Cold snap leaves marshmallow growers feeling frosty

By: Farm & Food Care staff

MarshnewCanadians planning on camping with family and friends may feel a little less jovial this summer as late-spring cold has devastated much of the country’s marshmallow crop.

For the first time on record, it looks like frost and freezing rain will cause everyone’s favorite fluffy confectionary to jump significantly in price, and drop in availability.

“2012 was a devastating year for fruit growers, and this year we have that level of damage on our crop,” says Robyn Smore, a marshmallow farmer near Erieau Ontario who specializes in producing large white marshmallows for the retail market.

“We have almost two-hundred acres planted with marshmallows […] there’s damage to well over three-quarters of that.”

The marshmallow plant – formally known as the perennial Althaea Unofficinalis – has been used as both a medicine and foodstuff for thousands of years, and varieties of the plant exist in many areas across the globe. In Ontario, most marshmallow varieties originate from Scipio Africanus, or varieties native to Northern Africa, largely due to its sweet taste and high plant productivity. While these varieties can handle cold weather if temperatures transition slowly, they are not suited to sudden climactic changes. Buds and flowers are particularly vulnerable, and will not produce harvestable marshmallows if damaged.

This year, a spurt of warm weather early in March saw many Canadian marshmallow growers reporting earlier-than-expected budding; some farms even reported seeing plants in full bloom. Last week’s hail storms, freezing rain and heavy morning frost caused significant damage to farms across Canada with the impact of harsh March conditions was felt as far east as Prince Edward Island.

“We’re going to have to change our plans and basically cancel our early harvest altogether,” says Smore. “It just looks bad all around.”

Unfortunately, that’s not the end of the marshmallow plant’s plight either. The unseasonably warm winter experienced by growers south of the border has also led to resurgence in Mallow Beetle populations – a pest which burrows into and consumes the sugar-laden buds of miniature-marshmallow plants – meaning an even wider shortage in the coming year.

Smore believes the loss of prime production areas in Canada and the United States will raise the retail price of marshmallows across North America, perhaps as much as 30 or 40 per cent.
Still, Smore says she is hopeful that they will be able to recover their losses next year.

“There’s always a sticky year between a few good ones. We just hope not to get burned the next time,” she says.

As for the rest of us, now may be an appropriate time to replenish summer stocks. Not having any on hand during the annual family camp-out would certainly be playing the fool. Read more

Updated: Cold snap leaves marshmallow growers feeling frosty

Marsh jkHappy April Fool’s Day!

Farmers definitely don’t grow marshmallows on bushes. Today’s sugary treats are made from a mixture of sugars, egg whites and gelatin beaten together. Although they used to be made of ingredients from marshmallow plant roots and there are accounts of ancient Egyptians making candies from marshmallow root and honey.

Now you know.

For more interesting farm and food tidbits, check out www.realdirtonfarming.ca

Buying local, seasonal will help extend shopping dollar

By Kelly Daynard

Throughout the winter, Canadian shoppers have discovered unusually high grocery store prices for fruits, vegetables and other products.

The prices come from a combination of a lower Canadian dollar and unusual weather patterns in the United States – the source of an estimated 80 per cent of produce imports into Canada. With the currency getting lower, the buying power of importers is affected and the prices are passed along to consumers. The effect is felt even more strongly at this time of the year because there aren’t many fresh foods available in Canada during winter months. According to University of Guelph’s annual Food Price Report, the cost of food rose 4.1 per cent in 2015 and will likely rise higher this coming year.

The price increases were reflected in 2016’s Food Freedom Day – which moved to February 9 this year from February 6 in 2015. Food Freedom Day, calculated by the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA), is the calendar date when the average Canadian has earned enough income to pay his/her grocery bill for the year.

There are things that can be done to further your dollar’s reach at Canadian grocery stores. Here are some tips: Continue reading

A Saskatchewan Farm(er)

By Laura Reiter

I am involved in one of the over 36,000 farms in Saskatchewan. Now if you are like most folks, a picture or two will have popped into your head when you hear “Saskatchewan farms”.
This …

Combining on the Canadian prairies

Combining on the Canadian prairies

Or maybe this …

Cowboys on their horses moving cattle in winter

Cowboys on their horses moving cattle in winter

You’d be right in thinking that grain and cattle operations make up the majority of the farms in Saskatchewan. But there is so much more!

