Business & Policy
Agri-food stakeholders from across the value chain are invited to attend the second annual National Environmental Farm Plan (NEFP) Summit in Ottawa, November 1-2, 2017. As Co-Chair of the NEFP steering committee, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) encourages producers and farm groups to be part of this initiative that seeks to harmonize the many different environmental farm plan programs in Canada.An Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) is a voluntary, whole-farm, self-assessment tool that helps farmers and ranchers identify and build on environmental strengths, as well as mitigate risks on their operations. A National EFP (NEFP) would not be a replacement program, but rather a harmonization effort across the existing EFP programs nation wide.Building on an inaugural event held last year, summit attendees will further develop a national standard designed to connect environmentally sustainable practices at the farm level with global food buyers' growing need to source sustainable ingredients.The NEFP program is well into development, led by a steering committee comprised of participants from across the agri-food value chain. Four sub-committees are working toward developing a national protocol as it relates to data collection, standards and verification, all of which will be supported through comprehensive communications and stakeholder outreach. Summit attendees will hear from each committee, along with subject matter experts, about the progress to-date - information that will further guide steps toward this national standard.Learn more and register for the 2017 National EFP Summit by visiting nationalefp.ca. The NEFP is always seeking to add to its list of stakeholders involved in shaping this made-in-Canada solution. Interested organizations should contact co-chairs Drew Black or Paul Watson.
Last month Statistics Canada released the results of the 2016 Census of Agriculture. Like many of you, I was eager to read up on the results and discover how our industry has changed in the five years since the last survey was conducted.
Team Alberta is warning the federal government of serious financial consequences to farmers if they lose the ability to use deferred cash tickets to manage wide variations in their income.The potential end of the cash ticket deferral system was included unexpectedly as part of the federal government’s Budget 2017. Team Alberta’s submission to the federal finance department’s consultation process summarizes the specific necessity and utility of this tool in farmers’ business planning strategies and tax management.“We believe that the government has overlooked the severe impact that farmers would face if this tool was no longer available,” said Kevin Auch, Alberta Wheat Commission Chair. “Farmers operate with a high degree of income volatility due to factors beyond our control and the cash ticket deferral mechanism allows us to manage risk and balance our income to ensure we can still remain profitable.”The government maintains that the cash ticket deferral mechanism is out-dated since the single desk was dismantled in 2012. But Team Alberta points out that farmers have been exposed to the same income volatility regardless of the Canadian Wheat Board’s (CWB) status, facing many of the same risks they did when the mechanism was first introduced in 1973. Data from the Western Grain Elevator Association (WGEA) indicates that the percentage of cash tickets deferred annually has remained fairly stable throughout and following the end of the CWB’s monopoly.Team Alberta further points out that removing this management tool could hamper Canada’s ability to increase agri-food exports from $55 to 75 billion per year by 2025 as outlined in the recent federal budget.“Canada’s agriculture industry is poised and ready to meet these targets,” said Jason Lenz, Alberta Barley Chair. “But we will only be able to meet them if the government works with farmers to eliminate barriers that impede growth.”Team Alberta’s submission provides examples from accounting firm MNP LLP that demonstrate impact on farm businesses – whether partnerships, sole proprietors, or corporate family farms. The information from MNP shows that removal of the deferral option will have a disproportionate and negative impact on farm operations relative to non-farm Canadian businesses of similar sizes.“The existing policy allowing for deferral of cash tickets is an important tool in ensuring that farm operations, whatever their business structure, are treated fairly relative to other Canadian businesses,” said Greg Sears, Alberta Canola Chair.D’Arcy Hilgartner, Alberta Pulse Growers Chair said: “We have a responsibility as a country to ensure that our farmers remain profitable and sustainable. The consequences of this proposed policy change would be dire for many Canadian farmers and severely limit the sector’s ability to meet growth objectives.”Team Alberta’s submission can be viewed online here.
Timely information about drought conditions can help agricultural producers, agribusiness, government planners and policy-makers, emergency preparedness agencies and others to better plan for and proactively respond to drought. The Canadian Drought Monitor tracks a wide range of drought-related information and boils it all down to easy-to-understand, online monthly maps.“The Canadian Drought Monitor is kind of an early warning system. It provides a clear picture of what is occurring in near real-time. We’re tracking drought conditions continuously so that we know where we’re at and we can respond quicker to problems,” explains Trevor Hadwen, an agroclimate specialist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC). AAFC leads the Canadian Drought Monitor initiative, working in close collaboration with Environment Canada and Natural Resources Canada.He notes, “There is a very large process around developing the Drought Monitor maps that is unique to this particular product. It is not as simple as feeding climate data into a computer and having it spit out a map.” That’s because drought is difficult to measure. It can creep up on people as the cumulative effects of ongoing dry conditions gradually mount up. Its effects are often spread over broad areas. And different groups define drought conditions differently, depending on their interests and needs.So, the Canadian Drought Monitor draws together diverse information like precipitation amounts, water storage levels, and river flow amounts, as well as information about drought impacts on people. And it combines various drought indicators used by the agriculture, forestry and water management sectors into a single composite indicator.“All that information is put together to create one easy-to-read map product, with just five classes of drought or dryness. Users can get a very clear picture of the areal extent and severity of the drought with one look at the map,” Hadwen says.Drought classificationThe five drought classes are: D0, abnormally dry – an event that occurs once every three to five years; D1, moderate drought – an event that occurs every five to 10 years; D2, severe drought – an event that occurs every 10 to 20 years; D3, extreme drought – an event that occurs every 20 to 25 years; and D4, exceptional drought – an event that occurs every 50 years. The monthly maps are available in an interactive form that allows users to see the changes in drought location, extent and severity over time.The Canadian Drought Monitor provides useful information for people in many sectors. Hadwen gives some examples: “For agriculture, the information helps with things like where people might want to market grains, where there might be shortages, where there might be areas of good pasture, where livestock reductions might be taking place, all those types of things. The information is also very valuable outside of agriculture, in terms of water supplies, recreational use, forest fires – the list can go on for quite a while.”The Canadian Drought Monitor maps feed into the North American Drought Monitor maps. “The North American Drought Monitor initiative started about 12 years ago. The U.S. had been doing the U.S. Drought Monitor project for a number of years, and Mexico and Canada were interested in doing similar projects,” Hadwen notes. “So we joined forces to create a Drought Monitor for the continent.” All three countries use the same procedures to monitor, analyze and present drought-related information.The continent-wide collaboration provides a couple of big benefits. “Number one, drought doesn’t stop at the borders,” he says. The North American initiative provides an integrated view of drought conditions across the continent.