EDITORIAL & Letters
Ontario's lettuce industry is about as mixed up as a tossed Caesar salad.
Ten years ago, there were 3,000 acres of lettuce grown across the province. Today, there are 800. In the span of literally minutes in April, the price routinely drops from $95 a case for Californian lettuce, to $4.50 a case once Ontario and Quebec product hits the Ontario Food Terminal. The carton alone costs $2, not to mention labour, input and transportation costs.
A year ago last January, a group of growers got together to try to restore some order. Today, 45 growers have formed the Ontario Lettuce Growers Association, and are currently working on a constitution and an acreage checkoff, with the goal of boosting consumer awareness of the freshness and quality of local product. "Ontario...First, Closer, Better" will be the slogan.
For lettuce growers, the wakeup call came at last year's muck growers conference, where a speaker from New York State told how the industry there had been decimated by the competition - not from California, but from Quebec.
"Co-operative", "association", and, still worse, "marketing board", are all dirty words, with today's government-speak of "competitiveness", "free market adjustment" and "adaptation". But if ever there was an indication of farmers' crying need for some orderly marketing, it's the Ontario lettuce industry. Onions and carrots are no better. Production far exceeds local demand. Growers hold out as product deteriorates in storage, hoping for better prices, while retailers honour contracts with California and leave them high and dry. Two Bradford growers are currently involved in a legal wrangle with their own co-op-packer after they had to dump onions in 1993. The word in the muck world is that even the mention of "marketing board" will scare retailers away from local product for good. But if growers are plowing under produce, there's something wrong.
The lettuce industry's tentative attempts to organize is a time warp in the history of orderly marketing in Ontario. The now-mature pork, dairy, poultry, cash crop and process vegetable marketing systems all had similar beginnings - growers getting together for the wellbeing of all.
Agriculture is big business, and the days of the grassroots co-op, started to right a wrong in the marketplace, may be numbered. But other than for the very large, Lone Ranger agriculture, ˆ la the Prairie grain renegades, is short-sighted. Whether it's the Progressive Pork Producers Co-op, the Temgrain grain marketing co-op in New Liskeard, or the Ingreen Valley Foods Co-operative, which saved the Cobi frozen food plant in Ingersoll last year, farm co-operatives in the 1990s are working.
The Ontario vegetable processing industry, and the turned-around Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Producers Marketing Board are good examples of successful orderly marketing in Ontario. There's no need to alienate processors. The vegetable board meets regularly to set contract acreages and prices. There's tough give-and-take, but that industry is moving forward.
There are some quick bucks to be made going it alone in agriculture these days. But in the long-term, we'll end up like the New York lettuce growers: everyone's gone home and there's nothing left but an empty salad bowl.
KD Lang up front
I was very surprised by the picture on your March 26 Farm & Country. Why you would give this person a front-page display is beyond me. These people have a way of infiltrating organizations.
If John Muggeridge was offered a red steak, he would show his true colours and vegetarian he probably is.
These people think they are a good influence on our younger generation. They get enough of this false teaching in our schools. I'm not saying all teachers do this but there are many meat-haters in our midst.
Apples hit too
It is ironic that Animal Alliance of Canada would bite the hand that feeds them, but as the article "Deer defenders target hunt program" clearly illustrates, the animal rights movement is more than just an issue for livestock producers. Through my involvement with the Ontario Farm Animal Council, I have found it frustrating to encounter farmers and farm organizations that give little consideration to the animal rights movement.
I get no satisfaction from saying "I told you so" now that apple growers are being accused of "blow[ing] away the deer" in a need for revenge.
Having personally experienced excessive crop loss by raccoons and Canada geese, I feel it important for farmers to appreciate that the harvesting of excessive wildlife for either fur or food is to the benefit of all concerned. I can only hope this latest attack by Animal Alliance and groups like them serves as a wake-up call for all those in the agri-food community that no-one is immune to such campaigns. Jim Magee
Ontario Farm Animal Council
In the back door?
