The 2015 farming year was a positive one for many Eastern Ontario farmers: crop yields were outstanding and livestock prices remained high, farm incomes too. But it’s not all happy faces and ice cream. Blueprints have been laid for a future with negative impacts.
The province passed a heavy restriction on neonicotinoids that will start in 2016 and dairy farmers expect to lose some of their market with the new Trans-Pacific Partnership deal. Rural neighbours are often divided on wind turbines and there are eight more wind projects approved for Eastern Ontario.
Here are Farmers Forum’s top 10 farm stories of 2015.
1. Neonicotinoid seed ban
The ban or heavy restriction on neonicotinoids — an insecticide coating used on nearly all of Ontario corn acres and 60 per cent of soybean acres — became official last July 1 and now requires a mandatory course before a farmer can purchase the neonic-treated seeds. The Grain Farmers of Ontario calls the ban “unworkable” and says the province doesn’t have a scientific argument to prove that neonics are killing bees. The province agrees that neonics are just one of many bee stressors and blames some bee deaths on bad beekeeper management. CropLife Canada says the new neonic regulations would see the average farm lose $61,600 each year.
2. Andy Senn vs DFO
Many dairy farmers applauded, and others cursed, a decision by the Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Appeal Tribunal in February that stopped an end-run around supply management. St-Bernardin dairy farmers Andy Senn and his brother-in-law Frank Suter wanted to bring 186 kilograms of quota, from a 2012 purchase of a second farm, to a new barn on their current farm. They said the purchased farm was unsuitable for dairy farming. However, moving quota contravened Dairy Farmers of Ontario regulations that state you can’t transfer quota for five years after a purchase.
3. More wind turbines coming to Eastern Ontario
There are three operating wind turbine projects in Eastern Ontario. Eight more have been approved. Late last year, developers submitted 27 proposals for the region, totalling 2,256.8 megawatts But 8 of 9 Eastern Ontario municipalities, where projects have been proposed, have declared themselves as unwilling hosts for turbines. In March 2016 over 100 new wind turbines will be approved for the entire province.
4. Kemptville College closes
In May, Kemptville College said goodbye to its last group of agriculture graduates. In March, 2014, the University of Guelph shocked the Eastern Ontario farming community when it announced it would close the only English agricultural college east of Guelph. The college has been a satellite campus of the University of Guelph since 1997. But its roots go deep. Kemptville College’s first agriculture program included 22 students in 1920. Over the years, the campus spawned many top farm producers and leaders and sparked countless marriages. Local groups have been working to bring agriculture back to the campus this fall. But hope is dimming for an agricultural curriculum to return to what it once was.
5. Canada signs on to the world’s largest trade deal
Dairy farmers flooded Wellington Street in front of Parliament Hill in Ottawa Sept. 29 to remind the federal government to support supply management in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Signed one week later, the TPP is a 12-country trade agreement covering nearly 40 per cent of the global economy and will affect 800 million people. The massive 5,000-plus page document could represent a dairy market loss of 3.3 to 4 per cent, with some speculation it could be even higher. Dairy groups responded saying supply management was protected. Pork, beef and grain farmers applauded the deal for potentially opening many new markets.
6. International Plowing Match comes to Finch
Almost 84,000 people attended the five-day International Plowing Match at Finch Sept. 22-26. One of the biggest new attractions was the new auctioneer challenge, where 17 contestants battled for a $1,000 first-place prize.
7. Livestock prices
Basic economics won the day as low supply and high demand increased livestock prices from cattle to sheep. Cattle prices declined from a 2014 all-time high but beef farmers are still smiling as prices are still a big boost over where they were a few years ago. Lamb prices rose to all-time highs in the spring.
8. OMAFRA retirements
Five long-time government employees with a combined 152 years of OMAFRA experience all put in their retirement papers. Corn specialist Greg Stewart, cereals specialist Peter Johnson, forage specialist Joel Bagg, crops specialist Gilles Quesnel and edible beans and canola specialist Brian Hall all retired and took up new jobs in the private sector.
9. Barn fires
The Office of the Fire Marshall says that almost half of all Ontario barn fires have undetermined causes while 19.5 per cent are caused by mechanical or electrical failures. Another 3.9 per cent are caused by arson. The number of annual barn fires has decreased in the past decade, although there is still a barn fire almost every second day in Ontario. The average barn fire causes $167,000 in damage.
10. Eastern Ontario harvest is a bin buster
A fantastic growing season in Eastern Ontario led to high corn and soybean yields, which put pressure on local grain elevator operators, who scrambled to find extra storage space. In one case, Vanden Bosch Elevators Inc. in Chesterville had to temporarily repurpose the storage shed and all of its wagons to make room for the abundance.