Farm profiles

Ranch pencils out profit with bale, swath grazing

Steve Kenyon uses a lot of multi-purpose farm equipment, and he doesn’t own any of it.

As well, the no-till drill, the fertilizer spreader, the combine and the heavy harrows all look remarkably alike.

They are all cows.

The owner of Greener Pastures Ranching Ltd. near Westlock, Alta., has been ranching for 18 years and has never owned a tractor. Nor has he owned any cattle for the last several years, although he manages 1,500 head on 3,500 acres of leased land.

He has fed cattle for 56 cents per cow per day at best and $1.24 per head per day at worst by custom grazing on his own land and that of other pasture owners and farmers.

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Organic news bytes

B.C. to weed out false organic produce claims

The provincial government is moving to stamp out bogus organic claims being made by farmers that do not have third-party certification. New regulations will restrict the use of the word “organic” to describe only products that have been certified by a national or provincial certification program, effectively closing a loophole that had allowed B.C. farmers to use the term without being certified, provided they were not selling their products outside B.C. As part of the new strategy — aimed at providing consumers with assurance that products meet accepted standards — the province will create a new, streamlined provincial certification system.

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Musing on going organic

The scene ends in horror. No matter how many times I replay. Telling the farming community and anyone else who would listen that “I, Toban Dyck, am going organic” is like saying, “thanks for letting me spend a couple years on the family farm; now I’m going to plunge it into bankruptcy,” while wearing a clown costume. This is all in my head, of course, exposing more about me than those around me. But I don’t think I’m alone. I bet others share this fear, and perhaps this curiosity.

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U.S. restaurant chain suspends pork sales over welfare issues

Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. said it would suspend pork sales at one-third of its U.S. restaurants, following a routine audit that revealed one of its suppliers was not complying with its animal welfare standards.

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You are what you eat—and what it eats too

A dozen years ago, a New York Times Magazine article titled “Power Steer” changed the way Americans thought about meat. “We are what we eat, it is often said,” wrote author Michael Pollan, “but of course that is only part of the story. We are what what we eat eats too.”

A bit of an awkward phrase, perhaps, but a salient point, not lost on the thousands of Americans who collectively plunk down $380 million a year for grass-fed beef. When we eat animals, we are inheriting their diet—as well as several other aspects of their lives.

But what about when we eat plants? Plants don’t, strictly speaking, eat, but they are no less embedded in their ecological relationships than animals are. Perhaps most importantly, plants take up nutrients from the soil in which they grow, and the meal on offer varies tremendously depending on how that soil is managed. So does it matter, for human nutrition, what our plant-based foods eat?

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Organic wheat commands premium prices over conventional

Organic wheat is selling for 500 percent higher than conventional wheat and there is no indication it will drop soon.

Jay Crandall, a grain commodity merchant with Wetaskiwin Co-op, said the little organic wheat that is available is selling into the milling market for $20 a bushel, or $735 per tonne.

This year, organic feed wheat is selling for $16.50 per bu., or $610 a tonne, if it is available, compared to $585 a tonne last year. 

At the same time, conventional feed wheat is selling for $4 per bu., or $147 per tonne last year.

“The spread is very extreme this year,” said Crandall, who finds organic wheat for his customers. 

“The wheat market is very short.”

Wheat is the main feed in organic poultry rations. 

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Organic sector looking to strong future

When you hear the word “organic” do you think of vegetables, meat, grain or something else?
The diversity of Manitoba’s organic sector makes communicating with and serving its members a challenge for industry organizations, one the sector is well prepared to accept thanks to a recent planning session that left them invigorated and with a solid plan for the future.

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A fresh start for Saskatchewan organic industry association

Members of the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate (SOD) met in Saskatoon to consider the organization’s future direction. Members voted unanimously to adopt a new set of bylaws resulting in new name, membership structure and funding model.

SaskOrganics is the new name for the revitalized industry association. From this point forward, everyone who is certified organic in Saskatchewan will be a member removing the requirement to purchase a membership fee to belong. Having all certified organic entities in the province as members will create a much stronger body and more representative voice to enable SaskOrganics to better fulfil its mission to advocate for a sustainable and thriving organic community through leadership in research, market development and communications. As an alternative to the membership fee funding model, SaskOrganics is working with Organic Alberta, Manitoba Organic Alliance and organic industry partners to establish a more sustainable funding mechanism - The Prairie Organic Development Fund (PODF) - for the organic industry on the prairies.

Predators, parasites, pests and the paradox of biological control

When a bird swoops down and grabs a caterpillar devouring your backyard garden, you might view it as a clear victory for natural pest control.

But what if that caterpillar is infected with larvae from a tiny parasitic wasp—another agent of biological pest control. Who should you root for now, the bird or the wasp?

A new study from University of Michigan researchers suggests that the gardener should cheer for both of them or, more precisely, for the struggle between the predator and the parasite. That kind of competition—even when it involves one creature killing and eating the other in what ecologists call intraguild predation—strengthens and stabilizes biological control systems, the U-M scientists found.

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Biotech buzz

Conventional ag wages losing war on organics

Conventional agriculture is fighting back in the public relations battle against the disciples of organic and non-genetically modified agriculture.

Unfortunately, it is likely too little, too late.

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Panic-free GMOs

It’s easy to get information about genetically modified food. There are the dubious anti-GM horror stories that recirculate through social networks. On the other side, there’s the dismissive sighing, eye-rolling, and hand patting of pro-GM partisans. But if you just want a level-headed assessment of the evidence in plain English, that’s in pretty short supply. Fortunately, you’ve found the trove.

Click here for to read a thoughtful series of blog articles