By Hank Daniszewski
ALVINSTON — While still trying to wrap up one of the most difficult harvests in years, some southwestern Ontario farmers got a chance to vent about burdensome bureaucracy, vomitoxin in corn and other problems they are facing.
The farmers attended a roundtable meeting in December at the invitation of Lambton-Kent-Middlesex MPP Monte McNaughton and Perth-Wellington MPP Randy Pettapiece, the parliamentary assistant for Agriculture Minister Ernie Hardeman.
McNaughton, who is also Ontario’s Minister of Infrastructure, repeated Hardeman’s pledge to reduce red tape for farmers and said the new provincial government was moving ahead with plans to extend natural gas lines and broadband internet into rural areas.
McNaughton said there are 380,000 rules and regulations now on the books and the government aims to cut that by 25 % by 2022. He said the government is holding the round-tables to get advice directly from farmers.
“We are going to take specific things from these round-tables and insert them into legislation to remove the red tape that is driving everybody crazy,” said McNaughton, whose family runs a retail plaza in nearby Newbury.
The farmers split into small discussion groups and raised a number of issues, including problems dealing with conservation authorities and the transportation and labour ministries.
But high levels of vomitoxin, also known as DON, in this year’s corn crop was still a major concern raised by the farmers.
Many complained about the reliability of the testing procedures used by grain buyers, resulting in different readings for DON, even in the same load of corn.
Hardeman announced late in November that the government would subsidize the cost of DON testing and work with the Grain Farmers of Ontario on strategies to market affected crops and reduce the frequency and impact of high DON levels.
But some farmers were skeptical of the testing subsidies, some suggesting the hassles involved in applying for small subsidies would discourage participation in the program.
Some farmers at the meeting called for a standardized testing process for DON levels throughout the industry, even though that may meet resistance from grain elevators and ethanol companies. They said grain buyers often make arbitrary decisions on discounting or even rejecting loads of corn contaminated with some level of DON.
Larry Cowan, who farms near Mt. Brydges, said farmers have been forced to accept discounted prices for their corn because of DON levels, even though they suspect the corn is still being used by ethanol companies. He said beef producers looking to buy corn with low levels of vomitoxin to use to feed their herd are unable to find any.
“It’s all being blended in somewhere, but they are docking me $1 bushel,” said Cowan.
Pettapiece conceded to one group of farmers that the strategy to deal with DON contamination comes too late to make much impact on this year’s harvest.
“This has been a perfect storm and it hit us pretty hard. There are going to be some lessons learned from this,” said Pettapiece.
Don McCabe, zone 6 (Lambton-Middlesex) director for the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, farms west of Alvinston but hadn’t started harvesting any of his soybean or corn crop as of early December because of late planting and weather conditions.
He said farmers have been playing ”Russian roulette” with DON testing this year and there needs to be more preparation to deal with the problem. ”We can’t get caught like this again.” McCabe said.