working on how to exploit this ability for profit. This led to the creation of the “International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants” (UPOV). This international protocol established “Plant Breeders Rights” (PBR) that awarded intellectual property rights internationally, similar to a patent, over new plant varieties.

When PBR legislation was first introduced in Canada under a 1978 framework, a royalty must be paid on the initial seed purchase, but farmers have the right to freely save seed from the first year’s crop for planting subsequent crops. Varieties that have been on the market for over 18 years are no longer subject to PBRs, so they are in the public domain, meaning there are no restrictions on their use.

Canada adopted a new Plant Breeders Rights Act based on a revised 1991 UPOV. This new PBR Act gives plant breeders who register a new variety (PBR holders) the exclusive right to produce and reproduce seed, condition (clean and treat), sell, stock (store), export or import seed and to authorize any of these uses of seed for a period of 25 years for trees and vines, and for 20 years for all other plants. PBR holders are entitled to demand a royalty payment when authorizing a farmer’s use of the seed. Continue reading


Seven Years Later

After writing this blog for more than seven years, I was a little disappointed to read a recent article in the Innisfil Journal with the headline, “Realtors see future at opening of Barrie association’s headquarters”.

It really indicates how little has changed regardless of any advocacy for more moderate expansion, preservation of agricultural land and greater emphasis on sustainable development. The designation of Barrie as an ‘Urban Growth Centre’ under the provincial Places to Grow Act seems like little more than a license for sprawl. The province allowed Barrie to annex 2,300 hectares from Innisfil in 2010. At the time there was an hysterical campaign claiming that Barrie had “run out” of industrial land, implying some sort of economic crisis without annexation. Now, the justification has been reversed, saying it is to accommodate a population growth from 147,000 to 210,000 in 2031 within a pattern of development that is already familiar to Barrie residents.

So, from their new headquarters at 676 Veterans Dr., Barrie realtors were admiring the view of their future profits:

“You couldn’t find a more appropriate place … where realtors gather — right on the edge of Barrie’s future growth in the city’s south end. The location didn’t escape [Barrie] Mayor Jeff Lehman at the official opening … Pointing south to a fence and an open field you can see from the headquarters conference room, Lehman said the future lies just beyond the state-of-the art headquarters… “It’s symbolic. That fence was the south boundary of Barrie before annexation,” he said. “It’s awesome. You are literally looking at the future.”

Here’s what the future looks like: “The city [Barrie] is currently (January 2018) processing 18 applications and site plans in the Hewitt’s area. If built as planned, those developments will contain a total of about 5,000 lots.
 In Salem, three applications have been submitted, totalling more than 1,500 lots.
“On the Salem side, we also have employment lands,” Barrie’s building services director said. “That’s a really important balance to the residential.”

An 86 acre parcel at the northwest corner of the intersection of McKay Road West and Veterans Drive will be developed into 839 residential units. It was rezoned from “agricultural to neighbourhood residential and mixed use, institutional education and open space”.

“… the Salem and Hewitt secondary plans are now complete and staff are currently working through 11 active development applications for the area, [Barrie’s] growth planning manager said. … Those applications cover more than 440 hectares and include about 7,560 residential units, as well as employment lands, mixed-use, natural and open space… [This] is how we’re going to manage growth applications and infrastructure planning for 30,000 people over the next 20 years,” Mayor Jeff Lehman said. “It’s basically how you’re planning … development for a small town.”

“Beginning in 2019, [Barrie’s] building department expects to process about 800 to 1,200 permits for new units annually for the next few years”

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