Telling the Story of Canadian Durum across the Atlantic Ocean

Have you ever heard of new crop missions?

Probably not. Most farmers I’ve talked to over the past couple of months have never heard of them. But they are a critical component of our sales process to our overseas buyers, and this year, I have the privilege of being the farmer on the durum trip.

Every year, a few teams of people from the Canadian wheat value chain head off to numerous export markets, such as Latin America, the United Arab Emirates, Nigeria, parts of Asia, and, for my trip, some of our major durum markets in Southern Europe and North Africa. The trips are organized by Cereals Canada, the Canadian International Grains Institute (CIGI) and the Canadian Grain Commission (CGC). As a producer on the board for the Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission, I have the honour of being the farmer in the group. There will be an exporter with us as well. This diverse group will be able to present key information to our buyers on the 2019 crop.

I’m sure some of you are wondering – what’s the benefit of a costly trip like this? To me, the benefits are clear. Think about your relationship with your crop input retailer; do you just see them once a year when you buy products from them? Or do they grow a relationship with you over the years, trying to show you why you should do business with them? If they don’t, the only tool they have to earn your business is price. In a world where wheat is grown almost anywhere, most of it much closer to market than we are in Canada, price is simply not a factor we can compete on.

What sets us apart in Canada is the quality of the product we produce, the incredible advances we have made over the last couple decades in improving sustainability, and the lengths we go to to ensure our customers are satisfied with our products. When we meet with our buyers, they’re eager to hear the presentation given by the farmer; they are incredibly interested in how we grow our crops, how we manage our risks, and the generational legacy we build in our businesses. Indeed, the producer presentation is a critical aspect of these missions.

We have some important issues to try and resolve. Italy has been an unwilling buyer of Canadian durum, driven by frustrating country of origin labelling laws and a campaign against Canadian durum, created by a farm group called Coldiretti. Unlike 2018, we don’t have a massive crop of largely #1 and #2 durum. We have a mix of all grades this year, which may create some interesting opportunities. Speaking directly to our buyers will help us understand what those are.

Something that many of us don’t often take the time to ponder is that what we do as farmers matters to consumers. They are interested in how we make our cropping decisions, how we manage difficult harvest weather (case in point 2019), how we make pesticide application decisions, and, perhaps most importantly in today’s environment, how we maximize sustainability. The fact that we try to improve our soils with the goal to pass our farms down to our children is a foreign concept for many parts of the world, and it is something to be celebrated.

I’ll be speaking about all of these topics and more when I travel across the ocean in a little less than a month. I’ll be away for nearly two weeks, which is a long time to be away from my young children; but when I think about their future, and how we will continue to drive success in growing Canadian wheat and durum, the choice is easy. This isn’t just about our crop in 2019 and servicing our customers for today; it’s about building the future for Canadian agriculture and ensuring our product has a market, now and in the future. I’m excited for the remarkable privilege of representing Canadian durum producers.

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Why We Can Feed 10 Billion People – and Beyond

Too many people. Billions of us – 7.7 billion, as of April, 2019 – many of us clustered in massive metropolises, all teeming masses of concrete and steel. By 2050, there will be somewhere between nine and ten billion human beings living on this planet, and by 2100, more than 11 billion (source). How can we possibly feed everyone? 795 million people are currently undernourished, with the vast majority in developing nations. Are the doomsdayers right? Are we headed for armageddon? The answer to this comes from our past – the countless times we were told we were near destruction, only to persevere, find our way through, and emerge all the wealthier. We will do it again – but only if we are allowed to.

Population Control

Now, I’ll admit to being a fan of the Marvel comics film series. In the film Avengers: Infinity War, antagonist Thanos has one, simple goal – reduce the load on the environment. His concern is chiefly around what’s known as carrying capacity – the size of a population a given environment can support. His belief? “Too many mouths to feed” results in the catastrophic failure of an ecosystem. While his method of population control seems extreme (randomly wipe out half of them), it is, sadly, better than some of the methods we have used on our own world.

Take China, for example. The disastrous one-child policy, driven by Westerners who believed our only hope was reduced population, and enforced by a brutal communist regime, caused the deaths of untold infants and children. 196 million sterilizations, many of them by force; 336 million abortions, some of them very late term; and many little children killed, especially girls (source). This is the reality of attempting to restrict population growth. While they have recently changed their policy to allow two children, the result of this horrifying policy will haunt China for decades, with a massively imbalanced population that has too many single men and retirees.