“Also, the Drought Monitor is extremely powerful in terms of the partnerships that have developed and the linkages to some of the best scientists in North America. We share ideas and build off each other, developing better and more accurate ways of assessing drought. We can utilize some of the information generated from U.S. agencies, like NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] and the National Drought Mitigation Center, and agencies in Mexico. This collaboration effort helps increase the efficiency of the science and the technical aspect of drought monitoring.”According to Hadwen, the continental collaboration has been really helpful in building Canadian agroclimate monitoring capacity. “Over the last decade or so we have certainly matured a lot, and we’ve started to develop some really interesting tools and applications for Canadian producers and agricultural businesses to help deal with some of the climate threats to the farming industry, including droughts, floods, and everything else,” Hadwen says.AAFC’s Drought Watch website (agr.gc.ca/drought) provides access to the Canadian Drought Monitor maps and to other agroclimate tools such as maps showing current and past information on precipitation, temperature and various drought indices, and the Agroclimate Impact Reporter (scroll down for "When complaining about the weather makes a difference"). When complaining about the weather makes a differenceIf you love to talk about the weather's impacts on your farming operation, the Agroclimate Impact Reporter (AIR) could be for you. If you want your comments about these impacts to make a difference, then AIR is definitely for you. And if you want to find out how the weather is impacting agriculture in your rural municipality, your province, or anywhere in Canada, then AIR is also for you.AIR is a cool online tool developed by AAFC that grew out of a previous program to collect information on some drought impacts. "We have had a program in place to monitor forage production and farm water supplies in the Prairies for well over 15 years. Then about three years ago, we started to develop a tool to replace that program – a tool that would be national in scope and that could gather information on a whole range of agroclimate impacts," Hadwen explains.AIR taps into a volunteer network of producers, AAFC staff, agribusiness people and others. "We use crowd-source data for this, gathering information from a whole wide variety of people. Some of them we know through our registered network, and others have a subscription to our email box and provide comments to us on a monthly basis," he says."We're trying to gather as much information from as many people as possible on how weather is impacting their farming operations. We ask the participants to do a short [anonymous] monthly survey, usually about 25 quick multiple choice questions, to let us know how things are going."AIR is collecting impact information in several categories including: drought, excess moisture, heat stress, frost, and severe weather (like tornadoes and hail storms)."We plot that information and produce a whole bunch of individual maps showing very subject-specific information from each survey question," Hadwen notes. "We also have a searchable online geographic database. On a map of Canada, you can zoom in on different regions and see where we're getting reports of a large number of impacts or not as many impacts. You can even drill down into that map and see the exact comments that we are getting from [the different types of respondents, in each rural municipality]."The information collected through AIR provides important additional insights into the weather conditions and related issues and risks. He says, "Sometimes the data we have in Canada isn't as fulsome as we would like, and sometimes it doesn't tell the whole story. For instance, the data [from weather stations in a particular area] might show that it didn't rain for a very long period and the area is in a very bad drought, but the producers in the area are telling us that they got some timely rains through that dry period that helped their crops continue to grow. Or, the data might show that we received a lot of rain in a season – like we did in 2015, if you look at the overall trend – but the farmers are telling us that there were big problems in the spring. So, combining both those types of information certainly helps draw the whole story together a little better."AIR information feeds into the Canadian Drought Monitor to help in assessing the severity of drought conditions. As well, the AAFC's Agroclimate group incorporates AIR information into its regular updates to AAFC's Minister and senior policy people; it helps them to better understand what is happening on the land, and that knowledge can help in developing policies and targeting programs.Information from AIR is also valuable for businesses that work with producers, such as railroad companies wondering about regional crop yields and where to place their rail cars, and agricultural input companies wondering if they need to bring in extra feed or fertilizer.AAFC is in the process building AIR into a national program. "We want to collect agroclimate impact information from right across the country. We have a history in the Prairie region, so we have more Prairie producers providing information. We've made inroads into B.C., so we're getting some reports from there already," Hadwen says. "[Now] we're going out to Atlantic Canada and Ontario. And over the next couple of years, we'll be expanding AIR right across the country."If you are interested in becoming a volunteer AIR reporter, visit www.agr.gc.ca/air.This article originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of Top Crop Manager West.
Farmers of all types, from dairy to fruit to livestock, contribute to the economy and to the healthy lives of Canadians. The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) wants to help make filing your income tax and benefit return easier so you can save your time and energy for the harvest. Claiming expenses Farmers can generally deduct any reasonable current expense from farming income, including interest on loans and losses, and the cost of fertilizer, feed, veterinary fees, and materials to pack and ship goods. Other eligible expenses are machinery rental, electricity, insurance, and motor vehicle expenses. To find out more, go to cra.gc.ca/smallbusiness and click on “Report business or professional income and expenses.” When it’s time to harvest your crops, you may need a helping hand (or two) out in the field and if you do hire someone, the cost may be claimed as an expense. If the person you hire is a qualified Red Seal trade apprentice, like an agricultural equipment technician, you may also be able to claim the apprenticeship job creation tax credit. This non-refundable investment tax credit is 10 per cent of the apprentice’s salary or wages. The maximum credit an employer can claim is $2,000 per year for each eligible apprentice. For more information about the apprenticeship job creation tax credit, go to cra.gc.ca/smallbusiness and click on “Investment tax credit (line 412),” and then on “Apprenticeship Job Creation Tax Credit (AJCTC).” Reporting income or loss As with any business, not every year will be profitable. When your farming business expenses are more than your farming business income in a year, you have a net loss. You can transfer a farm loss amount back to any of the preceding three years or forward to any of the next 20 years to deduct the loss from income for another year. For more information on farm losses and how to calculate and apply them, see Chapter 6 of CRA Guide T4003, Farming and Fishing Income. Eligible farmers who dispose of breeding livestock in a tax year because of drought or flood can exclude part of the sale proceeds from their income until the next tax year, under the livestock tax deferral provision. This provision also covers breeding horses over 12 months of age and certain breeding bees. For more information, see Chapter 2 of Guide T4003. To avoid the stress of ploughing through countless invoices and receipts, stay on top of your record keeping during the year. Records of your business-related expenses will support your claims. These records need the same constant and conscientious care as your crops. Without supporting documents, the CRA may not allow a credit or deduction. To learn more, go to cra.gc.ca/records. Completing your return The legislated deadline for most Canadians to file their income tax and benefit return is April 30. Since that date is a Sunday in 2017, the CRA will consider your return as filed on time and your payment to be made if the CRA receives your submission or it is postmarked no later than May 1. Self-employed individuals and their spouses or common-law partners have until June 15 to file their returns. However, if those persons have a balance owing to the CRA, that amount is due no later than May 1. If you’re facing cash flow problems and can’t pay your tax balance owing in full, you may be able to pay off your tax debt in more than one payment. You can set up a pre-authorized debit payment agreement through the CRA’s My Business Account or My Account service or by calling 1-888-863-8657. To learn more about your payment options, go to cra.gc.ca/payments. The CRA has a list of certified tax preparation software on its website, including some software that is free. Last year, more than 84 per cent of individuals filed their tax return online. File online, so you can spend less time working on your return and more time doing the things you love. To find out more, go to cra.gc.ca/netfile. When filing online, you can save valuable time by using the CRA’s auto-fill my return feature. This feature automatically fills in parts of your return. For more information, go to cra.gc.ca/auto-fill. If you sign up for online mail, you can find out the status of your return immediately after you file your return and receive your notice of assessment the next day. For more information, go to cra.gc.ca/express-noa. Protect yourself When it comes time to file your return, don’t risk your reputation and your business by intentionally underreporting your income. If you get caught evading tax, you may face fines, penalties, or even jail time. It’s not worth the risk. Don’t participate in the underground economy. For more information, go to cra.gc.ca/undergroundeconomy. If you make a mistake or omission, the CRA offers you a chance to set things right under the Voluntary Disclosures Program. If you make a valid disclosure before you know about compliance action taken against you by the CRA, you may only have to pay the tax owing plus interest. You can get more information about the program at cra-arc.gc.ca/voluntarydisclosures. Stay on top of the latest CRA news and tax tips by following @CanRevAgency on Twitter.
