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KATE PROCTER - JULY 2014 PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 22 July 2014 09:47
For anyone who regularly reads this column, you might pick up on a couple of themes that I seem to harp on – soil conservation and farm safety. Unfortunately, farming still makes the top-10 list of dangerous occupations, in spite of many efforts to change this.
Our own operation has changed significantly over the past few years. While I used to spend my time large-ly in the farrowing rooms where be-ing safe meant keeping out of the way of the sharp end of cranky ma-mas, things are different now. A few months ago, the guy with the nerves of steel who does all the climbing on our grain bins came in and asked me to pick up a belt for him.
“A belt, eh? What kind of a belt?” He was a bit vague about it – and I’m ashamed to say that I had no idea, so I started looking into it further. First things first, those grain bins that sit there, quietly not making a sound all year, may be one of the most dangerous things on our farms now.
While it seems tough to nail down any statistics from Canada, U.S. records show that grain bin entrap-ment is one of those farm dangers that has seen an increasing rate of reported fatal and non-fatal occur-rences. Purdue University estimates that 65-70 per cent of grain bin entrapments happen on farms, and 20 per cent of fatalities happen to people under the age of 16.  As farmers try to manage crop sales, more grain is being stored across Ontario and the bins are getting bigger.
The second thing I learned is that going out and buying a belt is not the answer to this complex problem. Having grain in good storage condit-ion is the number one consideration – if your grain is in good condition to store properly, there will be less temptation for people to enter the bin and risk their lives.  Since we don’t live in a perfect world where everything works out exactly the way we’d like, we also must consider the next steps to keeping everyone working on farm safe.
Since 1999, Wayne Bauer from Star of the West Milling, has been leading the Grain Entrapment Prevention initiative in the U.S. When they started looking into safety on their operation, they discovered that the equipment and knowledge they needed was simply not available so they had to develop it themselves.
The initiative has developed a list of best management practices to help people working with grain stay safe. These include: 1. Stay out if possible, 2. Never enter alone, 3. Never enter untrained, 4. Follow entry permit, 5. Shut down/lockout, 6. Secure lifeline, 7. Emergency preparedness.
The sixth point, a secure lifeline, is the point that got me started looking into this in the first place. A belt is not part of this solution and the required equipment is also different than equipment used for fall protection. “Maintain control of the lifeline, if you must enter a bin with grain in it. Your lifeline is useless unless it is secured properly. Ideally, it is attached to an overhead anchorage point. The restraint system must minimize the slack in the lifeline and be able to handle an unexpected 500-800 lbs. jerk on the line. Would you buy a family car without seatbelts? Well, why would you even consider erecting a steel storage bin in the future that could not provide a reasonable work restraint system with a properly secured lifeline?”
This is an important consideration when purchasing new bins as well as when looking at secure anchor points on your old bins. More information can be found at www.grainentrap-ment-prevention.com.
One of the biggest lessons for me in all of this is that proper equipment and training are important for keeping everyone safe. You can’t just walk into the local safety equipment place and pick up what you need. Every operation is a little different, and training is vital. Look for Bin Entry Kits and consider coming out to one of the sessions Wayne is leading in Ontario this summer.
Wayne will be speaking at Lockie Farms, Zephyr, Ontario, on July 10 – contact Daryl Rush, 905-473-2361 for more information. This event is being held in memory of Daryl’s brother, Gary Rush, who was tragically killed in a grain bin accident near Cambridge in March, 2014. Gary had over 30 years of experience with grain – if it can happen to him, it can happen to anyone.
The Emergency Services Training Center in Blyth will also be hosting Farm and Agriculture Emergencies and Rescue training August 22 to 27. Topics include Farm Families – First on the Scene, Farm and Ag Emergency Training for First Responders, and Farm and Industry Preparedness. Contact Stephanie Currie at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it for more details or call 226-523-9500, ext. 200.◊
TAKE SPECIAL CARE WORKING IN GRAIN BINS
For anyone who regularly reads this column, you might pick up on a couple of themes that I seem to harp on – soil conservation and farm safety. Unfortunately, farming still makes the top-10 list of dangerous occupations, in spite of many efforts to change this.