Other forms were used in India and Ireland, with Britain refusing aid during devastating crop failures long ago, and continue to be used in countries in Africa. The campaign against genetic engineering has been catastrophic in many African nations. Golden Rice, a variety fortified with Vitamin A, has been offered out for free in many countries, after far too many years sitting on the shelf, rejected out of fear of being a GMO. Organizations like Greenpeace, in their campaign against Golden Rice, sentence 250,000-500,000 children to blindness each and every year in Africa and Asia. Many more die. Many of the goals of the anti-GMO movement can be traced to a goal of population control.

Population control has taken many forms in many countries over the past century, and while many were (sadly) successful, the disturbing reality of such a practice should prevent any rational human being from ever seriously considering them. They are just not an option for any human being with a conscience.

Here’s the reality: we don’t need population control. We can feed everyone.

The Farmer

On the 25th of March, 1914, a man was born that changed everything. Norman Ernest Borlaug was born in Saude, Iowa into a poor, subsistence farming family of Norwegian descent.

You’ve probably never heard of him.

He is, by some accounts, responsible for saving the lives of a billion people.

While folks like William Vogt and Paul Ehrlich were pontificating about how to control the growth of our population to prevent a coming catastrophe, Borlaug, like any farmer, 20170704_204503put his head down and went to work. Through donations provided by the tremendous resources of the Rockefeller Foundation ($100 million in a time the US national budget was less than $1 billion), Borlaug was able to breed wheat varieties resistant to rust, the devastating disease that crushed crop after crop in so many countries worldwide. Not only were his varieties rust-resistant, they were also short varieties that didn’t lodge (meaning tip over – heavy wheat heads can tip over if the straw supporting them is too weak). The varieties produced decent flour and had remarkable adaptability to almost any climate.

Paul Ehrlich famously declared in his bestselling book The Population Bomb, published in 1968, that “the battle to feed humanity is over,” and “In the 1970’s and 80’s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.” After India suffered two consecutive droughts in 1966-67, his prediction seemed astute.

C. Subramaniam, the minister of Food and Agriculture in India at that time, came to hear of Borlaug’s work in Mexico, of the amazing yield increases he had helped bring about. He convinced his government to act urgently and they listened; they chartered several Boeing 707s loaded with 16,000 tonnes of seeds of this “miracle wheat”.

Armed with these new wheat varieties, Borlaug and his team taught their agronomic practices to local farmers, and by 1974 India was self-sufficient in production of all cereal grains. Pakistan quickly followed suit. Borlaug’s colleagues duplicated this remarkable success with rice, and the so-called Green Revolution spread throughout most of Asia.

Later, Borlaug turned his attention to Africa, where he was equally successful – until he was met with a brick wall of resistance. After his success in Mexico and Asia, many environmental groups began to oppose his mission, believing he was only creating a bigger problem down the road – more mouths to feed.

“Borlaug’s mission — to cause the environment to produce significantly more food — has come to be seen, at least by some securely affluent commentators, as perhaps better left undone. More food sustains human population growth, which they see as antithetical to the natural world.” (Greg Easterbrook, source)

The Rockefeller Foundation began to withdraw funding, and support for the International Maize and Wheat Center saw its support dwindle. Since then, environmental groups have vehemently opposed mechanized agriculture, attacking the use of artificial fertilizer, crop protection products, irrigation, and of course, genetic modification. Without access to these tools, Africa will continue to struggle to feed its quickly growing population. Children will continue to go to bed hungry, suffer from stunting and early death, and environmentally destructive farming methods like slash-and-burn and deforestation will continue unabated. One of the biggest drivers of deforestation and loss of habitat is agriculture, which, with increases in yields, was actually nearly stopped in many areas of the world.

What Borlaug showed us is that with technology, drive and vision, you truly can achieve anything. He arrived in Mexico in 1944 with no professional experience in wheat (or plant breeding of any sort), his laboratory was a windowless tarpaper shack on 160 acres of dry, scrubby land, and despite the massive resources of the Rockefeller Foundation, his access to tools and resources barely allowed him a plow. After seeing what true poverty looked like, he was inspired to try to provide a better future for Mexican farmers. Unquestionably, his success is measured in the number of millions of lives he saved.

In 2017, I had the opportunity, through an organization called the Global Farmer Network, to attend the World Food Prize at Des Moines, Iowa. This award, founded in Global Farmer Network Best Photo1986 by Borlaug, honours individuals who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity, or availability of food in the world. That year, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina (who I had the pleasure of meeting) was awarded the prize for his leading role in expanding food production in Nigeria. Things are improving there, thanks to the efforts of men and women like Adesina (in the photo at right, along with the rest of the Global Farmer Roundtable). To say this was an eye-opening experience for me would be quite an understatement. The efforts of Borlaug are not forgotten there (I also had the pleasure of meeting Julie Borlaug, Norman’s granddaughter).