While North American farmers are in the process of wrapping up a fourth-straight bumper harvest, according to the BMO 2016 North American Agriculture Report, foreign exchange developments have yielded very different experiences for producers in Canada and the United States. "In the United States, the lofty greenback, which has gained 20 per cent on a trade-weighted basis since the start of 2014, has been yet another bearish factor for crop prices and revenue," said Aaron Goertzen, Senior Economist, BMO Capital Markets. "Canadian producers, in contrast, have benefitted from a drop in the loonie, which is down 17 per cent against the U.S. dollar since the start of 2014 and has provided a like-sized lift to crop prices north of the border." Mr. Goertzen added that as a result of the weaker loonie, domestic crop prices in Canada are 18 per cent below all-time highs – compared to nearly 30 per cent in the United States – and have risen five per cent from their recent low in mid-2014. The lower loonie has been a particularly fortunate development given the country's mediocre crop yields over the past few years. Canadian Outlook In Canada, composite crop yields, which consist of corn, soybeans, wheat and canola, picked up modestly on last year's subpar result. However, they remained on-trend overall as a near-record crop of canola on the prairies was offset by a decrease in corn and soybean yields in Ontario. "Canadian producers have undoubtedly been supported by the weaker loonie," said Adam Vervoort, Head of Agriculture Banking, BMO Financial Group. "This means now, with extra capital available, is an ideal time to invest in technology, which is driving the current string of bumper crops we've seen on a North American scale." He added, "Those producers who have adopted modern agricultural practices, particularly in the corn space, have grown trend crop yields substantially. There's still room for autonomous, satellite-informed equipment to be refined and used, as the innovation trend shows no sign of slowing down." Producers in Canada's Western regions, namely Alberta and Saskatchewan, have experienced a more difficult season impacted by weather challenges since October that have delayed their harvest timeline. However, the prairies remain on track for a near-record crop of canola. Mr. Vervoort affirmed that producers in the West could have potentially seen stronger results weather permitting, but have managed to still sustain a decent crop turnaround. "The harvest conditions have not been ideal, but we continue to work with farmers negatively impacted by adverse weather." While Canadian producers benefitted from a timely fall in the loonie that lifted crop prices north of the border, it also raised the cost of internationally-priced inputs like energy and fertilizer. Most producers face a wide variety of Canadian dollar-dominated expenses though, so margins have ultimately benefitted on balance. From mid-2014 to early this year, the weaker Canadian dollar also caused food prices to inflate four per cent yearly. Consumers have been somewhat relieved as a result of the partial bounce-back of the dollar in the latter half of the year and a decrease in livestock prices.
Analysts say wet weather is behind the movement of some grains into feed markets in Canada, according to FeedNavigator.com. | READ MORE
The U.S. will capture a higher share of the global wheat market this season as poor weather that’s hurt French and Canadian crops helps the second-largest exporter step up shipments from a 44-year low last season, according to Bloomberg.com. | READ MORE
As of July 31, Statistics Canada reports that the country's total stock levels for wheat, canola and lentils are down from the same date a year earlier. Meanwhile, barley and oat stocks increased compared with July 31, 2015.Wheat Total stocks of wheat fell 26.8% from July 31, 2015, to 5.2 million tonnes as of July 31, 2016. This decline was the result of a 29.2 per cent drop in commercial stocks to 3.0 million tonnes and a 23.1 per cent decrease in stocks held on farms to 2.2 million tonnes. Alberta reported the largest decline of on-farm stocks, down 44.4 per cent to 495 000 tonnes. Saskatchewan also reported a decrease, down 14.7 per cent to 1.5 million tonnes. Canola At the national level, canola stocks fell 20.7 per cent to 2.0 million tonnes as of July 31, as a result of decreases in both on-farm stocks and commercial stocks. Meanwhile, canola crushing was at record levels for the crop year ending July 31, 2016. On-farm stocks, which are concentrated in Western Canada, declined 25.9 per cent compared with July 31, 2015, to 915 000 tonnes. Commercial stocks were 15.8 per cent lower compared with the same date in 2015 at 1.1 million tonnes. Barley Total barley stocks grew 18.6 per cent to 1.4 million tonnes as of July 31. Stocks held on farm, which accounted for nearly 90 per cent of total stocks, rose 23.3 per cent to 1.3 million tonnes. Meanwhile, commercial stocks fell 9.9 per cent to 155 000 tonnes. Oats As of July 31, total stocks of oats were up 38.2 per cent compared with July 31, 2015, to 930 000 tonnes. Increases in both on-farm (+30.5 per cent) and commercial (+59.5 per cent) stock levels led to an overall rise. Lentils Overall stocks of lentils fell 80.0 per cent from July 31, 2015, to 73 000 tonnes as of July 31, 2016. Commercial stocks were down 11.6 per cent to 38 000 tonnes. Meanwhile, stocks held on farms fell 89.1 per cent to 35 000 tonnes. These were the lowest on-farm and commercial stock levels since July 2010.
August 31, 2016 - Canada and China have been embroiled in a dispute about the acceptable level of "dockage" - or foreign material such as weeds and other crops - in Canada's canola exports to China. Now, the previously held deadline of Thursday Sept. 1 for Canada to cut the level of foreign material in its deliveries by more than half, has been extended, according to an announcment by Canada's Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. "We're happy to reassure Canadian farmers that (at) the Sept. 1 deadline we will be able to continue with the current regime of canola and we (will) work together very closely towards a long-term solution in the coming days and weeks ahead," Trudeau says. | READ MORE.
August 29, 2016 - Noting that on Sept. 1, China will be imposing unfair and commercially unreasonable restrictions on the imports of canola, Manitoba's agriculture minister, Ralph Eichler, has written to federal minister of international trade, Chrystia Freeland, supporting the federal government’s efforts in resolving the restrictions China intends to place on canola imports. “I have sent a letter to the minister to encourage and support the federal government in their negotiations with China on removing their intended dockage requirements for canola,” says Eichler. “Our concerns are for the commercial viability of increasing restrictions on our canola exports to China. We support the efforts of the federal minister to work with the Chinese government to address their concerns regarding blackleg in canola and avoid restrictive trade barriers. This is a key international market for the industry and we hope that this can be resolved in a timely manner. There is a lot at stake for producers in Manitoba and it needs to be emphasized to our international trade partners that policy decisions need to be made based on science.”Manitoba produced 2.86 million tonnes of canola in 2015, generating $1.1 billion dollars of farm cash receipts. Canola amounted to 36 per cent of the total farm cash receipts for crops in Manitoba in 2015.
Canada’s minister of agriculture and his Mexican counterpart say they’re looking to increase trade between the two countries despite concerns the U.S. wants to review the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).“[There’s] many products they can produce on the fresh market side, and others that we need in this country, and there’s many products we have like canola and other products we want to export to Mexico. And that’s what we’re working on today,” said Agricultural Minister Lawrence MacAulay, after meeting with Mexico’s agriculture secretary. | READ MORE
Canada and the European Union have finally agreed on a date for provisional application of the oft-delayed Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement.The provisional application of the massive deal will come into effect on Sept. 21, according to a joint-statement from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, issued at the G20 summit meeting in Hamburg Saturday morning. | READ MORE
Weed control challenges have grown steadily worse since the first glyphosate-resistant weeds were discovered in 2001. According to a 2016 Stratus Ag Research study, resistant and tough weeds currently infest more than 100 million acres of North American farmland. For additional weed control solutions, the Enlist weed control system was developed.
Italy is proposing that pasta packaging show where the wheat was grown and milled. Canadian exporters and farmers fear the move would depress prices in Canada, the biggest global durum exporter, as it would require Italian pasta makers to segregate supplies by country. Italy’s move comes as a Canada-Europe free trade deal moves to final stages of approval. | READ MORE
Leaders from the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) strengthened their Canada-U.S. connections and underscored the benefits of NAFTA last week during meetings with American Farm Bureau representatives in several states. The five-day tour included visits to California, Kansas, Iowa and Wisconsin.“What we've learned from these discussions is that U.S. farmers depend on NAFTA as much as Canadian farmers do. No one wants to jeopardize the agreement for fear of losing the significant benefits accrued by all parties including well established markets for agriculture and agri-food products,” says CFA President Ron Bonnett.Bonnett said that the Wisconsin Farmers Union also supports NAFTA and were in agreement that the diafiltered milk issue was a scapegoat for the larger problem, which is the current worldwide glut of milk on the market."The key take-away from our U.S. meetings is that we now have a good chance to resolve some of the ongoing barriers to trade that stand apart from tariff rules. Farm groups in Canada and U.S. have long called for harmonized regulations," said Bonnett.The CFA will continue to work with its members and government officials to seek and implement actions that will modernize North American trade, leading to greater value for all NAFTA partners.
