By Hank Daniszewski
HAMILTON – Ontario Agriculture Minister Ernie Hardeman has promised to slash red tape for farmers but is still working on the more urgent problem of high vomitoxin levels in this year’s corn harvest in Southwestern Ontario.
Speaking to delegates at the annual Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) meeting, Hardeman warned the Ford government has to deal with a $15-billion deficit inherited from the previous Liberal government and will be forced to make some “tough decisions that won’t be easy and aren’t what we planned.”
But Hardeman said the Ford government is also working to reform regulations that are “choking” the business sector, with particular attention to rural Ontario which he said was chronically neglected by the Liberal government.
“You are all dealing with too much red tape that costs you time and money and causes frustration,” said Hardeman, who was named to cabinet in June and also served as agriculture minister in the Harris government from 1999-2001.
Hardeman said the reforms would not impact health and safety issues but would remove regulations with no positive impact.
He said the government has already moved to streamline the Wildlife Damage Compensation program. He also announced a new initiative at the convention to relax regulations for meat and dairy processors, dropping the need for meat packing plants to renew their licence every three years and easing building regulations on dairy processors, allowing them to use existing buildings.
Hardeman said he wants to hear from farmers about other regulatory reforms, “Tell us what government reporting takes up your valuable time without adding value. We are working to streamline regulations to make your business more efficient.”
A few days before the OFA convention, Hardeman chaired a round table with representatives of grain growers, livestock and ethanol producers to come up with solutions to high levels of DON, a type of vomitoxin, in harvested corn. The Grain Farmers of Ontario has deemed the outbreak “catastrophic,” especially in Middlesex, Lambton, Huron and Elgin counties.
In an interview with Farmers Forum, Hardeman admitted there was a problem with inconsistent testing for vomitoxin levels with some loads of corn being rejected only to pass when the farmer came back with the same load the same day.
Hardeman, who owned a feed mill prior to entering provincial politics, said the small sample sizes can cause unreliable tests.
“It depends on where the vomitoxin is in the load. There can be a spot with just two bad cobs. It can vary a lot,” said Hardeman.
OFA President Keith Currie agreed that farmers are frustrated by the inconsistent testing, trucking their loads to different elevators.
“You end up going around in circles getting different test results. It isn’t an exact science,” he said.
Currie noted the Grain Farmers of Ontario has committed $100,000 to improved corn testing in the future but said that won’t help this harvest.
Hardeman said he needs more information but is considering helping farmers or elevator operators with the cost of buying testing equipment.
Hardeman said the more immediate issue is dealing with this year’s corn crop and said there was one overriding conclusion from the round table meeting.
“One thing everyone agreed on was that we want all the good corn in the bin before it is too late and then we can worry about what we will do with the residual,” said Hardeman.
Hardeman said a committee has been formed to come up with possible uses for the corn high in vomitoxin.
Agricorp, the provincial risk management program, has indicated it would pay producers a corn salvage benefit of 79 cents a bushel for harvested corn with DON levels exceeding five parts per million. But Agricorp officials indicate they are waiting to see if a market develops for high vomitoxin corn. Hardeman said ethanol producers will not pay full price for the corn because they cannot sell the residue.