The year 2014 was a tough one for many Ontario farmers. Weather played havoc with both planting and harvesting, while the price of corn dropped to a four-year low. The popularity of undercover videos by extreme animal rights groups reached an all-time high, and the provincial government launched a battle against crop farmers over an insecticide-treated seed.
What stories impacted Eastern Ontario farmers the most in 2014? Here is Farmers Forums list of top 10 stories of the year.
1. The closure of Kemptville College
In March, the University of Guelph shocked the Eastern Ontario farming community when it announced it would be closing Kemptville College, Guelphs satellite campus since 1997. The last group of agriculture students will graduate from the 98-year-old school this spring. After tremendous public outcry, the provincial government appointed former federal minister of agriculture Lyle Vanclief to study the future course for the college. Before the year was out, he recommended the property be sold.
2. Neonic debate
The province of Ontario jumped into the debate on the safety of neonicotinoids, even though its a federal government call. Almost all corn and soybean seeds in Ontario are covered with this insecticide treatment. Some beekeepers says the dust from the insecticide at planting time fills the air and kills their bees. The province agrees but does not have the authority to ban the so-called neonics, so the province announced a goal of restricting sales of the seeds by 80 per cent by 2017.
Health Canada is studying neonics and is expected in 2015 to make a ruling on the safety of the seed. Meantime, the Grain Farmers of Ontario are annoyed by the province wading into an issue without waiting for the science and calls the provinces actions “unfounded, impractical and unrealisitic.”
In September, two Western Ontario beekeepers launched a $450-million lawsuit against Bayer CropScience and Syngenta, claiming in court documents that the companies were negligent in their design, development, distribution and sale of neonics. The lawsuit has not been tested in court. About 100 beekeepers there are more than 8,000 beekeepers in Canada have joined the lawsuit. Interestingly, many commercial beekeepers across the country agree with crop farmers and some argue the attack on neonics is a driven by urban environmentalists.
3. Provincial election
The Ontario Liberal party won an easy majority, taking 58 of 107 seats, in the June 12 election, thanks to the urban vote. All five urban Ottawa ridings, and 34 of 40 Toronto ridings, went to the Liberals. The party only won five of 37 rural seats.
In a pre-election poll of 40 Ontario farmers conducted by Farmers Forum, only three farmers said Premier Kathleen Wynne deserved to be re-elected as the minister of agriculture. But the downtown Toronto MPP was re-elected and promptly dropped the agriculture portfolio.
4. Andy Senn vs. the DFO
In an October hearing that has many dairy farmers choosing sides, St-Bernardin farmer Andy Senn did not back down in his fight against the Dairy Farmers of Ontario to be allowed to transfer 186 kilograms of quota to the home farm after he and his brother-in-law Frank Suter purchased a second farm in 2012. The DFOs regulations state that quota cant be transferred for five years after a purchase. The Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Appeal Tribunal had not made a decision on the matter by Jan. 5.
5. Land prices keep rising
Ontario farm land prices reached record highs in 2013, and listings in 2014 continued the trend. Prices have increased the last few years because of high crop prices, low interest rates and dairy farmers unable to invest in the tight supply of quota. On average, the highest selling farmland in Eastern Ontario is in the Iroquois/Winchester area to the Quebec border, where the starting price for farmland is often around $10,000 an acre. RE/MAX realty reported that that the highest selling prices in the first nine months of 2014 were from $7,000 to $17,000 per acre in Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Counties.
6. Livestock prices soar
It was a great year to sell livestock, as many farmers saw record highs in sale prices. Low supply and high demand shot beef prices to an all-time high in January and prices kept climbing through the year. Pork also hit all-time highs because the PEDV outbreak affected supply. Lamb prices also hit a two-year high, thanks to a low world lamb supply.
7. Crop prices drop
Thanks to an expected-record high yield in the United States, the price of corn dropped dramatically throughout 2014. During the week of May 9, corn was selling at US $5.05 per bushel at the Chicago Board of Trade, but that had dropped to US $3.19 during the first week of October, a four-year-low. Corn prices did rebound a little later in the year, and was at US $3.81 on Dec. 9.
8. Weather headaches
Mother Nature didnt co-operate with crop farmers much this season, delaying the planting and harvesting seasons, and with too much rain and not enough sunshine sandwiched in between. Some farmers were forced to switch from planting corn to soybeans when spring planting ran late. Adding to a tough year, many farmers didnt finish their harvest until December with crops high in moisture.
9. Wind turbines debate rages
The debate over wind turbines raged on, with studies and surveys coming out on both sides of the issue. In October, Health Canada released a report that said there were no health impacts of living close to turbines. A provincial MPAC study released in April found that turbines didnt negatively affect a homes property value or sale prices. An extensive Farmers Forum survey on Wolfe Island found that 61.5 per cent of residents approved of the 86 turbines on the island, while 14 per cent said they were unaffected by them.
And in Prince Edward County, the Prince Edward County Field Naturalists tried to stop construction of nine wind turbines at Ostrander Point using an endangered turtle, saying the Blandings turtle would be at risk of extinction if the project was developed. The case is ongoing.
There are only two operating wind turbine projects in Eastern Ontario, with 10 new turbines dotting the landscape in Brinston, near Kemptville, which started generating power in 2014. The other project is Wolfe Island with 86 turbines.
10. Mercy for Animals goes undercover
The extreme animal rights group, which advocates that everyone should be a vegetarian, continued to go undercover on farms to try to find allegations of animal abuse. They posted job openings for undercover workers across Canada, and got two national media organizations air undercover videos from Ontario farms in 2014. The battle for public opinion just got harder.