The Earth’s capacity to feed its growing population is limited – and unevenly distributed. An increase in cultivated land and the use of more efficient production technology are partly buffering the problem, but in many areas increasing food imports solves it. For the first time, researchers at Aalto University have been able to show a broad connection between resource scarcity, population pressure, and food imports, in a study published in Earth’s Future. “Although this has been a topic of global discussion for a long time, previous research has not been able to demonstrate a clear connection between resource scarcity and food imports. We performed a global analysis focusing on regions where water availability restricts production, and examined them from 1961 until 2009, evaluating the extent to which the growing population pressure was met by increasing food imports,” explains postdoctoral researcher Miina Porkka. The researchers’ work combined modelled data with FAO statistics and also took into consideration increases in production efficiency resulting from technological development. The analysis showed that in 75% of resource scarce regions, food imports began to rise as the region’s own production became insufficient. Even less wealthy regions relied on the import strategy – but not always successfully. According to the research, the food security of about 1.4 billion people has become dependent on imports and an additional 460 million people live in areas where increased imports are not enough to compensate for the lack of local production. Opportunities to sustainably improve food production The big issue, says co-author Dr Joseph Guillaume, is that people may not even be aware that they have chosen dependency on imports over further investment in local production or curbing demand. “It seems obvious to look elsewhere when local production is not sufficient, and our analysis clearly shows that is what happens. Perhaps that is the right choice, but it should not be taken for granted.” The international food system is sensitive and price and production shocks can spread widely and undermine food security – especially in poorer countries that are dependent on imports. As a result, further investments in raising production capacity could be a viable alternative. Especially in sub-Saharan Africa and India, there are opportunities to sustainably improve food production by, for example, more efficient use of nutrients and better irrigation systems. Miina Porkka emphasises that the solutions will ultimately require more than just increasing food production. “Keeping food demand in check is the key issue. Controlling population growth plays an essential role in this work, but it would also be important to enhance production chains by reducing food waste and meat consumption. Since one quarter of all the food produced in the world is wasted, reducing this would be really significant on a global level.”
by Tom Lutey Apr. 2, 2016 - With falling grain prices, Montana farmers say they'll plant a million fewer acres of wheat this season than they did two years ago, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The slide from 5.9 million wheat acres in 2014 to 4.9 million acres in the 2016 prospective plantings report, is the sharpest decline in several years. Since 2014, wheat prices have fallen nearly 30 per cent, enough to strip the profit from some farms. Wheat is still Montana's largest crop. The state would rank fourth nationally for wheat acres in 2016, the report indicated. Nationally, production is expected to be down nine per cent. "Some people are getting $3.90 a bushel for wheat. That's pretty serious business," said George Haynes, Montana State University economist, noting that the price drop would be too much for some farms. Those former wheat acres are going into other things, namely lentils, which are at 500,000 acres this spring, a nearly fourfold increase in the past two years. Lentils are a niche crop that is doing well as a result of global demand and challenging weather conditions in 2015 that cut supplies. Lentils averaged almost $28 per hundredweight at the end of 2015, according to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service. The Montana Department of Agriculture has promoted lentil production for several years and the state now is the nation's largest lentil producer. "The continued growth of pulse crops, including lentils is reflective of the diversification by Montana farmers," said Ron DeYong, Montana Department of Agriculture director. "Prices for lentils have been strong. We expect demand to continue to grow as we develop more trade opportunities and consumers learn about their benefits during the International Year of Pulses." Other big gains in acreage went to dry beans, which have more than doubled in two years to 80,000 acres. Barley crossed the million-acre mark for the first time in three years, up 80,000 acres from 2014. Garbanzo beans have more than doubled in acres in the last two years to 68,000 acres. Sugar beet acres were expected to be at 42,000, a slight decline. Some of the alternatives to wheat come with contracts guaranteeing the firm price before the seeds are even in the ground. Lola Raska, of the Montana Grain Growers Association, said malt barley is an attractive option to farmers because of an early contract, which protects farmers from market swings during the season. Malt barley must have low levels of protein, otherwise it makes for cloudy beer. The protein is kept in check by pouring the water on during the growing season. If the protein levels are low, the contract price is honoured. There's a possibility, Raska said, that farmers will take note of the declining acres in spring wheat and decided to go against the trend. High protein, hard red spring wheat is niche crop primarily in Montana and North Dakota. North Dakota farmers indicate they will plant a million fewer acres this year than they did last year. Montana farmers expected to cut spring wheat plantings by 450,000 acres. Cuts like that could drive up the Spring wheat price for those who plant, Raska said. Farming and livestock sales contribute roughly $4 billion to Montana's economy annually.
Jan. 4, 2016 – Winter will be dominated by El Niño, which usually means limited precipitation for western and southeastern Canada, according to the latest weather outlook from Farm Credit Canada. That could start the spring 2016 crop year off on a drier-than-usual start, especially in Alberta and parts of British Columbia. | READ MORE
Apr. 7, 2014, Billings, MT - With grain markets in flux, Montana farmers say they will back away from spring wheat and plant other crops this season, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Producers tell the USDA there will be 350,000 fewer acres of Montana spring wheat this year. Planting intentions were published this week in the USDA's prospective plantings report, which provides a first look at what America's farmers intend to grow. READ MORE.
April 7, 2014, United States – U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists say they have pinpointed the location of a gene in a little-known ancient grass that could help save wheat from an unrelenting fungus. Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists Matt Rouse and Yue Jin, with the agency's Cereal Disease Research Laboratory in St. Paul, Minn., found the gene while studying the DNA of ancient grasses. They were searching for genes that could make wheat more resistant to Ug99 (Puccinia graminis), a type of stem rust that is constantly evolving. Ug99 has not yet been found in the United States, but it is spreading overseas and is considered a potential threat to up to 90 per cent of the world's wheat. Genes in wheat that seem to offer immunity one growing season become susceptible to newly developed "races" the next. Ug99 was first reported by scientists in Uganda in 1999, and controlling it has since become an international priority. Scientists often study a crop's wild relatives for genes that will confer resistance to pests and pathogens. But what makes the efforts of Rouse and Jin noteworthy is the diversity of grasses being studied. They include einkorn wheat, an ancient variety still cultivated in parts of the Mediterranean; emmer wheat, found in archeological sites and still growing wild in the Near East; and goatgrass, a wild relative of wheat with genes that breeders have tapped to boost immunity in commercial wheat varieties. In one study, Rouse and his colleagues at Kansas State University and the University of California at Davis focused on locating a gene in einkorn wheat that confers near immunity to Ug99. They focused on locating a gene, known as Sr35, which was previously discovered in einkorn. But the exact location of this gene in the plant's vast genome remained a mystery. The wheat genome is huge, containing nearly two times more genetic information than the human genome. To find Sr35's position, the researchers sequenced areas of the plant's genome where they suspected it was located. In one set of mutant plants, they knocked out the cloned sequences and found it made those plants susceptible to Ug99. In another set they inserted the same sequences into previously susceptible plants and found it made them resistant. The results, published in Science in 2013, marked the first time that scientists managed to isolate and clone a Ug99 resistance gene. The achievement should make it easier to insert useful genes into wheat varieties. Read the full story here.