Our own operation has changed significantly over the past few years. While I used to spend my time large-ly in the farrowing rooms where be-ing safe meant keeping out of the way of the sharp end of cranky ma-mas, things are different now. A few months ago, the guy with the nerves of steel who does all the climbing on our grain bins came in and asked me to pick up a belt for him.
Read more...
 
KEITH ROULSTON - JULY 2014 PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 22 July 2014 09:39
Whether it’s concern from the public about the danger to bees posed by neonicotinoid seed treatments or the requirement under the new code of practice calling for group housing of dry sows, the answer for opposing farm groups these days seems to be to ask for science-based proof before any action is taken
Science today is like religion was in the past – it’s the ultimate, unas-sailable answer to any question. But just as religion is not absolute, with different denominations basing their version of Christianity on different portions of scripture, so scientific “proof” depends on who you listen to – and we often listen to the scient-ists who tell us what we want to hear.
So, for instance, a large majority of climate scientists say human activity is causing the climate to change in ways that are detrimental to humans and animals. If you don’t want to have to change what you are doing, however, you’ll use the opinions of the minority of scientists who say there’s no problem. They are to be believed; the majority have it wrong – and perhaps even has a hidden agenda.
How many smokers died an early death because they preferred to ignore scientists who said smoking tobacco was potentially deadly, listening instead to scientists who were shills for the tobacco comp-anies who claimed the evidence that smoking caused cancer was flawed?
Society was fortunate in the case of the smoking issue that we had a robust government-funded research program looking into the true medical effects of smoking tobacco. Imagine if the tobacco industry had been conducting the only research that was being done?
That’s the situation that we’re in today due to cuts in government-sponsored research. An academic who hopes for funding for research these days usually needs to get a commercial backer before getting matching government dollars, meaning the research that getting done is gener-ally that which will benefit large companies.
Meanwhile there are areas of research that might benefit farmers and society in general that don’t get done because no commercial company will benefit. No corporation benefits, for instance, for research on bees. That’s the kind of research that would have been done when we had stronger government research.
When major corporations come out with a new product, they’re quick to emphasize the benefits and generally farmers are quite happy to believe they’ve done their homework on all side-effects. Farmers become so wedded to a product they’ve only had for a few years, like neonico-tinoids, that they believe they can’t live without it.
So they believe the seed company scientists saying neonicotinoids are harmless, and disbelieve scientists like those in western Canada who found levels of the pesticide in the water of sloughs that were strong enough to kill insects.
Over and over again farmers say that, of course, they care about bees, but they want scientific proof that pesticides are the problem behind massive bee deaths before any action to ban or restrict use of  neonico-tinoids. That might be easier to believe if they actually showed their concern. At Crops Day during Grey-Bruce Farmers’ Week back in Janu-ary, when OMAFRA cereal crop specialist Peter Johnson asked how many of farmers had ordered any seed not treated with neonicotinoids in order to test how much they were needed it on their land, only five hands went up in a room of nearly 200. Meanwhile, an article on how to protect bees on our own website had only 20 hits in six months while other articles had hundreds.
Sorry, guys, but by your actions you are demonstrating that you’re using science as an excuse for not considering anything you don’t really want to do in the first place.◊
IS SCIENCE THE NEW RELIGION?
Whether it’s concern from the public about the danger to bees posed by neonicotinoid seed treatments or the requirement under the new code of practice calling for group housing of dry sows, the answer for opposing farm groups these days seems to be to ask for science-based proof before any action is taken
Science today is like religion was in the past – it’s the ultimate, unassailable answer to any question. But just as religion is not absolute, with different denominations basing their version of Christianity on different portions of scripture, so scientific “proof” depends on who you listen to – and we often listen to the scient-ists who tell us what we want to hear.
Read more...