Continue reading

How to find out what a typical Canadian farm looks like

It is surprising to me that there is still such a massive divide between what society thinks and what actually happens on the farm. I recently spent some time trying to pin down a definition of “factory farms” with various individuals. I wasn’t trying to change anyone’s opinion about agriculture or livestock farming I just wanted to understand what their definition was.  It turns out many think a typical Canadian farm would be considered a “factory”.

Female pigs in group housing on straw bedding.  Not what many people to be typical.

Female pigs in group housing. Not what many people to be typical.

I was surprised to learn that many have a perception that the majority of beef cattle, dairy cattle, pigs, and poultry birds in Canada live in dark dirty cages, without adequate food and water, individual attention, and are treated more like machines than animals.

Even though I didn’t set out to change anyone’s opinion I ended up sharing some StatsCan numbers about the average farm size (average beef herd size is 61 and an average dairy herd size is 70) and the fact that 97% of farms  are family owned and operated and shared pictures of actual living conditions as an alternative pictures commonly depicted by those not in favour of livestock use.  Other farmers also shared pictures of their farms and animals as well as personal philosophy and practices. I was again surprised to hear the response: “well sure, YOU guys aren’t a factory farm and obviously care about your animals but you are not typical”.   To this I mentally sputtered… but this IS what a typical livestock farm in Canada is like!  Is this belief system in place because we are programmed to believe the worst about agriculture (as perpetuated by nasty memes of suffering animals or pictures taken out of context like a cute little calf with a numbered ear tag) or is it simply that society has an image of farming based on idealic pictures of yesteryear?

To clarify, I do not think animal farming has it all right. Perhaps we need to acknowledge that not every practice is perfect or defensible and that some do need to change. There are also individuals that own animals that should not (even one of these people involved with livestock is too many) and they are the ones highlighted in sensational news stories. But does this mean that every farm in Canada is a factory farm? No. That any farm over a certain size is inherently inhumane?  No!

Do you want to know what a typical Canadian farms really look like? Head over to virtualfarmtours.ca to see what really happens.  Think this is just too biased to be true? Contact producer groups to get some real information and maybe even the chance for a farm tour to see for yourself.  If you don’t trust that those organizations are giving you the real answer, contact an elected government official. They can put you in contact with other government employees who work in the ag community and with producers as agriculture specialists (they give management advice and assistance to farmers).  Still don’t believe the source?  Go to the University of Saskatchewan and talk to researchers, scientists and veterinarians who study animal welfare (there are also researchers in British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario and the maritimes).  They can give you answers to your questions about farming and animal welfare and animal care.  Or feel free to contact me at Farm and Food Care Saskatchewan and I will try and answer any questions you might have.

Thanks for taking the time.

 

Email me at jean@farmfoodcare.org

Is our food SAFE?

Jean L Clavelle

Farm & Food Care Saskatchewan

People are really asking "what makes food safe?"

People are really asking “what makes food safe?”

We are at the beginning of 2015 now, which is accompanied by the obligatory New Year’s resolution to cut back, get fit, eat healthy. But, what makes any food choice healthy? Is it non-gmo, gluten free, chemical free, antibiotic free, hormone free, eating clean? I’ve been pondering this question for some time and I’ve come to believe the underlying question people are really asking is how do we know our food is safe?

In Canada, the first place we turn to for food safety is Health Canada (HC). HC’s role is to “work with governments, industry and consumers to establish policies, regulations and standards related to the safety and nutritional quality of all food sold in Canada.” They are responsible for protecting human and animal health, and the safety of Canada’s food supply.

To begin, any person company or exporter that wishes to sell any type of chemical that will be used in part of the food production chain must submit detailed scientific information that examines the potential risks of the particular product. It often takes more than a decade to complete adequate research necessary to provide sufficient evidence to support the safety and efficacy of claims. Not surprisingly the result is thousands of pages of data at a cost of tens of millions of dollars. Over a period of several more years, HC scientists then rigorously review the information to ensure the product is not harmful to humans and the environment. They also cross check the data and compare their results with other international studies to verify that the data submitted is accurate.

Now, depending on what type of chemical is being submitted for approval, there are various regulatory branches of HC put into play. The Pest Management Regulatory Agency employs over 350 scientists with a responsibility for pesticide regulation. The term “pesticide” includes

A pesticide label is a legal document that must be followed by the user.