Aug. 27, 2013 - A critical water source for U.S. farmers and ranchers is being depleted at a rapid rate and nearly 70 per cent of it will disappear within the next 50 years if the current trend does not change, according to a report issued this week.The report said limited water supplies will begin to have a significant impact on food production over the next few decades.Read the full story here.
Aug. 22, 2013, Canada – Canadian farmers anticipate record canola production in 2013, as well as increases in wheat, barley and oats, according to Statistics Canada's production of principal field crops survey. Corn for grain production is also expected to surpass the record set last year, while soybean production may decrease.At the time of the survey, Prairies farmers reported that climatic events over the last few weeks, such as hail and heavy rain episodes, may have an adverse effect on some areas to be harvested. CanolaCanadian farmers anticipate a record 14.7 million tonnes of canola in 2013, the result of a 21.9 per cent rise in average yield to 33.7 bushels per acre. Farmers in all three Prairie provinces anticipate an increase in canola production, despite lower harvested areas.In Saskatchewan, 7.2 million tonnes of canola are expected to be produced in 2013, up 16.6 per cent from 2012. This is as a result of a 26.8 per cent increase in the average yield to 31.2 bushels per acre. Harvested area is expected to decrease 8.2 per cent to 10.1 million acres.In Alberta, farmers anticipate 5.2 million tonnes of canola, a 5.6 per cent increase over 2012. This increase is the result of a 13.1 per cent increase in average yield, while the harvested area is expected to decrease 6.7 per cent to 6.0 million acres.In Manitoba, farmers expect canola production of 2.3 million tonnes, up 10.7 per cent from 2012 as a result of a 27.2 per cent gain in average yield to 33.2 bushels per acre. However, harvested area is set to decline 13.0 per cent to 3.1 million acres.WheatAt the national level, total wheat production is expected to reach 30.6 million tonnes in 2013, up 12.9 per cent from 2012.This anticipated increase is a result of combined gains in harvested area, from 23.4 million acres in 2012 to 25.5 million acres in 2013, and in average yield, up 3.3 per cent to 44.0 bushels per acre.In Saskatchewan, farmers anticipate a 14 per cent increase in total wheat production to 14.5 million tonnes.In Alberta, total wheat production is expected to reach a record 9.4 million tonnes (+12.2 per cent) in 2013, the result of a record average yield of 49.6 bushels per acre.In Manitoba, total wheat production is expected to increase by 3.6 per cent to 4.1 million tonnes.Barley and oatsNationally, barley production is anticipated to rise 12.4 per cent to 8.8 million tonnes in 2013. This increase is driven by a potential record average yield of 64.1 bushels per acre. However, harvested area is set to decline 5.2 per cent to 6.3 million acres.Canadian farmers expect oats production to increase 11.9 per cent to reach 2.9 million tonnes. This gain is the result of another potential record average yield of 79.4 bushels per acre.Corn for grainAt the national level, corn for grain production is expected to increase 0.9 per cent, surpassing the record set last year.Ontario farmers anticipate a slight decrease in corn for grain production in 2013 compared with 2012, down 0.7 per cent to 8.5 million tonnes. This is the result of a 1.8 per cent decrease in harvested area, offsetting a one per cent increase in average yield.In Quebec, farmers anticipate a 1.3 per cent increase in production to 3.6 million tonnes. This reflects a 6.2 per cent increase in harvested area from 951,400 acres in 2012 to one million acres in 2013. Average yield is anticipated to decrease 4.6 per cent to 138.3 bushels per acre.In Manitoba, the production of corn for grain is set to increase from 815 400 tonnes in 2012 to a record 919 500 tonnes in 2013. This increase is a result of an anticipated record harvested area of 340,000 acres.SoybeansNationally, soybean production in 2013 is anticipated to decrease 1.2 per cent to 4.8 million tonnes.Ontario soybean production is expected to fall 10.6 per cent to 2.9 million tonnes in 2013. This decline is driven by combined decreases in harvested area, from 2.6 million acres in 2012 to 2.5 million acres in 2013, and in average yield, from 46.5 to 43.0 bushels per acre.In Quebec, soybean production is expected to reach a record 830,000 tonnes in 2013. Average yield is expected to decline 2.3 per cent to 42.9 bushels per acre, while harvested area is expected to increase three per cent.Manitoba farmers anticipate a record soybean production of 928,000 tonnes in 2013, up 22.2 per cent from 2012. This increase reflects a record harvested area of 1.0 million acres, up 28.1 per cent from 2012. However, average yield is expected to decrease 4.6 per cent to 33.3 bushels per acre.
The Prairie Pest Monitoring Network (PPMN), now in its 20th year, continues to provide timely crop insect pest risk and forecasting tools for growers and the industry across Western Canada. As technology and forecasting tools advance, so does the ability of the network to provide relevant insect pest information related to scouting, identification and monitoring tools and information, plus links to provincial monitoring and support relevant to the Canadian Prairies.
A global ban on genetically modified crops would raise food prices and add the equivalent of nearly a billion tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, a study by researchers from Purdue University shows.
Apr. 18, 2016 - Alberta Agriculture and Forestry has released a short video on Fusarium to help producers understand more about the disease. Fusarium graminearum is a hazardous and infectious disease that costs Alberta producers between $3 and $8.7 million annually due to reduced yields and downgrading. "The effects of Fusarium graminearum on cereal crops in Alberta are devastating," says Michael Harding, research scientist with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry (AF). "So a short video was created outlining how to manage it, in an effort to bring awareness about this important fungal disease." The short video, "Stop Fusarium Before it Stops You," depicts the fusarium spores as little cartoon monsters running amok in Alberta. The video briefly outlines the causes and symptoms of the pest, and speaks to management practices to help stop Fusarium at the farmgate: "This is everything from selecting healthy seed that has been tested and proven to be free of Fursarium, to utilizing fungicidal seed treatments, to rotating crops, to employing in-crop fungicides, to irrigating at the right time," says Harding. In 1999, Fusiarum graminearum was added as a declared pest under Alberta's Agricultural Pests Act. View Stop Fusarium Before it Stops You.