“Take it to the farmer.” Borlaug’s words could not be more true; give farmers the tools they need to succeed, and they will. Give them access to strong crop genetics, fertilizers and crop protection products and they will produce. In the despair of the early 1970’s, when it seemed utterly hopeless that we could possibly feed a world of 3.7 billion people, few could have imagined our world today: a population nearly double that, with less than 10% of our population in extreme poverty, an unprecedented number in human history. Life expectancy, infant mortality, undernourishment and food availability all have improved immensely in only the last 20 years. By almost every measurement, the human condition only continues to improve (source).

Some environmental groups want to limit us, to hold back those who live in developing countries. They think we don’t have the intelligence, the wherewithal or the vision to feed, clothe and house a growing population. They think limiting population growth, and the disturbing paths that leads them down, is the answer. Borlaug, and so many others just like him, proved them wrong decades ago. We can do it again.

 

Further Reading:

The Wizard & The Prophet (Charles Mann): While I disagree with some of the themes of this book, it does provide a very good history of Norm Borlaug and William Vogt and their different ideologies.

Food Evolution (film): I rarely recommend films for “further reading”, but this is a brilliant movie on genetic modification and many of the themes I’ve discussed here. Also, Motlasi Musi, one of my fellow Global Farmer Roundtable participants, was featured in the film and brings amazing perspective.

The Alchemy of Air (Thomas Hager): An excellent read on the history of nitrogen fertilizer – and it’s way more interesting than it sounds!

The Rational Optimist (Matt Ridley): Great read on trade and human progress.

Merchants of Despair (Robert Zubrin): A sobering and disturbing read on the history of population control.

Also, go to the Genetic Literacy Project, The Global Farmer Network and AgBioWorld websites: these are treasure troves of information.

 

Sustainable Farming – A Video

For most farmers, sustainability is more than just maintaining things as they are – it’s making things better. It’s passing on our land to the next generation in better shape than it was when we started. This is just part of who we are.

Unfortunately, I think few people outside of agriculture understand that. That is why I took time out of our harvest last year to film a video with CropLife Canada; to try and show just how much we care about the impact of what we do on our farm.

Watch the video below and see what you think!

The Truth of the Monsanto Papers

Glyphosate has been a big story over the past 12 months: Dewayne Johnson’s multi-million dollar payout, numerous countries attempting to phase it out or outright ban it, and a new wave of certified “Glyphosate Residue Free” food labels. With this onslaught of pressure, it’s really not surprising that Health Canada had to reevaluate its previous conclusion of glyphosate’s safety.

In 2017, Health Canada undertook a “final re-evaluation” of the embattled product, in which it assessed the “potential human health risk of glyphosate from drinking water, food, occupational and bystander exposure, as well as the environmental risk to non-target organisms” (Health Canada). Their conclusion?

“The overall finding from the re-examination of glyphosate is highlighted as follows:

  • Glyphosate is not genotoxic and is unlikely to pose a human cancer risk.
  • Dietary (food and drinking water) exposure associated with the use of glyphosate is not expected to pose a risk of concern to human health.
  • Occupational and residential risks associated with the use of glyphosate are not of concern, provided that updated label instructions are followed.
  • The environmental assessment concluded that spray buffer zones are necessary to mitigate potential risks to non-target species (for examplevegetation near treated areas, aquatic invertebrates and fish) from spray drift.
  • When used according to revised label directions, glyphosate products are not expected to pose risks of concern to the environment.
  • All registered glyphosate uses have value for weed control in agriculture and non-agricultural land management.”

Re-evaluation Decision RVD2017-01, Glyphosate. PMRA. 28 April 2017.

As a farmer, I knew all this. We have used this amazing product on our farm for over 40 years! It has been the single greatest contributor to the single greatest agricultural revolution in Western Canadian history: no-till (what is no-till? Read more here). It has saved thousands of tonnes of topsoil, along with all the nutrients and organic matter contained in it, and fundamentally changed the sustainability of Western Canadian farms.

Following the release of this decision, Health Canada received eight notices of objection, along with some questions about the validity of the scientific articles claiming glyphosate’s safety. So, the question had to be re-analyzed: is glyphsate safe? Or has the scientific community been unduly influenced by the much-maligned Monsanto?

Evil Monsanto?

For the record, I don’t and have never worked for Monsanto, and they have zero influence over what I choose to grow on my farm. Some of my crops contain the Roundup-Ready gene, including some of my canola and soybean acres, but they don’t force me to grow their crops – it is and always has been my choice!

