Saturday, March 21, 2009

Another story of how feeding the corporate dream destroys our way of life.

Also, how tinkering with the way things have been done for decades doesn't necessarily make it better.

I used to own a small herd of purebred Hereford cattle, and some Commercial Shorthorns as well. Easy keeps I used to call them, as they required little attention in comparison to many of the new more exotic breeds. Grass, hay a little feed, ample clean water and rough shelter for the bad winter months was about all they needed and the amount of finish (fat content) was variable, depending on how much feed you could afford, and the market you were serving.

Having spent a good part of my life standing in shit up to my ankles, one way or another, I have a deep attachment to the old ways of animal production, and I believe absolutely that we not only squander tremendous resources and employment opportunities with the Corporate Agricorp dream, but we also contribute greatly to the overall waste of fuel and to polluting our environment. The main problems as I see them are as listed below;

1. We have concentrated production in Western Canada and are reliant on huge production and processing facilities there, which on the production side, require few employees due to the size and mechanization techniques used. These also rely heavily on chemical, hormonal and pharmaceutical means in order to achieve their output levels. Everything from the range of chemical means to control crop issues to antibiotics administered either in the feed or direct injection and implants of all sorts of odd things. There are supposed to be controls over that, but if you think they are adhered to, well you know the story about waterfront property in Arizona.

2. The processing facilities that are concentrated in Western Canada have big problems finding workers so they rely heavily on low paid immigrants. Many of whom are temporary of sorts. These immigrants require housing and services and companies such as Cargill have gone to great lengths to provide company facilities to satisfy this. Sound familiar? Think back to the Company towns of yesteryear.

3. I see more and more U.S. beef and pork products appearing which are usually packaged in bulk, and I expect a type of dumping. Regardless, they add nothing to the local production and employment scenario and are subject to USDA standards, not Canadian.

4. The Western and U.S. meat products are shipped thousands of kilometers in freezer/refrigeration units either on trucks or rail cars, thus adding to the strain on infrastructure and diesel fuel supplies which supposedly justifies the high retail pricing of diesel these days. Plus this contributes greatly to emissions concerns and carbon production. Even the refer units run on diesel or propane generally, so it's not just the trucks and locomotives.

5. Bypassing local production has caused great expanses of once productive farm land to lay dormant and become grown over with bush, alders and misc. varieties of evergreens etc. When I go back to the area where my old farm is, I see approx 1,500 acres of what used to be actively used as farm land, now dormant. There is perhaps 150 acres total being used in the general area. This doesn't include the other side of our river, where I grew up and the story is pretty much the same over there as well. The rest of the local area is similar, as small farms have all but died out, as indicated in the article above.

6. Searching for employment figures this a.m., I find info such as the southwest shore of N.S., a typically rural based area for the most part, and see unemployment having raised in the 3% range. I know other areas have suffered similarly, and I can't help but think about the rising costs of groceries and the wasted employment and Ag production opportunities. Then there's all that wasted fuel and what comes with that.

So back to the type of animals used in the region for a moment. The new exotics finish much bigger than our old standard breeds, therefore in order to get them to market in the same time frame they need a great amount of feed. Their carcass weight is much higher, but they cost too much to finish given the availability of local grains. Grain used to be available in high quantities in this area, largely because potato farmers in PEI used a three crop rotation. One yr. potatoes, one grain and one grass. In recent decades, due to the influences of the McCain and Irving Empires in the potato business, many growers cut corners and cycled only two crops, thus reducing availability of grain. So, now we need to look at market trends. The market wants leaner meat, not fatter, so this plays well for the standard breeds. The easy keeps as I called them. As the article points out, relying more on the natural offerings of wild grasses and cultivated hay crops can make these breeds viable again. Should have been all along, but the pressures from agricorp, the processing and retail giants and the meddling influences of government agencies who were hell bent on pushing the small farmers out of the picture, have succeeded.

I remember when, with a heavy heart, I threw in the towel as I realized I couldn't be any more efficient than I already was, and I couldn't justify the investment of time and money only to make $100 per calf per year. That was for the live ones. There are some losses that can't be avoided.

When I read things such as Herb's comment on T Bone steak being $28 a kilo in Ottawa, it reminds me of just how badly the forces of the above named co-conspirators are in fact fleecing the general public, and harming our natural ability to create local employment and work toward more self sufficiency.

I did notice that our gubbermint has budgeted an amount to encourage such things as local farmers markets, and I commend them somewhat for the thought, albeit it's a token amount. It is by supporting alternative market outlets, that governments can aid in returning some of the power of the individual back where it belongs. The power that they have worked diligently over many decades to take away from us. This Great Country was built on the strength of this, not corporate gouging control freaks.

So smarten up eh?


  1. Another related story. Looks like another part of our Co-op and Agricultural structure is about to end.

  2. We get a local regional once a week, it's a freebie. They're 'suggesting' farmers to go to grass feed and calfing sp? once a year, spring?. I don't know too much about farming, I'm going from memory from the article, but apparently cattle prices aren't expected to increase but grain is. They're telling farmers to save on grain feed.

    I live in the West so.....