Apr. 13, 2016 - Today, the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) released its annual report detailing the adoption of biotech crops, 20th Anniversary of the Global Commercialization of Biotech Crops (1996-2015) and Biotech Crop Highlights in 2015, showcasing the global increase in biotech hectarage from 1.7 million hectares in 1996 to 179.7 million hectares in 2015. This 100-fold increase in just 20 years makes biotechnology the fastest adopted crop technology in recent times, reflecting farmer satisfaction with biotech crops. Since 1996, 2 billon hectares of arable land – a massive area more than twice the landmass of China or the United States – have been planted with biotech crops. Additionally, it is estimated that farmers in up to 28 countries have reaped more than US$150 billion in benefits from biotech crops since 1996. This has helped alleviate poverty for up to 16.5 million small farmers and their families annually totaling about 65 million people, who are some of the poorest people in the world. "More farmers are planting biotech crops in developing countries precisely because biotech crops are a rigorously-tested option for improving crop yields," said Clive James, founder and emeritus chair of ISAAA, who has authored the ISAAA report for the past two decades. "Despite claims from opponents that biotechnology only benefits farmers in industrialized countries, the continued adoption of the technology in developing countries disproves that" James added. For the fourth consecutive year, developing countries planted more biotech crops (14.5 million hectares) than industrialized countries. In 2015, Latin American, Asian and African farmers grew biotech crops on 54 percent of global biotech hectarage (97.1 million hectares of 179.7 million biotech hectares) and of the 28 countries that planted biotech crops, 20 were developing nations. Annually, up to 18 million farmers, 90 percent of whom were small, resource-poor growers in developing countries, benefited from planting biotech crops from 1996 to 2015. "China is just one example of biotechnology's benefits for farmers in developing countries. Between 1997 and 2014, biotech cotton varieties brought an estimated $17.5 billion worth of benefits to Chinese cotton farmers, and they realized $1.3 billion in 2014 alone," explained ISAAA Global Coordinator, Randy Hautea. Also in 2015, India became the leading cotton producer in the world with much of its growth attributed to biotech Bt cotton. India is the largest biotech cotton country in the world with 11.6 million hectares planted in 2015 by 7.7 million small farmers. In 2014 and 2015, an impressive 95 percent of India's cotton crop was planted with biotech seed; China's adoption in 2015 was 96 percent. "Farmers, who are traditionally risk-averse, recognize the value of biotech crops, which offer benefits to farmers and consumers alike, including drought tolerance, insect and disease resistance, herbicide tolerance, and increased nutrition and food quality," Hautea added. "Moreover, biotech crops contribute to more sustainable crop production systems that address concerns regarding climate change and global food security." Following a remarkable run of 19 years of consecutive growth from 1996 to 2014, with 12 years of double-digit growth, the global hectarage of biotech crops peaked at 181.5 million hectares in 2014, compared with 179.7 million hectares in 2015, equivalent to a net marginal decrease of 1 percent. This change is principally due to an overall decrease in total crop hectarage, associated with low prices for commodity crops in 2015. ISAAA anticipates that total crop hectarage will increase when crop prices improve. For example, Canada has projected that canola hectarage in 2016 will revert to the higher level of 2014. Other factors affecting biotech hectarage in 2015 include the devastating drought in South Africa, which led to a massive 23 percent decrease of 700,000 hectares in intended plantings in 2015. The drought in eastern and southern Africa in 2015/2016 puts up to 15 to 20 million poor people at risk for food insecurity and compels South Africa, usually a maize exporter, to rely on maize imports. Additional highlights from ISAAA's 2015 report include: New biotech crops were approved and/or commercialized in several countries including the United States, Brazil, Argentina, Canada and Myanmar. The United States saw a number of firsts including the commercialization of new products such as: Innate Generation 1 potatoes, with lower levels of acrylamide, a potential carcinogen, and resistance to bruising. InnateTM Generation 2, approved in 2015, also has late blight resistance. It is noteworthy that the potato is the fourth most important food crop in the world. Arctic apples that do not brown when sliced. The first non-transgenic genome-edited crop to be commercialized globally, SU Canola, was planted in the United States. The first-time approval of a GM animal food product, GM salmon, for human consumption. Biotech crops with multiple traits, often called "stacked traits," were planted on 58.5 million hectares, representing 33 percent of all biotech hectares planted and a 14 percent year-over-year increase. Vietnam planted a stacked-trait biotech Bt and herbicide-tolerant maize as its first biotech crop. Biotech DroughtGard maize, first planted in the United States in 2013, increased 15-fold from 50,000 hectares in 2013 to 810,000 hectares reflecting high farmer acceptance. Sudan increased Bt cotton hectarage by 30 percent to 120,000 hectares, while various factors precluded a higher hectarage in Burkina Faso. Eight African countries field-tested, pro-poor, priority African crops, the penultimate step prior to approval. Looking ahead to the future of biotechnology in agriculture, ISAAA has identified three key opportunities to realize continued growth in adoption of biotech crops, which are as follows: High rates of adoption (90 percent to 100 percent) in current major biotech markets leave little room for expansion. However, there is a significant potential in other "new" countries for selected products, such as biotech maize, which has a potential of approximately 100 million more hectares globally, 60 million hectares in Asia, of which 35 million is in China alone, plus 35 million hectares in Africa. More than 85 potential new products in the pipeline are now being field-tested; including a biotech drought tolerant maize from the WEMA project (Water Efficient Maize for Africa) expected to be released in Africa in 2017, Golden Rice in Asia, and fortified bananas and pest-resistant cowpea in Africa. CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspersed Short Palindromic Repeats) a new powerful genome editing technology has significant comparative advantages over conventional and GM crops in four domains: precision, speed, cost and regulation. When combined with other advances in crop sciences, CRISPR could increase crop productivity in a "sustainable intensification" mode on the 1.5 billion hectares of global arable land, and make a vital contribution to global food security. For more information or the executive summary of the report, visit www.isaaa.org.
March 22, 2016, Canada – A national survey led by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has found Verticillium wilt (Verticillium longisporum) in six provinces: British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec. V. longisporum is a plant disease that impacts a range of crops, including canola. It was first detected in Canada in late 2014, in Manitoba. Since then, the CFIA, in partnership with industry and provincial partners, has conducted random surveys to determine its general distribution in canola-growing regions of Canada. Verticillium is not a reportable plant disease in Canada and is not known to be regulated in other countries where it is found around the world. As the planting season approaches, grains and oilseeds producers are encouraged to develop and implement a biosecurity management plan to prevent plant pests from being introduced or spread on their lands. Read more about Verticillium wilt in the Canola Council of Canada's Canola Encyclopedia.
POGA’s executive director Shawna Mathieson (with son Andrew) says higher levels of avenanthramides could give people even more reasons to eat oats. Photo by Shawna Mathieson, POGA. Oats have a lot of things going for them when it comes to human health, and one of those things is a group of bioactive compounds called avenanthramides. So a three-year project at the University of Saskatchewan is laying the foundation to help breeders develop oat varieties with higher avenanthramide levels. “Oats are a very unique crop. They are a cereal crop, but they are very different from most cereal crops, such as corn, rice and wheat. First of all, oats have a high oil content, which is not usual in cereal grains. For example, rice has about two per cent oil, but oats may have up to 18 per cent. The high oil content gives high energy, which is very good for feed,” explains Xiao Qiu, a professor in the university’s department of food and bioproduct sciences who is leading the avenanthramide project. “Second, oats contain beta-glucan, a type of water-soluble dietary fibre with important health benefits.” The health effects of beta-glucan have been examined in many studies, and the two best-documented benefits are that it lowers cholesterol, which helps reduce the risk of heart disease, and that it reduces glycemic response after a meal, which helps control or prevent diabetes. “And third, oats have avenanthramides, a type of polyphenol. Polyphenols are a big group of compounds that have many different types of functions, but avenanthramides are a unique type of polyphenol. They have very high antioxidant activity compared with some other polyphenols, and antioxidants are good for protection against cardiovascular disease and many other things. Avenanthramides also have strong anti-skin-irritation and anti-allergic activity. As well, [some research indicates] avenanthramides have high anti-proliferative activity; cancer cells grow very fast, so these kinds of compounds could inhibit cancer growth.” Although more research needs to be done to confirm the human health benefits of consuming avenanthramides, results so far suggest they may provide a variety of important benefits such as contributing to a reduced risk of colon cancer and a reduced risk of heart disease. Avenanthramides are found only in oats, not other cereals. In fact, the “avena” in “avenanthramide” comes from the scientific name for oats, Avena sativa. The oat plant uses avenanthramides to help defend itself against pathogens. Qiu notes that avenanthramides are being used commercially in skin lotions, creams and other personal care products. For example, Aveeno is a company whose name comes from its use of oats and oat extracts in its personal care products. “The basic functional compounds in Aveeno’s products are avenanthramides because of their very high antioxidant and anti-irritation activity.” Also, an Alberta-based company called Ceapro extracts avenanthramides from oats and sells the extract to companies for use in such products. Qiu’s research program investigates the biosynthesis