Monsanto is often touted as the big bad of Big Ag, the lobbying powerhouse who controls governments around the world. Here’s a reality check: not only was Monsanto not the most powerful company in the world, it wasn’t even the biggest agriculture company. In fact, Monsanto no longer exists. Bayer bought them out last year, and even the Monsanto name is gone forever.

Many companies in the food industry are larger than Monsanto. Whole Foods (now owned by Amazon) has revenues several times larger than Monsanto!

So, the idea that Monsanto can influence government policy in any significant way is simply laughable. They are just not big enough.

The Re-evaluation Results

On January 11, 2019, Health Canada released a statement containing the results of the thorough scientific review they undertook to consider the objections raised to their 2017 paper.

“Our scientists left no stone unturned in conducting this review. To help ensure an unbiased assessment of the information, Health Canada selected a group of 20 of its own scientists who were not involved in the 2017 re-evaluation to evaluate the notices of objection.”

Clearly, they took the objections seriously and checked all relevant sources for information. They went to significant lengths to ensure no bias in their report. Here is their final conclusion:

“…we have concluded that the concerns raised by the objectors could not be scientifically supported when considering the entire body of relevant data. The objections raised did not create doubt or concern regarding the scientific basis for the 2017 re-evaluation decision for glyphosate. Therefore, the Department’s final decision will stand.” (read more here)

Why This Decision Is So Important

Science has been challenged in so many places in the last several years. Too often, governments give in to non-governmental organizations such as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, the Sierra Club and so on, without considering real scientific evidence. It seems sometimes that the loudest voice gets the policy they want.

As farmers, we rely on scientists to help us understand what is safe, and to present that information to an increasingly concerned public. We rely on the scientific process; the process that created this amazing technologically advanced world we live in. The process that revolutionized medicine, travel, communications; the process that gave us clean drinking water, the lights you turn on every morning, and the car you take to work every day; the process that gave us the antibiotics and vaccinations that keep our children from getting sick.

Everything we have, and everything we can achieve, is because of science. Without it, we are alone in a cold, dark and dangerous world. It is because of the scientific process that democracy can exist. Any one of us, following the scientific method of trial and error; of controls and experimentation; of recording our results and letting our peers try the same experiment to see if it works for them too, regardless of who we are or where we came from, can seek and find the truth. Science is the greatest gift we have as a society.

Health Canada’s re-evaluation initially worried me: giving in to the vagaries of activists? What if their result is influenced by them?

But as I thought about it, I realized there could be only one decision. Only one result could come out of this re-evaluation: that glyphosate, if used as directed, is safe. Because that’s what the science has been telling us all along.

This decision by Health Canada reaffirms the crucial importance of the scientific method. It cannot be influenced by money, power or even the government itself. Only by careful, meticulous research and experimentation can we learn the truth. And that is exactly what happened here: science won the day. Let’s hope it always does.

 

Does Glyphosate Cause Cancer?

Glyphosate and cancer. This is something we are hearing so much about, seemingly all of the sudden, with major stories breaking in the last week. Just last Friday, a court case in California resulted in a $289 million dollar payment to a man named Dewayne Johnson, who claimed his years of using glyphosate (also known as Roundup) caused him to develop cancer. A few days before this story broke, glyphosate use was suspended by a judge in Brazil pending a government reevaluation of its toxicity.

What is going on here?

I am a farmer who uses glyphosate. My dad started using it decades ago, and it has absolutely been the single greatest invention in agricultural history. And it is unequivocally, fantastically safe. It is one of the lowest toxicity herbicides we use on our farm. It is less toxic than alcohol. Less toxic than caffeine. So what is all this about?

Why Do We Need It?

I am apart of a multi-generation family farm in southeast Saskatchewan, Canada. We grow canola, wheat, durum, peas, lentils, flax and soybeans, along with a few other crops. I farm with my sister, my mom and dad, my brother-in-law and my wife and two little boys. I love what I do.

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In my part of the Canadian Prairies, we farm in some pretty dry conditions. Our average growing-season rainfall is about 9 inches, or 225 mm. Snow and fall rains provide us with another 4-5 inches. This is semi-arid agriculture, where the next rain really can provide the difference between profit and loss. So, we work very hard to use every drop of moisture we get. We have to. That means we cannot allow weeds to grow, and we must leave the soil undisturbed as much as possible – we do not want to till our land if we can at all avoid it.

What glyphosate allows us to do is to kill every weed in the field before the crop emerges. In the days before glyphosate, my grandfather had the very same goal – but he only had one way to do it. He had to work the land, over and over and over. The goal was to make it absolutely black. That was the only tool they had, and sadly, it was the direct cause of the great dust storms of the Dirty 30’s. Why would we ever want to go back to that?

