By Tom Collins
The 2015 farming year was positively sunny for many Western Ontario farmers: corn yields were outstanding and livestock prices remained high, farm incomes too. But it was not all happy faces and ice cream. A late May frost ruined soybean fields and 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 expected to be many more projects that will get approval to start this year.
Among the ups and downs, here are Farmers Forum’s top 10 farm stories that had the greatest impact in 2015.
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.
Corn harvest sees record yield
A fantastic growing season in most of Western Ontario led to high corn yields, which put pressure on local grain elevator operators. For corn yields, on average, Ontario topped 170 bushels per acre — OMAFRA says the old record was 164.0 bu/ac in 2010 — while soybean yields were a more modest 45 bu/ac. Most areas were able to get planting done early, but Essex County farmers were deluged with record rains in May and June, enough to keep 10,000 to 20,000 acres of soybeans from being planted by the end of June.
More wind turbines coming to Western Ontario
There are 2,150 operating wind turbines in Ontario, the majority of them in Western Ontario. Another 1,000 turbines have been approved to be built within the next few years. And late last year, developers submitted 27 proposals for new projects, totalling 2,256.8 megawatts, or about another 750 wind turbines, although only 100 turbines will be approved in March. However, eight of 11 Western Ontario municipalities where projects have been proposed voted against the projects, though they have no power to stop them.
Animal activist terrorism
Animal activists were more brazen, not only publicly threatening attacks on Ontario mink farms, but actually attacking at least three Western Ontario mink farms last year. They released mink at three mink farms and returned to one of the farms and slashed truck and tractor tires. The North American Animal Liberation Press Office, a radical animal activist group, posted on its website in October a list of mink farms in Ontario, their locations and security details. At the end of the post, the activists wrote: “If you do not close these farms down, we will close them down for you.” Activists also superglued locks at Ontario Pork and the Ontario Livestock Alliance buildings in July, and planted fire-starting devices under trucks at Harlan Laboratories, an animal research lab at Mississauga, in June.
Canada signs 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 Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks. 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.
Frost leaves farmers in the cold
A May 23 frost heavily impacted many crops across Western Ontario, leaving many farms with huge crop losses. Some soybeans and canola fields had to be replanted. Ontario Apple Growers said Western Ontario was hit hard, with many growers experiencing up to a 50 per cent loss of their crop.
Livestock prices remain strong
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.
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. Eastern Ontario 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.
Six long-time government employees with more than 182 years combined OMAFRA experience all put in their retirement papers. Corn specialist Greg Stewart, cereals specialist Peter Johnson, forage specialist Joel Bagg, crop specialist Gilles Quesnel, edible bean and canola specialist Brian Hall and grazier specialist Jack Kyle retired, with several taking new jobs in the private sector.
PEDV threat declines
Pork producers are breathing easier as the number of PEDV cases dropped significantly last year. There were 69 cases in Ontario when the virus first hit in 2014 and only 16 last year. Each case was devastating, forcing the affected farms to destroy all their pigs and super clean their barns. There are just more than 1,500 pork producers in Ontario, which means that the deadly virus has hit one in every 18 pig farms.