of bioactive compounds in plants and microbes, and includes studies of oat oil, beta-glucan and avenanthramides. His current avenanthramide project started in January 2015 and is funded by Saskatchewan’s Agriculture Development Fund and the Prairie Oat Growers Association (POGA). Qiu and his research team have already completed this project’s first objective, which was to survey avenanthramide levels in oat germplasm. “If we want to increase the avenanthramide content in oats, we have to know which germplasm samples have higher levels. If the level is high in a sample, then an oat breeder could potentially use it as a parent for crossbreeding,” he says. The researchers obtained germplasm samples from the university’s plant sciences department and from Plant Gene Resources of Canada, the Saskatoon-based national germplasm bank. Most of the samples were oat breeding lines and cultivars from Aaron Beattie, an oat breeder at the university and long-term partner in oat research with Qiu, but they also tested some wild Avena species to get a general idea of the range in avenanthramide levels. Analyzing samples for avenanthramides is fairly complex. Qiu explains that oats contain up to 20 different types of avenanthramides, although normally there are only three major ones, which are known as avenanthramide-A, avenanthramide-B and avenanthramide-C. So his lab tested about 30 different germplasm samples for those three avenanthramides. The tests showed quite a wide range in avenanthramide levels. His lab is now working on the second of the project’s two objectives: to find out how avenanthramides are made in the oat plant. “To improve this trait in oat varieties, you have to know the biosynthetic pathway – how avenanthramides are synthesized biochemically in the plant, what genes control the synthesis, what kinds of enzymes are involved, and all these kind of things,” Qiu says. He adds, “If we know the genes involved, then oat breeders can design a molecular marker for the trait.” A molecular marker is a short sequence of DNA associated with a specific trait. Breeders use these types of markers to quickly screen germplasm for the desired traits in the lab, making their breeding efforts more efficient and effective. Qiu notes, “I’ve talked to oat breeders here, and they haven’t made avenanthramides a priority trait in their breeding programs. Right now, they are focusing on things like disease resistance and yield. But you never know how things might go in the future.” From superfood to super-duper food?Down the road, if breeders are able to develop oat varieties with higher amounts of avenanthramides, then there could potentially be benefits along the oat value chain. “With an increased amount of avenanthramides, companies could use more oats in products like lotions and creams where they want anti-itching and anti-inflammatory properties,” says Shawna Mathieson, POGA’s executive director. “And people would have even more reasons to eat this ‘superfood.’ Oats are already recommended by many doctors because the fibre in oats helps to reduce cholesterol. Some studies have shown that individuals with high cholesterol who consume just three grams of soluble fibre every day, or about the amount in a bowl of oatmeal, can lower their cholesterol. Avenanthramides have also been linked to prevention of cardiovascular disease and to protection against colon cancer and skin irritation. So higher avenanthramide levels would make oats even better for consumers.” As research information about the health benefits of eating avenanthramides increases and as consumers become aware of these benefits, then higher levels of avenanthramides in oats could help to increase oat consumption by health-conscious consumers. She says, “That would mean higher sales and hopefully higher profitability not only for oat producers but also for those down the oat value chain.” Qiu thinks avenanthramides could play a valuable part in further improving the reputation of oats as a functional food. “Although oats already have a healthy image, people are only paying attention to the beta-glucan content. But oats are not just about beta-glucan; they also have avenanthramides. Right now avenanthramides are used for cosmetics, but consuming avenanthramides is also good for you. Adding avenanthramides to the good image of oats would create more demand,” he says. “For instance, people drink red wine because of the polyphenolics, but oats have a unique group of polyphenolics with stronger antioxidant activity than wine polyphenolics. People drink tea partially because of the tannins and other polyphenolics, but oats have avenanthramides with a better activity. So why not eat more oats?”
Local Liberal MP Francis Scarpaleggia and Jean-Claude Poissant, Parliamentary Secretary for the Minister of Agriculture, announced $2.9 million in funding at a press conference for two McGill projects aimed at mitigating greenhouse gas emissions caused by water and fertilizer use in agriculture.
Small planes have been flying over local farms and taking aerial photos for decades. Now, individual farmers are able to get an aerial view of a field using a small remote-controlled drone equipped with a camera. But Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) has been receiving information from a far more sophisticated data collection network for at least the past 30 years, according to Leander Campbell. Campbell, a geographer who specializes in geomatics, works as a remote sensing specialist with the Earth Observation team at AAFC. He says most of his work is on the AAFC Annual Space-Based Crop Inventory. He gets his data in the form of imagery from satellites and uses it to produce an accurate national crop map. “The crop map, the one I work on, is at a 30 metre resolution so each pixel is a 30 metre by 30 metre square. It covers all of Canada,” he explains. Campbell adds one of the crops mapped in year one of the crop inventory in 2009 was soybeans. Since then, the data has shown how the crop is spreading west and north on the Prairies.Campbell extracted only the soybean fields (in yellow) from Manitoba crop maps for the years 2009 and 2012.Photo courtesy of Leander Campbell, AAFC. The network Campbell gets his data from consists of several international satellites. The American satellite Landsat-8 provides optical data to create crop maps anyone can download. In addition to these data, Campbell’s team also uses microwave data from the Canadian RADARSAT-2 satellite. The combination of optical and microwave data has been shown to produce more accurate maps than maps created from either single source. These maps are created and validated using data collected by people in the field. For the Prairies, “we have agreements with the provincial crop insurance companies,” Campbell says. “It’s not a perfect system but we’re about 85 per cent and 90 per cent accurate and working to improve that.” Satellites don’t stay in orbit forever and Campbell says a backup is always an asset. Canada has plans to launch a constellation of three microwave satellites in 2018, the RADARSAT Constellation Mission (RCM), to gather data that’s even more detailed and precise than what’s available now. “There are more uses than I ever thought of,” Campbell says. For instance, crop placements, crop monitoring, research, commodity marketing, land use management and even flood forecasting in Manitoba. Microwave data collected by the European SMOS (Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity) satellite allows Campbell’s team to operationally measure soil moisture in the top five centimetres of soil. He says most people don’t realize the Earth naturally radiates very low-level microwave energy and a satellite in space can pick up the variations in waves. Water absorbs microwave energy. When the microwaves radiate out from the Earth and pass through the soil, some of them are captured by moisture in the soil. According to Campbell, in September 2015, Statistics Canada did not do a farmer survey, opting to use AAFC climate data to complete their crop yield forecast. Satellite data can describe how agriculture land is changing or evolving over the years, whether it’s farmland expanding by eliminating small woodlots or urban expansion covering agricultural land. These phenomena can be monitored year over year using the AAFC crop maps. Campbell has compiled maps that helped document the areas where clubroot is developing in canola. Scott Keller, a farmer from Camrose County in Alberta, contacted AAFC, asking Campbell if he could map Camrose County to determine how often canola was grown in particular fields. Keller wanted to determine which fields grew canola most often, either in a tight rotation over multiple years or in succession, in order to determine if there was a correlation between the escalation of clubroot and the rotation schedule.Map created by Campbell to monitor canola crop frequency in Camrose County, Alta. Photo courtesy of Leander Campbell, AAFC. That’s just one way satellite data can support crop management. Campbell says he’s confident that as computer technology and Internet costs come down, AAFC will be able to create more products from data because they can monitor specific areas once or several times over a growing season, or over years. Campbell and his six colleagues who create the crop maps, soil moisture reports and the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) reports have an international presence as well. “I know some of our maps are incorporated into more global crop assessments for global market information, especially the NDVI maps,” Campbell says. He explains that several nations around the world use satellite imagery to monitor their own crops. They meet on a monthly basis and compare data on major crops like corn, wheat, rice and soybeans through an organization called GEOGLAM. The group’s website states its vision is to “use coordinated, comprehensive and sustained Earth observations to inform decisions and actions in agriculture through a system of agricultural monitoring.” https://cropmonitor.org Canadian farmers can access existing maps and data products online from the AAFC website. Because these maps are highly detailed, producers may experience difficulty downloading them on devices while in the field, but they can still view them online. According to Campbell, that’s the sort feedback he needs to hear from farmers. “In our little world we have all these high-end computers and that works fine for us, but it may not be the most practical thing for others,” Campbell says. And, he’s looking forward to finding more ways to help farmers and make the website more user-friendly. As satellite mapping matures, both farmers and scientists will view agriculture in new ways and Campbell is enthusiastic about the possibilities. “It’s a really exciting time to be in our field,” Campbell says. This article originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of Top Crop Manager West
Urban sprawl has some Ontario farmers, agricultural organizations and even politicians looking to the north as the future for agriculture in the province. It is, after all, where producers can find cheaper land – typically priced between $1,000 to $1,500 per acre – and lots of it.