Moreover, glyphosate allows us to control weeds in certain crops as they grow. Canola and soybeans are two crops I grow that are genetically engineered to be resistant to glyphosate. This means we can spray it over the crops, while they are young and struggle to compete with weeds, to keep them clean. We use different chemicals in other crops to accomplish the same thing, but none have the broad spectrum control that glyphosate has – and few of them are as cheap, or as safe.

The introduction of Roundup-Ready crops, including corn, soybean, canola, cotton and so on, has allowed for safe, simple, very cost-effective weed control.

Is It Safe?

This is the big question, and if you follow the news at all, I could certainly understand if you don’t feel it is safe. You may think it causes cancer, autism, and any number of diseases. That is what you’ll find on the Internet.

Here’s the experience of a farmer.

I use glyphosate hundreds of hours every year. I load and run our sprayers (along with farm employees and my family) over thousands and thousands of acres spraying glyphosate. My son rides in the sprayer with me sometimes. And I don’t worry at all about glyphosate being dangerous.

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Here’s the thing about spraying a chemical like glyphosate. An acre of land is 43,560 square feet, which is a little smaller than an American football field. On that acre, 360 grams of glyphosate active ingredient is sprayed. Put another way: 2 cans of beer of glyphosate sprayed over an area almost the size of a football field. That’s .015 mL of beer on each square foot – and that includes the solution the glyphosate active ingredient is suspended in. That is an incredibly low concentration. A standard “drop” of water is .05 mL. That’s less than a third of a drop of water!

Sure, some chemicals are highly toxic in even very small doses. Glyphosate is not one of those chemicals. Its LD50, or the lethal dose for 50% of rats in testing, is 5,600 mg/kg. The LD50 for caffeine? 192 mg/kg. Don’t panic about your coffee though – that’s still very safe!

Does Glyphosate Cause Cancer?

While I have explained that an acute dose of glyphosate is safe, that doesn’t really answer the cancer question. That is something that would accrue over many years, and may have little to do with the aforementioned LD50. Has this been studied thoroughly enough to be sure glyphosate is indeed safe? And has it been studied by independent organizations and scientists?

John Giesy, a professor and research chair in environmental toxicology at the University of Saskatchewan, would argue that yes, glyphosate is safe. He has quite the resume, as a professor or honorary professor at six other universities and is the most cited author in the world in the combined fields of ecology and environmental sciences. In an article you can find here, when speaking about the subject of cancer, he had this to say:

“Certainly you wouldn’t wish it on anyone. But whether it’s caused by glyphosate, in my opinion, is highly unlikely.”

In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a WHO agency, claimed that glyphosate was a  “probable carcinogen”. Glyphosate is hardly alone in this category, with such partners as high temperature frying, working as a hairdresser, red meat or shiftwork. Stuff that is actually carcinogenic on their list? Alcoholic beverages, sawdust and processed meat (to name a few). Yes, beer and hot dogs are considered more likely to cause cancer than glyphosate (source).

It was this IARC report that started all of this, and there are some real questions as to their methodology. In fact, according to the then- European Crop Protection Director, General Jean-Charles Bocquet,

“From the summary conclusions it appears that IARC has made its conclusions as a result of an incomplete data review that has omitted key evidence.” (source)

It was recently discovered that the IARC had removed findings from studies that concluded glyphosate was not a carcinogen before they published the final version. They also used the infamous, now retracted Seralini rat study in their analysis.

The fact is that numerous organizations conclude glyphosate is safe, including the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, the European Food Safety Administration, Health Canada, the German Risk Agency, and on and on. A massive study run on 89,000 farmers and their familes in Iowa and North Carolina since 1993 has failed to find any link between glyphosate and cancer. How much more evidence do we need?

I need glyphosate on my farm. It helps me be more sustainable, both environmentally and economically, it helps me protect my soil from erosion and build soil health, and it helps me sequester carbon, reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The fear over glyphosate is unfounded, and we need to slow down and have a real discussion about it. If you want to come to my farm and see how we use this contentious chemical, please let me know. My door is open for anyone who wants to have their questions answered.

Why I Decided To Run For SaskWheat

This week, many Saskatchewan farmers saw a yellow envelope appear in their mail. The SaskWheat election has started in full.

It was almost six weeks ago that I announced my candidacy for the SaskWheat Development Commission. I had actually been thinking about it for a lot longer than that, though. Running for a commission like this is a big decision; it requires a lot of time and energy, which the farm already demands in excess, and there is always the risk that you don’t win a seat at the table. Elections are inherently unpredictable.

So why run? Well, there are a number of reasons, which I will share with you now.

The Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission (SWDC) was started in June of 2013, with the first board of directors taking office on January 13 of 2014. All wheat (including durum) grown in Saskatchewan has “check-off dollars” taken off the sale price to go towards the commission, at a rate of $1.00 per tonne. The idea is that those check-off dollars will go toward research and market development to improve wheat’s value to farmers, which had previously been administered by the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB).

As a wheat grower of a moderate-sized farm, I am well aware of the amount of dollars that come off my sales every year. I believe there is tremendous value in this, as it is the best way to develop new varieties, agronomic strategies, help maintain current markets and develop new ones. However, I believe there is room for improvement with how the current board is handling my, and other producers’, check-off dollars.

I believe it is crucially important to work with other organizations and commissions. Currently, SaskWheat does not work with Cereals Canada, which needs to change if farmers are to have a voice at the national and international level. Canada exports 60% of the wheat it grows; market development is critical, and farmers are the best people to share our story with the world.

If I’ve learned anything from my years writing this blog, and from my recent (fantastic) trip to the Global Farmer Roundtable and World Food Prize event in Des Moines, Iowa, it’s that people want to hear our story. Nobody knows more about what we do than we do. Accordingly, when there are trade disputes, who better to speak than farmers? We, as farmers, need to be at the table of the biggest discussions in agriculture. How else can we ensure that our needs are being looked after?

There are so many major issues ahead of us. We face the real possibility of a carbon tax, continual transportation issues, trade barriers, and a public increasingly concerned with our production practices. One only needs to look to the turmoil with glyphosate regulations in the European Union. What impact will this have on pre-harvest glyphosate applications? We need to work together, with all farmers and organizations, to promote science-based decision making. SaskWheat cannot operate in isolation.

Wheat is not an easy crop to derive a profit on. Research and innovation must be SaskWheat’s highest priority to make wheat competitive, which is why I support both public and private research into wheat breeding. Not only do we need to increase yields, but we also need to reduce our risk to Fusarium and maintain the high quality characteristics we are known for.

I want Saskatchewan to be the number one destination for investment in Canadian wheat research dollars. I want farmers to be excited to grow wheat again. I will not let ideology stand in the way of good policy. If I’m elected, your voice will be heard.

I believe, if we as the SaskWheat commission listen to farmers, and stay open-minded to new ideas, we can move our industry forward. The past is behind us, and the Canadian Wheat Board is not coming back. If we are to truly make things better for wheat in Saskatchewan, we need to be willing to listen, collaborate, and advocate for our needs as wheat growers.

Whether or not you support me in this election, please remember to vote! The basis of our democracy is the freedom to choose the people who can serve us best.

Watch for the yellow envelope in your mailbox. If you grew wheat in the last two years you will be eligible to vote. You can fill out the paper ballot or do it online. Voting closes on November 24th.

Let’s create positive change for SaskWheat!

Find out more at the SaskWheat website (here) and find my, and other candidate bios, here.

The 2017 Global Farmer Roundtable

Next week, I will be attending the Global Farmer Roundtable in Des Moines, Iowa. I will meet with 14 other farmers, from countries around the world, to discuss the biggest issues facing modern agriculture. I have been asked to represent Canada at this event.

I cannot even begin to describe the honour I feel in being invited to participate in this roundtable. The farmers I will be engaging with are extraordinary individuals, from countries like Argentina, Denmark, India, South Africa, and many more. I will also have the opportunity to attend the World Food Prize Laureate award ceremony, considered by many to be the Nobel Prize for food, agriculture and related research.

The idea of the roundtable is that despite the tremendous differences in our various backgrounds, cultures, climate and so on, farmers generally face many similar challenges across the world. Bringing a group like this together allows us to recognize the common goals we all have for our farms, our families, and for access to technology and trade.

I look forward to sharing what I learn from this incredible event, and I can’t wait to go!

You can learn more about the Global Farmer Roundtable and the Global Farmer Network here.

An Open Letter to Justin Trudeau on Tax Fairness

September 5, 2017

Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau, P.C., M.P. Prime Minister of Canada
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0A2

Dear Prime Minister,

My name is Jake Leguee, and I am a farmer in Saskatchewan. I am writing this letter to express my grave concerns with your plan for what you refer to as “tax fairness”. While I am not an accountant or a tax expert, I know enough to be apprehensive about the changes you and Mr. Morneau plan to enact.

I take offense to being labelled as a tax cheat. I, along with my parents, my sister and my own young family, along with our two full-time employees (one being a brother in law), all work together in this wonderful business we call farming. We grow food, we work hard to improve our community, and we are excited about the prospect of a fourth generation someday having the opportunity to take over this farm.