A pesticide label is a legal document that must be followed by the user.

herbicides (used against weeds); insecticides (used against bugs); fungicides and antimicrobials (used again fungus and other microorganisms); insect and rodent-controlling devices; and algicides (which can be used to control algae in pools). Every pesticide includes a label indicating the correct amount of the product to be used so that risks to human health and the environment are minimized. Did you know that a pesticide label (the information found on or in the container) is a legal document that must be followed? You might also be interested to know that any pesticide for sale and use in Canada (whether it be for agriculture, for use in your home, for conventional food or organic production – and yes there are chemicals used in organic production) has a unique number, called a PCP number, that any person can use to find its label instructions.

The Veterinary Drug Directorate (VDD) evaluates and monitors the safety quality and effectiveness of veterinary drugs for food producing animals like beef cattle, pigs and chickens. Once a drug has been authorized for use by the VDD it is given a Drug Identification Number (or DIN) which lets the user know that the product has undergone and passed a review of its formulation, labelling and instructions for use. A drug sold in Canada without a DIN is not in compliance with Canadian law. Regardless of whether a drug is for you or for animals it must have a DIN to be legal.

Once a compound has been shown to be safe within its intended use by HC, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is responsible for enforcing the food safety policies and standards that Health Canada sets. In my former professional life, one colleague referred to the CFIA as the most powerful government agency in Canada (much greater than even the military) because of its far-reaching and autonomous power whenever food safety might be a concern. Although CFIA can be a challenging government agency to work with, consumers should take heart at the diligence they have for food safety.

Of course this is a basic over view of one component of ensuring safe food.  It is always a good idea to use your best judgement and common sense when it comes to food safety, just please know that in Canada food production and food safety is overseen with a great amount of diligence attention and care.

Giving Thanks

Jean L Clavelle

Farm Animal Council of Saskatchewan

 

On this Thanksgiving weekend I was surrounded by my children, my family, good and plentiful food and a warm home. I was reflecting on all of the beautiful parts of my life that I am thankful for and felt truly blessed by my fortune to live in Canada and yes, even my good fortune to live in Saskatchewan.

In 1931 one in three people lived on a farm. Today's it's one in 46

In 1931 one in three people lived on a farm. Today’s it’s one in 46

I thought back to a few days ago when I participated in a wonderful event called AgEXperience. School children from in Continue reading

Why I Think Dairy Supply Management is Important

Jean L Clavelle

Let me begin by saying that this is an incredibly complex issue. To be truthful I do not fully understand how supply management impacts international trade or even really the nuts and bolts of the supply manager system itself so I will not discuss that here (Dairy Farmers of Canada have produced some fantastic background information http://www.dairyfarmers.ca/content/download/1164/13161/version/2/file/Economic-Rationale2011_EN.pdf on the economics of supply management if you would like to know more). Despite my ignorance, I do think dairy supply management is incredibly important to dairy producers and Canadian consumers.  And I want to attempt an explanation of why from the perspective of a consumer not as someone with a dairy background (which I do not have).

Under this system producers are paid a fair price

Producers are paid a fair price

Many have critiqued this system but it seems they have oversimplified and under complicated the issue to the extreme.  It had been said that supply management isn’t good for the producer or for the consumer.  But I think ‘they’ are wrong.

So what is supply management?  Supply management controls the volume of milk produced on a provincial and annual basis. Provincial boards manage the milk supply to coincide with demand for their products.  By effectively controlling production, expensive and costly surpluses are avoided.  A price is then set by a federally managed board based on cost of production, consumer price index and multiple other factors.  Not just anyone can supply milk either, dairy producers purchase quota essentially for the right to sell milk. Without quota no one can legally sell milk.

So why do I think it’s important?  Well, the objective of supply management is two fold 1. to provide Canadian consumers with an adequate supply of the product at reasonable prices and 2. to provide efficient producers with fair returns.  And that is the crux of my argument.  Under this system producers are paid a fair price.

Continue reading

My meat journey

by Kristen Kelderman, Farm Animal Care Coordinator, Farm & Food Care

Over the last two years that I’ve worked with Farm & Food Care, I’ve been asked a lot of questions. Most of which have come from volunteering at public events. I’ve had great conversations with moms, kids, dads, grandparents and teachers, who all love farm animals and want to know more. Some common questions being ‘how big is that cow?’, ‘how many eggs does a chicken lay?’ and my personal favourite of ‘are you a real farmer?’