 
MABEL'S GRILL - JULY 2014 PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 22 July 2014 09:31
“So I’m making money on my cattle for the first time since the BSE crisis and every time I turn on the TV it seems like somebody’s complain-ing that they can’t afford to eat beef,” grumbled George McKenzie at the morning coffee session the other day.
“Or pork,” said Dave Winston. “Half the pork producers went out of business through the bad times and all you hear about is how much people have to pay for pork chops.”
“You ever notice it’s not big news when the price of beef or pork goes down,” said Cliff Murray.
“Yeah, people never realize that our prices go up and down,” said Dave. “Their salaries only go up and up again.”
“Tell me about it!” said Mabel. “My daughter Jenna needs braces on her teeth and the dentist tells me it’s going to cost $5,000.”
“Jenna’s got great teeth,” said Molly Whiteside as she went back to the counter from pouring the guys’ coffee. “Why does she need braces?”
“Apparently her life is going to be ruined if I don’t shell hour five grand,” said Molly.
“I guess we can expect to pay more for toast and coffee,” grumbled George.
“Well you’re still paying the same for your hamburgers even though the price of beef went up!” snapped Mabel.
“Have you ever noticed that people in some professions just take it for granted that their time is worth more than your’s?” asked Dave. “Dentists, lawyers, accountants – they just assume they’re supposed to make more in an hour than the rest of us do in a day.”
“And yet they expect to get their food at the price their parents paid,” said George. “City people apparently think we should be like the peasants of old times who lived in poverty so the lords could live in castles.”
“Oh I’m sure those people are always looking at somebody else who’s making more money than them and feeling sorry for them-selves,” said Molly.
“Yeah, I always remember Ted Turner saying a few years ago that he was worth $7 billion and was feeling pretty good about himself but then he saw Bill Gates was worth $60 billion and he felt kinda poor,” said Dave.
“Some people just live in another world,” said Cliff. “Back in the spring I read where Miguel Cabrera, this player for the Detroit Tigers, signed a new contract that’s going to pay him about $43,000 for every time he goes to bat for the next 10 years.”
“Does he get a deduction if he strikes out?” wondered Molly.
“Yeah right!” snorted George. “If he wrecks his arm or leg and can’t play he’ll still get paid whether he goes to bat at all!”
“The thing is, I read that the median family income in Detroit is $26,995,” said Cliff. “Imagine if you’re trying to live on that much and you see a guy earn – what – if he goes to bat four times a day he’d make as much in one day as you’d earn in more than six years.”
“I’ll bet he still complains about the price of steak!” said George.
“If it was any other business but sports, they’d have automated to save money,” said Molly.
“Yeah, imagine if they had, say half as many people like we have in the pork business,” said Dave. “They’d be getting by with five players on a team.”
“Some things you just can’t auto-mate,” said Mabel. “Like cooking your pancakes in the morning.”
“I don’t know,” said Cliff, “I was reading they’re coming out with this 3D printer that will take over repet-itive cooking tasks. It won’t cook a five-course dinner, but it can make pasta or pizza. So someday, Mabel, you may be replaced.”
“I can hardly wait,” said Mabel. “Maybe the 3-D printer and serve 3-D customers.”
“Hey, these guys are already automated,” said Molly. “They repeat the same arguments over and over again every day.”◊
THE MABEL'S GANG COMPLAINS ABOUT PEOPLE COMPLAINING ABOUT BEEF, PORK PRICES
The world’s problems are solved daily ’round the table at Mabel’s Grill.
“So I’m making money on my cattle for the first time since the BSE crisis and every time I turn on the TV it seems like somebody’s complaining that they can’t afford to eat beef,” grumbled George McKenzie at the morning coffee session the other day.
“Or pork,” said Dave Winston. “Half the pork producers went out of business through the bad times and all you hear about is how much people have to pay for pork chops.”
Read more...
 
KATE PROCTER - JUNE 2014 PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 20 June 2014 11:01
It is difficult to imagine anything that consumes our attention in May quite as much as the weather. If you ever listen to weather forecasts on the radio, you would imagine that the only thing affected by the weather is fun weekend activities, even here in rural Ontario. We farmers know better.