Your tax changes will severely challenge our ability to pass on this farm. You will penalize my parents for passing their land on to me. Land that they paid for a long time ago; land that I will never sell. I will never realize the capital gains on that land. Why should my parents be taxed for passing it on? Why should I be taxed for someday passing it on to my own children?

Farming is a tough business. We rely on the weather to provide for us; even if we do absolutely everything right, one bad storm can take it all away. It is very difficult to manage a farm well enough to have the opportunity for the next generation to take over, even without having to worry about taxes. Notice how drastically the number of farms has collapsed over the past century?

Don’t get me wrong; all small businesses have similar challenges. Succession is hard. Passing along a business to your children should be celebrated by government. Small business is the backbone of this great country. They provide jobs, and innovation, and growth for all Canadians. We small business people don’t have pensions, or employment insurance, or health benefits. We must cover all of that on our own. Furthermore, we provide those services to our employees, who also work hard in the community and provide for their children. So much rides on the success of our businesses.

You talk about closing loopholes, and creating tax fairness. What you are missing is that the playing field already is out of whack. Employees have a lot of benefits that we small business people don’t have. And that’s okay. We can live without these benefits for the opportunity to build something. We aren’t just out there to make money – we do what we do to build a legacy. We do it to provide jobs, and look after our employees. We do it to give our children the opportunity to take the next step, and do amazing things we could never even dream of.

As a child, I spent most of the time I wasn’t in school helping out on the farm. It was hard work, but I loved it. It was how I could spend time with my Dad, who worked seemingly every hour of every day. The farm didn’t pay me to save money on taxes, it paid me because I earned it. This taught me the value of hard work, and how to save money and prepare budgets for it. None of this had anything to do with cheating taxes.

My farm provides a living for seven people, not to mention my own little son and our next child that is on the way. But our farm does far more. As we grow, we purchase equipment, tools, parts, inputs, and so many other things our farm needs. Along with the other farms in this area, we provide jobs for hundreds of people, from mechanics to engineers to biologists and sales people. This farm isn’t a tax haven; it, along with every other farm and all the other small businesses around us, are powering Canada’s future.

Don’t take that away.

Mr. Prime Minister, please reconsider your tax fairness proposal. The future of this great country we call Canada depends on it.

Sincerely,

Jake Leguee

What I’ve Learned From 4 Years of Writing About Agriculture

Today marks 4 years since I started this blog. I’ve written about GMOs, glyphosate, carbon taxation, and, more than anything else, weather (among many other things). I’ve talked to so many different people with so many different viewpoints; some agree, some disagree, and others think I secretly work for Monsanto.

In the 4 years that have passed since I started this blog, our farm has changed dramatically. We were on the edge of survival when I started this, which is why I wrote more rants about the weather in my first year than I have since. We were coming off a period of extreme moisture conditions that looked like it would never end.

But it did.

Since then, it has been too dry, too wet, too cold, too hot, and more variations of that than you can imagine. We have seen fall frosts that came too early, hail damage, torrential rains, extreme heat, and even a summer of forest fire smoke. We have dealt with equipment problems of every kind, from monitors that won’t communicate to combine headers that just don’t work.

We have tried cover crops, invested in weather stations, tried straight-cutting canola, and targeted yields that even 5 years ago I wouldn’t have dreamed possible. We have brought in new people, and had to let go of others.

Our farm has changed so much over the past 4 years; I’m not even sure I could’ve imagined we would be where we are today. It really did feel like we were one bad storm away from the end of our farm. The night is darkest just before the dawn; when one storm changes everything, sometime it’s hard to imagine how you’ll get through. But you do.

Agriculture has been attacked from every angle, with constant pressure on genetic engineering, and the disappointing popularity of non-GMO products. Glyphosate (Roundup) has been labelled a probable carcinogen with questionable methodology, and came very close to being banned in Europe. Seed treatments are currently under attack, with regulations on the way.

Farmers have been criticized for nutrient runoff into lakes and streams, for using more pesticides than ever (which is incorrect), and for generally being uncaring of the environment around them. A tax on our emissions is likely on its way, with still-unknown implications.

Despite all this, I have never been more optimistic for our industry. I believe we are making a difference, that our message is getting through. I believe most people do genuinely believe farmers try to do what’s right for the environment. There are more farmer bloggers out there every day, telling their story. Social media, especially Facebook and Twitter, have provided farmers with a voice. People are listening.

We need to keep telling our story, because it’s a great one. It’s a story of families, of generational farms. It’s a story of people, doing what they love, and looking after the land their grandparents farmed. It’s a story of food, of providing nutrition to the world. It’s a story of doing more with less, of producing more food for a hungry world, while preserving more of our world than any time in modern history.

Everything changes. And then, everything changes again. People are questioning what we are doing because they care; they want to know where their food is coming from. They want to know its story. This should not be taken for granted.