Shortly after reading Don Stoneman's article "Health officials look at the offal truths" (April 23), I read in the May issue of Saturday Night an article entitled "Outbreak on 14 North". I was struck by the incongruity of the actions of different government departments dealing with these issues.
The checks and controls which are in place to deal with the possible importation of disease via feed ingredients having direct or indirect contact with animal sources is in alarming contrast with the freedom of people to return unchecked from U.S. hospitals infected with vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE). VRE infections have killed more than 30 patients in the liver transplant unit of a Pittsburgh hospital. A Canadian who picked up VRE in an Ohio hospital is in isolation in a Toronto hospital. We have no cure for VRE.
Is our government guarding the front door while allowing a far greater threat to our health to enter via the back door?
That strike story
With regard to Bernard Tobin's article in the April 23 issue, "Shepherds Fear Long-Term Effects of Strike", his otherwise excellent article contained errors which I must correct lest lamb producers draw incorrect conclusions.
The licence fee is not a government licence fee, but one set by the elected producer representatives on the board of directors of the Ontario Sheep Marketing Agency.
Seventy-five to 80 per cent of provincial packing plants processing lambs in Ontario are in non-compliance. The majority of these are small operations. We fully expect the number not in compliance to be reduced to zero in the near future.
The second-last paragraph referring to the one fee system requires further explanation. Last year, the directors of the agency rejected a single rate fee, preferring to complete the inspection and compliance process with all the plants before any change took place. Under pressure from a group of larger producers, the newly-elected board has accepted, in principle, the move to a new rate in the summer. With the Conservative government's gutting of research and extension programs and OMAFRA, lamb producers will have to invest more into their industry if the significant progress made to date is to continue. Setting a flat rate too low will hamper that and require more tinkering later. It is our desire to establish a satisfactory rate which will produce the least inconvenience and confusion for sales agents and packing plants.
The rate has not as yet been determined. This should be decided at the June board meeting. The board is not united on either the flat rate nor a set amount at this time. Some want a rate as low at $1 per head while others prefer the status quo.
Thank you for continuing to cover issues related to lamb production, a growth industry with a bright future.
Chair, Ontario Sheep Marketing Agency
Out of context
With regard to "Tough times in turkeyland" (April 23), we are concerned with the quote attributed to Janet Schlitt marketing officer for the turkey board, warning producers about prices. This quote was taken out of context from Mr. Art Roder's comments. A further explanation was given by Mr. Roder clarifying this statement. It was definitely not made by Janet Schlitt. She did not report on pricing issues at all but did present the board's marketing plans for 1996.
Ontario Turkey Producers' Marketing Board
We are fairly new at farming, about a year and a half. We have relied on the ministry of agriculture, the library and other farmers for our information. We have also spent hundreds of dollars on books and magazines trying to educate ourselves. We started off with smaller animals, like chickens, pigs and rabbits. In the summer of 1995, we decided to try cows for beef and milk. We contacted various farmers in hopes of finding a cow. We found our cow. We were so proud of her. We also managed to get two five-day-old bull calves.
Through all our reading, phone calls and questions, we managed quite well, learning from our mistakes and other people's experience.
Nowhere, not in books or from other farmers, did we learn to keep cows away from their grain. We did read about bloat from pasture, but nothing about grain-overload.
One day, our cows broke into the feed room and got into the grain. We were unaware of the damage this could do. The cows had soft stools and didn't eat the following day. Eve, our pride and joy, had to be put down. The bulls pulled through. We don't know how the information that could have saved the cow's life never made it into our hands. It certainly wasn't from lack of trying. Now we wonder how to discover what else we don't know.
In the interests of accurate reporting, I want to correct the terminology used in your April 9 article, "Animals rights on the rise". While the article accurately reflected my comments on recent trends in Ontario, it should be pointed out that the term "animal rights extremists" is the reporter's and not mine. My comments referred to animal rights activists and their activities in rural areas such as Waterloo and Wellington counties. Animal rights extremists are ones who break the law. Activists, on the other hand, use the law to their advantage.
Ontario Farm Animal Council