Sept. 7, 2916 - Canadian farmers are in a strong position to meet their financial obligations, despite plateauing farm incomes and slowing land appreciations, according to Farm Credit Canada's (FCC) 2016-2017 Outlook for Farm Assets and Debt Report.“This financial strength allows the industry to invest even more in the innovation and productivity it will need to feed an ever-growing world population,” says J.P. Gervais, FCC’s chief agricultural economist.In 2015, the debt-to-asset ratio on Canadian farms remained historically low at 15.5 per cent, compared to the previous five-year average of 15.9 per cent and the 15-year average of 16.7 per cent, according to the report.A low debt-to-asset ratio is generally considered better for business, since it provides financial flexibility and lowers risk for producers.FCC’s Outlook for Farm Assets and Debt Report provides an overview of the balance sheet of agriculture, focusing on the financial health of the sector. It also looks at the affordability of assets relative to farm income, with a special focus on farmland values.“After a prolonged period of strong growth in farm asset and land values, our projections indicate a deceleration in both increasing land values and farm debt levels,” Gervais says.The report analyzed three key indicators of the financial health of Canada’s agriculture sector: liquidity, solvency and profitability. It found that farm liquidity, which looks at the ability of producers to make short-term payments, and solvency – the proportion of total assets financed by debt – have remained consistently strong over the past five years.In 2015, farm profitability, calculated by comparing net income to total assets, was slightly below the five-year average due to strong farm asset appreciation, especially in farmland values.“Land is the most valuable asset a farmer owns and the most important input for agricultural production,” says Gervais, noting that land made up 67 per cent of the value of total farm assets in 2015, compared to 54 per cent in 1981.“As farming becomes more profitable, farmland becomes more expensive,” he said. “However, when asset values are increasing more quickly than net farm income, overall profitability begins to soften. This reflects the cyclical nature of the business.”From 2001 to 2011, the value of farmland and buildings appreciated on average 7.2 per cent per year, doubling over that timeframe. From 2012 to 2015, average annual appreciation was 11.7 per cent and total appreciation was 39.4 per cent.Gervais says a combination of low interest rates and strong crop receipts was the primary cause of the rapid rate of asset appreciation in recent years. He projects appreciation will slow down with the expectation of lower crop prices over the next two to three years.
June 21, 2016 - The Harrington research farm in Harringon, P.E.I., is breaking new ground, becoming the first Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada facility in the country to have part of its operation certified organic. The organic block is just 10 of the facility's approximately 400 hectares, but has been getting good reviews from organic growers in the region. READ MORE.
Apr. 26, 2016 - Honey bee colonies in the United States are in decline, due in part to the ill effects of voracious mites, fungal gut parasites and a wide variety of debilitating viruses. Researchers from the University of Maryland (UMD) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently completed the first comprehensive, multi-year study of honey bee parasites and disease as part of the National Honey Bee Disease Survey. The findings reveal some alarming patterns, but provide at least a few pieces of good news as well. The results, published online in the journal Apidologie on April 20, 2016, provide an important five-year baseline against which to track future trends. Key findings show that the varroa mite, a major honey bee pest, is far more abundant than previous estimates indicated and is closely linked to several damaging viruses. Also, the results show that the previously rare Chronic Bee Paralysis Virus has skyrocketed in prevalence since it was first detected by the survey in 2010. The good news, however, is that three potentially damaging exotic species have not yet been introduced into the United States: the parasitic tropilaelaps mite, the Asian honey bee Apis cerana and slow bee paralysis virus. "Poor honey bee health has gained a lot of attention from scientists and the media alike in recent years. However, our study is the first systematic survey to establish disease baselines, so that we can track changes in disease prevalence over time," said Kirsten Traynor, a postdoctoral researcher in entomology at UMD and lead author on the study. "It highlights some troubling trends and indicates that parasites strongly influence viral prevalence." The results, based on a survey of beekeepers and samples from bee colonies in 41 states and two territories (Puerto Rico and Guam), span five seasons from 2009 through 2014. The study looked at two major parasites that affect honey bees: the varroa mite and nosema, a fungal parasite that disrupts a bee's digestive system. The study found clear annual trends in the prevalence of both parasites, with varroa infestations peaking in late summer or early fall and nosema peaking in late winter. The study also found notable differences in the prevalence of varroa and nosema between migratory and stationary beehives. Migratory beekeepers -- those who truck their hives across the country every summer to pollinate a variety of crops -- reported lower levels of varroa compared with stationary beekeepers, whose hives stay put year-round. However, the reverse was true for nosema, with a lower relative incidence of nosema infection reported by stationary beekeepers. Additionally, more than 50 per cent of all beekeeping operations sampled had high levels of varroa infestation at the beginning of winter -- a crucial time when colonies are producing long-lived winter bees that must survive on stored pollen and honey. "Our biggest surprise was the high level of varroa, especially in fall, and in well-managed colonies cared for by beekeepers who have taken steps to control the mites," said study co-author Dennis vanEngelsdorp, an assistant professor of entomology at UMD. "We knew that varroa was a problem, but it seems to be an even bigger problem than we first thought. Moreover, varroa's ability to spread viruses presents a more dire situation than we suspected." For years, evidence has pointed to varroa mites as a culprit in the spread of viruses, vanEngelsdorp noted. Until now, however, much of this evidence came from lab-based studies. The current study provides crucial field-based validation of the link between varroa and viruses. "We know that varroa acts as a vector for viruses. The mites are basically dirty hypodermic needles," Traynor said. "The main diet for the mites is blood from the developing bee larva. When the bee emerges, the mites move on to the nearest larval cell, bringing viruses with them. Varroa can also spread viruses between colonies. When a bee feeds on a flower, mites can jump from one bee to another and infect a whole new colony." Nosema, the fungal gut parasite, appears to have a more nuanced relationship with honey bee viruses. Nosema infection strongly correlates to the prevalence of Lake Sinai Virus 2, first identified in 2013, and also raises the risk for Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus. However, the researchers found an inverse relationship between nosema and Deformed Wing Virus. Some viruses do not appear to be associated with varroa or nosema at all. One example is Chronic Bee Paralysis Virus, which causes loss of motor control and can kill individual bees within days. This virus was first detected by the survey in the U.S. in 2010. At that time, less than one per cent of all samples submitted for study tested positive for the virus. Since then, the virus' prevalence roughly doubled every year, reaching 16 per cent in 2014. "Prior to this national survey, we lacked the epidemiological baselines of disease prevalence in honey bees. Similar information has been available for years for the cattle, pork and chicken industries," Traynor said. "I think people who get into beekeeping need to know that it requires maintenance. You wouldn't get a dog and not take it to the vet, for example. People need to know what is going on with the livestock they're managing." While parasites and disease are huge factors in declining honey bee health, there are other contributors as well. Pesticides, for example, have been implicated in the decline of bee colonies across the country. "Our next step is to provide a similar baseline assessment for the effects of pesticides," vanEngelsdorp said. "We have multiple years of data and as soon as we've finished the analyses, we'll be ready to tell that part of the story as well."
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