Others are more complex like ‘why are pigs kept in stalls?’

But there was one question that I will never forget . It was a question that caught me off guard and one that I have not stopped thinking about since that day. A mom approached me at the CNE and asked ‘how can you care for your animals and then eat them?’

Now that’s a tough question. She was not a vegetarian; she ate meat, but genuinely wanted to know.  I can’t remember what I said to her on that day, but on my drive home that night it kept cycling through my head. How do we justify this decision? I never really considered it that much.

As a young kid growing up on my family farm I became very familiar with life and death. I marveled at the miracle of a new calf being born and also mourned the life of a cow after she had died or been put down. Many times I watched and helped my dad put down a sick or lame cow. Life and death is part of everyday life on a farm. It was something that I never really questioned and I continued to think about this question long after.

It was not until recently on a tour of a Cargill beef plant that I had a “light bulb” moment. I began to piece together my thoughts as I walked through and watched how cattle are turned into the beef you see in the grocery store. Watching the workers do their jobs and trim a small part of the carcass at each point along the way was amazing. Very little goes to waste; even the hooves are processed into products that you buy for your dog at the pet store.

A couple of times our tour guide turned around and checked to see that I was alright. I was the only girl on the tour, but probably the one most fascinated by the whole process.

I left Cargill that afternoon with a renewed confidence in our food system. Regardless of what you read, hear or watch, I can say with firsthand experience that the animals who produce the meat we eat are raised and treated in the most humane manner, from the farm through to your plate.

If I had a time machine, I would go back to that day in August and when that mom asked me ‘how do you eat the animals that you care for?’ I would tell her the following:

We (as farmers) owe it to our animals to provide them a healthy comfortable life, but when the time comes we also owe them a quick and painless death. Farm animals are raised in Canada for food.  Whether it’s beef, chicken, pork or turkey meat that I eat, I know that the animal was well cared for and respectfully treated. I will confidently continue to eat Canadian.

 

Lets Get Talking!

Jean L Clavelle

Alright.  I believe it is time to dust off the old soap box and step back on.

Many organizations reporters and marketing programs recently have expressed opinions about what is the “ideal” regarding animal production in Canada.  “Better Beef” from A&W, the W5 report regarding egg layer operations, PETA, HSUS throw around ideas and words intended to pluck at the strings of the consumer’s heart to show that they are better, that they care, that they are not the enemy while big business – agriculture – is trying to simply make an extra buck.  Phrases such as environmentally friendly, sustainable, humane, antibiotic free are tossed around like so much feed in a pig barn.

Although I group these organizations together, their underlining intent is often not the same.  PETA and HSUS want to eliminate the use of animals altogether, A&W wants to drive sales, W5 well I’m not entirely sure why a “news” organization would publish such a one-sided sensationalized commentary other than to increase viewers.  The common denominator is that they are all focused on currying the favour of society and the consumer at the expense of producers and livestock.

Deep down my dirty little secret is that I truly don’t have a problem with a company creating a marketing campaign that targets the needs and wants of the consumer or when a news article provides a balanced article detailing the pitfalls of a production system.  Where I do draw the line is when an organization does not support the Canadian producers that are purchasing their product, the people that have reliably supplied them with a safe healthy food product for decades.  For example the A&W campaign that openly sourced product from suppliers outside of Canada.  I suspect that had the lines of communication been open, Canadian beef producers would have happily agreed to provide whatever beef product A&W requested.  However to imply that the beef industry is not willing to adapt or evolve or cannot supply what is needed is simply erroneous.

Now, that brings me to the point of this story.  Why are the lines of communication not open?  Why are we not telling our story?  Why are we not working with our consumers to identify new trends and supply that product?

I am at a loss as to why livestock agriculture is so afraid to seek out the needs and opinions of its consumers.  Is it because we are afraid that we will not stand up under scrutiny?  Is it because we are afraid we will have to eat humble pie and acknowledge maybe we might have to change?  Agriculture by its very nature is the epitomy of adaption and evolution.  This should be something we in livestock agriculture are excitedly engaged in!

So come on agriculture.  Step up.  Let’s figure out what consumers and society wants.  If that means seeking out consumer’s opinions, and asking questions well then lets get asking!  If that means changing then we may just have to change to meet their needs.  I fear that if we do not, we (and therefore animals and society in general) are going to lose out because the misguided and misinformed may force us to go down the wrong path.