I have learned so much since starting this blog, and not just about agriculture. Nearly a year and a half ago, when my son was born, I realized what my parents have known for a long time – that we truly are growing a legacy. I realized that this farm isn’t just about our generation; it’s about the next one.

I’ve met some truly fascinating people in my time writing this blog. I can honestly say that I’ve learned something from almost all of them, and from some, I’ve learned a lot. Writing this blog has been an incredible experience, and I don’t intend to leave it behind anytime soon. Thank you to everyone who has read and supported A Year in the Life of a Farmer for these amazing four years.

Asher harvest

A Letter to the PMRA About Seed Treatments

You may not have heard much about this, as it has had minimal news coverage, but the PMRA is planning on phasing out imidicloprid, a neonicotinoid insecticide we use for combating early-season insect pests. There are a number of similar products out there,
and together, they help us protect our crops from a variety of difficult to control insects. Why are they phasing out this one?

“Robust environmental monitoring from several areas of intense agricultural activity in Ontario and Quebec further support these findings as imidacloprid is detected frequently in surface water at levels well above concentrations that may result in toxic effects to insects.”

The reality is that their data-set is far from “robust”. They did not use data from Western Canada, stating this:

“Although robust monitoring data are not available for all regions in Canada…it is anticipated that elevated levels may be found in many agricultural areas where there is a high volume of use.”

The statistics in putting this data set together are staggeringly weak and highly presumptuous. We have a different climate, different crops, and a different ecological environment. This is the precautionary principle at its finest – prevent any possible harm without considering the risks of not allowing the product to be used. Without neonics, we DSC_0703will be forced into using less effective, potentially more toxic insecticides that are prone to pest resistance.

If neonics truly were causing serious harm, I would be alright with phasing them out; but the data set the PMRA is using is very weak, and the methodology used is a poor reflection of sound science. If you want to read their report, you can find it here.

The Grain Growers of Canada have produced an excellent letter to send to the PMRA, asking “farmers to express their comments to PMRA as part of the official consultation and amplify our industry’s collective request to see data from the 2017 crop included in the review.”

The deadline to submit is midnight tonight. We need to work together to try and make the PMRA realize how important science-based policy is to us – and how important it is that we have access to all the tools we need for integrated pest management.

This is the letter that I sent this morning. The Grain Growers of Canada wrote most of it; I only added the second last paragraph. I commend the organization for the work they have done to put this together.

March 23, 2017

Pest Management Regulatory Agency
Health Canada
2720 Riverside Drive
Ottawa, Ontario
Address Locator: 6606D2
K1A 0K9

PMRA.publications@hc-sc.gc.ca

Re: Proposed Re-evaluation Decision PRVD2016-20, imidacloprid

Dear Pest Management Regulatory Agency:

I am writing to you today, as a Canadian grain farmer, to express my concern with your agency’s proposed re-evaluation decision of imidacloprid. This product has been in use in Canada for over 20 years and I personally rely on it on my farm as a safe and effective method of managing pests.

I support and rely on Canada’s internationally respected regulatory system where registration and re-evaluation decisions are risk-based and grounded on sound science. As such, I am concerned that the decision to phase-out imidacloprid was not based on a credible and thorough risk assessment given the limited data sets considered by the PMRA in its proposed decision. These data sets do not reflect the potential risk across the varied Canadian agricultural landscape.

Canadian farmers use imidacloprid and other neonicotinoid seed treatments prudently as part of an integrated pest management approach. As food producers, our access to varied chemistries, tools and methods to control pest outbreaks is becoming more limited. This variety is crucial to having adaptability on our farms to limit pest resistance and risks to profits, the environment, and consumers.

On my farm, we work hard to utilize an integrated pest management approach, and we are extremely careful about potential off-target impacts from our crop protection products. We need these products to profitably produce food in an environmentally sustainable manner. Phasing out neonicotinoid products, such as imidicloprid, will remove our best protection against in-season insects. If we do not have access to these products, we may be forced to use older, less effective chemistries that, in some cases, are considerably more toxic (and therefore dangerous) to use; this puts me, my family, and my employees at risk. Moreover, these alternative products are prone to pest resistance, which will further stress the long-term sustainability of my farm.

Considering all the factors that directly impact me, as a farmer, I respectfully request that the PMRA adjust its timelines for the final decision on imidacloprid to allow relevant data to be generated and analyzed from the 2017 growing season. This will allow the PMRA to make the best possible science-based decision for farmers and all Canadians.

Sincerely,

Jake Leguee

Again, click here to go the Grain Growers website to download their letter. Don’t wait – it must be submitted before midnight tonight!