Sometimes we almost become obsessed by frost, rain, wind, and amount of sunlight. I suspect that many of us are closet weather nerds. We think about weather in ways that our urban cousins tend not to. I remember Victoria Day in 1978 was cold, wet, and blustery. I was nine years old and bundled up to go to an auction with my uncle and came home with my dream – a bay Quarter horse named Lady.
I remember Victoria Day in 2002 because we were out fencing and our picnic lunch was spent huddled around a campfire while bursts of snow showers stung our faces. It is not unusual to spend my Mom’s birthday, May 6, planting corn, or in contrast, bundled against the snow.
In 2014, we have come out of what many people have referred to as the worst winter ever. Yes, it was long. And it was cold. Last fall, we finished corn harvest amid snow flurries, but we did get it off, unlike that winter of 2008 that saw some of our corn sit in the field over winter for the first time in 60 years and my neighbour’s barn roof collapse.
I hear people say over and over about how bad our spring has been – how slow and backward. Maybe spring just gently crept in this year, leaving the drama of winter behind, so it seems slower. When I compared this year to my records from last year – I discovered that we started planting corn on May 3 in 2013 and on May 6 in 2014. We started planting beans on May 15 in 2013, but got shut down for a week from May 20 to May 27 with rain and cold weather. I particularly remember that weekend as I was camping with a pack of Cubs and there was ice on the puddles when we crawled out of our tents on Sunday morning.
Since an inch of rain over the past 24 hours has left me cooling my heels while I wait for the sun to dry out the fields a bit, I dug into the Government of Canada’s historical weather data, just for fun. It is amazing what you can find on there. I actually found that someone has kept track of lots of weather stats for places all over Ontario. I decided to look at Blyth.
First of all, I was able to track down the mean temperature and rainfall, by month for each year from 1968 to 2006. I did not do any scientific analysis of the data… just graphed it for my own interest to see if I could see with my naked eye any patterns or trends. Guess what? I couldn’t see much of a pattern other than it appears that things are getting wetter here in the Blyth area of Huron County.
I thought maybe taking a look at broader patterns was in order. Sometimes we have short memories – many people even forgot what winter used to be like after a few years of mild ones. It was interesting to look at what the government calls “Canadian Climate Normals”. I like looking at May because it seems to be such a pivotal month, weatherly speaking. Data was compared from 1961 to 2010, and during that time, May was one of the wettest months, usually second only to September.
I got looking at calculations of Canadian Climate Normals for three time periods – 1961-1990; 1971-2000; and 1981-2010. The average temperature for each of these three 30-year periods for May was 12oC, 12.3oC, and 12.2oC respectively. The average rainfall for the same periods was 76.7 mm, 89.8 mm, and 102.3mm. For those who prefer inches – that works out to 3.02 inches, 3.5 inches, and 4.03 inches.
While there is some overlap of the time periods, this data shows that we got on average one more inch of rain in May than we used to get. This seems to make sense based on the year-by-year numbers I looked at earlier. This a bit scary, especially considering that two extremely dry Mays, 2005 and 2006, were included in that data.
Well, maybe that was just May. So I looked at annual amounts for the same periods. I was surprised to discover that during the period from 1981 to 2010, the annual precipitation was over six inches more than during the period from 1961 to 1990. While we did get more snow, most of that increase was due to an increase in total rainfall.
Not only are we getting more rain – but we are getting rain in more extreme ways. The Insurance Board of Canada released a statement in January (http://www.ibc.ca/ en/Media_Centre/News_Releases/2014/January/Canada_inundated_by_severe_weather_in_2013.asp) stating that insurance claims in 2013 due to severe weather hit $3.2 billion, the highest in Canadian history. “The largest insured disaster – and Canada’s costliest natural disaster ever – was the torrential rainfall that flooded towns in southern Alberta last June. Insured damage for that storm was more than $1.74 billion.” The report also points out that severe thunderstorm that hit central and southern Ontario and southwest Quebec in June and July caused over $250 million in damage.
