The 2016 farming season was a tough one for many Western Ontario farmers.
In a nutshell, Ontario farmers had to deal with higher hydro bills and low cash crop and livestock prices in 2016. Animal activists made their presence known again on farms and in the courtroom. Aquatic insects might stop the use of neonicotinoid-treated seeds in Ontario. Honeybees are doing just fine, after all.
Here are Farmers Forum’s top 10 farm stories of 2016.
Hydro bills skyrocket
Hydro One prices have gotten so high that some farmers say they are paying twice as much as they did five years ago despite taking measures to decrease the amount of hydro they use. One farmer received a bill for $211.32 despite using just $2.88 in power for a water bowl. A Toronto-based hydro bill analyst told Farmers Forum last winter that about 10 per cent of farmers are overcharged on their Hydro One bills. Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne was booed at the International Plowing Match in September when she mentioned hydro prices, a consequence of an expensive and inefficient wind energy policy. By year’s end, her approval rating dropped to 16 %.
The end of neonics?
Neonicotinoid-treated corn and soybean seeds are purchased with an insecticide already on the seed. Honeybee operators howled that neonics were killing honeybees in large numbers. That proved to be wrong. The Ontario Minister of Agriculture favoured a ban on neonics based on the precautionary principle. That proved to be dumb. In January last year, Health Canada said imidacloprid, one of three main neonics used in Canada although rarely used in Ontario, did not harm honeybees. However, a Health Canada report released in late 2016 said imidacloprid might be banned within the next three to five years as it is harmful to aquatic insects such as mayflies and midges. More studies are being done. Meantime, the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists said Ontario beekeepers reported losing just 17.93 per cent of their bees last winter despite the wide use of neonics. Grain farmers also took issue with the province’s new neonic regulations, arguing they were not science-based and required about an hour of paperwork for every 100 acres. No matter, there are now new corn seed products to replace neonics. Once again, the agriculture sector comes to the rescue.
Record low fatalities
On-farm fatalities are always the most tragic events each year. They happen suddenly, unexpectedly and often appear cruel. But last year proved to be surprisingly the safest year on record. Ten years ago, 25 to 30 on-farm fatalities per year was the norm. In 2015, there were 11 fatalities. Last year, there were 4.
Province approves five new turbine projects but scraps others
The provincial government is loved and hated over wind turbines. The province approved five controversial wind power projects last March. Most are planned for municipalities that don’t want them. Many farmers and area homeowners say turbines are tearing apart their communities and pitting family members against one another. The province announced in September that it was scrapping plans for another $3.8 billion in renewable energy contracts as every wind turbine is a guarantee to lose millions of dollars. There are more than 2,300 turbines operational in Ontario. Shutting down just one three-megawatt turbine would save $23.6 million in taxpayer money over 20 years — enough to build a school for 1,000 students.
Increasing property assessments
The Municipal Property Assessment Corporation sent out notices for farmland property assessments in October, and some farmers saw their properties double in value. This means farmers may have to pay much higher taxes in 2017, depending on their municipality’s tax rates. The increase in assessments, which happens every four years, is due to the increase in land prices.
Cheap Cdn dollar: good and bad
A lower loonie buoyed crop and livestock sales but also contributed to a drop in new and used equipment sales. The Canadian dollar fell to just under US $0.69 in January last year, the first time it dropped below US $0.70 since May, 2003. The dollar rebounded and hovered between US $0.75 to US $0.80 for most of the year.
Trump elected president
The election of Donald Trump as president of the United States could have a bigger impact on Canadian agriculture than our own federal elections. Trump promised to pull the U.S. out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, which is the world’s largest trade deal. Trump also said he would renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement. He does not support a tax on carbon dioxide, which would put pressure on Canada to withdraw a similar tax that critics say will do little to nothing for the environment and will hurt the Canadian economy.
Animal activism continues
Animal activists continued their assaults on Ontario farms. About 500 mink escaped after vandals cut holes in the barn walls of a Brant County mink farm last April. Activist Anita Krajnc, who fed water to pigs on a truck heading into a Burlington slaughterhouse, had her day in court after she was charged with mischief. Krajnc and her lawyer turned the trial into an animal rights infomercial and at one point told the court that giving bacon to a child is like giving a child cigarettes. Closing arguments will be held this March. Krajnc is a member of Toronto Pig Save, which used social media and middle-of-the-night phone calls to the fair board to successfully intimidate and shut down the greasy pig contest at an Eastern Ontario fair last summer.
Beef prices drop
After experiencing record highs just two years ago, beef farmers are now dealing with the downturn in the price cycle. Beef prices dropped about 33 per cent since 2014. Some farmers held onto extra cattle, hoping for a price rebound. Cattlemen say there are many reasons behind the price drop: Ontario farmers bought more Alberta cattle after a 2015 Alberta drought caused a hay shortage; supermarket prices spiked and consumers switched to pork and chicken; and exports to the U.S. declined as the Canadian dollar rebounded.
Rash of barn fires
Barn fires attracted the interest of mainstream media and animal rights groups after a rash of blazes killed livestock in early 2016. At least 10 barn fires killed livestock in the first two months of 2016, including one that killed 500 milking goats, another that killed more than 2,000 pigs and one that killed 50 cows and 20 calves. The fires sparked calls from animal activist groups for updates to fire codes to include sprinklers or smoke detectors. Farmers bristled. They rightly said the cost would be exorbitant, pipes would freeze in winter and water pressure would be inadequate.