If farmers know one thing for sure, there is nothing we can do about the weather. But it is hard to deny that things seem to be changing. It seems that wasting time pointing fingers at who is to blame is not what is needed at this point. We should be focusing on what we can do to try and reduce damage. Increasing our attempts to protect soil from extreme weather is one of the first things that jumps into my mind.
If the forecast is anywhere close to being accurate – I’ll have a few days to look into that before getting back into the planter.◊
LET’S TALK ABOUT THE WEATHER
It is difficult to imagine anything that consumes our attention in May quite as much as the weather. If you ever listen to weather forecasts on the radio, you would imagine that the only thing affected by the weather is fun weekend activities, even here in rural Ontario. We farmers know better.
Read more...
 
KEITH ROULSTON - JUNE 2014 PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 20 June 2014 10:56
A whole new crop of young people graduating from agricultural programs at colleges and universities this time of the year, plus a whole group of high school students preparing to fill those schools next fall, makes that old song about “how are you going to keep them down on the farm” seem out of touch.
In reality, it’s never been a problem convincing a lot of farm-raised kids to continue to farm. The problem, rather, has been how these young people can get their foot in the door of owning a farm. Despite the hard work, despite the uncertainty of weather and markets, a significant proportion of farm kids want to continue to farm.
Certainly not all the graduates of ag schools will return to the farm. Some will accept jobs working for companies or governments, advising farmers on the latest developments. I’m constantly surprised, though, listening to speakers at meetings who work for OMAFRA or agri-businesses, how many of them have farming operations on the side.
To realize how strong the lure of the farm is, you need to look at other rural businesses. Even though the investment to buy into a parent’s store is small by comparison to buying the family farm, very few children of merchants are following in their parents’ footsteps.
In the community newspaper business, a majority of Ontario newspapers are now owned by a few media giants largely because the children of the publishers of most towns’ newspapers were not interesting in taking over. Neither, for that matter, were several generations of people who came through journalism schools who preferred the security of working for one of those large media organizations – though there’s been little job security lately as these corporations downsize.
By comparison, the entrepreneurial gene seems to have passed down more strongly to farm kids. Young people are prepared to climb far out on a limb of financial risk in order to own a farm. Perhaps they’re prepared to take chances because they know they’re buying more than just a business. While sophisticated urbanite elites have mocked farmers’ lifestyle ever since that song about not being able to keep people on the farm came out nearly a century ago,  young farmers are willing to fight hard for what they know is a superior way of life for themselves and their children.
It hasn’t always been so. There were times in the past decade after the BSE crisis devastated the beef industry and plunging prices and disease clobbered pork producers, when I heard farmers admit sadly that they hoped their kids wouldn’t follow them into farming. With a rebound in prices in both meat sectors and the record crop prices of recent years, those sentiments seem to have been silenced.
Instead,  the problem is how those young people ardently wanting to farm can afford it. With the explosion in farmland prices, they are being asked to pay $1 million-plus for a 100-acre starter farm that someone of their parents’ generation bought for less than one-tenth as much.
But such is the entrepreneurial spark of farm-raised young people, that a considerable number will find ways to make it happen, fighting against seemingly impossible odds like salmon hurling themselves over waterfalls on their way to spawn.
Sometimes, looking around at a generation of young people whose parents took all the struggle out of their lives and who want to take the safe, secure path, I despair of what might happen to our country. When I see the determination and willingness to take a risk shown by our young farming generation, I can’t help feeling that, at least in farming, our country’s future is in good hands.◊
DETERMINED YOUNG FARMERS SHOW COUNTRY’S FUTURE IS IN GOOD HANDS
A whole new crop of young people graduating from agricultural programs at colleges and universities this time of the year, plus a whole group of high school students preparing to fill those schools next fall, makes that old song about “how are you going to keep them down on the farm” seem out of touch.
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