Don’t lose your License to Farm

License to Farm, released January 15, 2016, is a powerful documentary which exposes the truths behind GMO use in Canada and throughout the Western world. Developed and funded by the Saskatchewan Canola Development Commission, Growing Froward 2, The Government of Saskatchewan and The Government of Canada, License to Farm helps farmers in the prairie provinces start to develop dialogue about the use and advancement of GM crops for human and animal consumption.

The rhetoric surrounding the use of GM technology is confusing. It seems like every other consumer is against their use, but when they’re asked, they really aren’t sure what GMO even means or how they differ from conventional crops. As evidenced by this video, which aired on Jimmy Kimmel Live in 2014, people first need a strict education on just what a GMO is, before farmers can go any further:

Consumers need, and Canadian consumers want, to hear the truth about GMO crops. The fear mongering and conspiracy theories surrounding their use have grown tiresome to people who know how GMO’s are used and what they can and are doing for production agriculture.

The real threat in the push against GMO crops is not in the fact that some people will believe the activist fear mongering. The real threat is that activists may begin to influence North American policy on GMO use, much as they have in the European Union. It is currently illegal to grow or sell GMO crops or by products in Europe, regardless of their proven safety or origin. This means that thousands upon thousands of acres of useful, productive soil in Europe is significantly less efficient than it could be. European farmers must use more herbicide, they must treat crops more often, and they will consistently see a lower yield, despite the increase in labour and chemical, than their cousins in North America. Allowing the rhetoric against GMO production to continue unabated in North America is extremely dangerous.

To further this point, take Golden Rice: A regular, white rice has been given a gene which allows it to produce essential levels of vitamin A, which is extremely deficient in third world, rice-based diets. It was hailed as a life-saving crop which would help protect individuals from blindness and disease linked to vitamin A deficiency. However, because of activist involvement, Golden Rice has never entered the market, and tens of thousands of people in Asian and African countries continue to suffer from vitamin A deficiencies.

Most recently, genetically modified organisms made news because a new strain of salmon has been developed for farming. The new salmon, dubbed a “FrankenFish” by fear-mongerers, grows twice as fast as traditional farmed salmon, without the addition of hormones or chemicals to their feed. There is nothing scary about a faster-growing fish, especially in the face of over-fishing natural stock in poorly managed global fisheries. One would think that allowing something to be made more efficient would be a popular idea, but a lack of understanding and education has created a fear in consumers.

I would encourage everyone to watch License to Farm. Whether you’re a farmer or a consumer, you have a stake in ensuring the safety and future productivity of farming. Canadians, you have seen food prices rise 10% over the same time in 2015! GMO crops produce more with less input, and the potential to improve and develop new crops is enormous. The documentary is free to watch on Youtube or on the official License to Farm website: licensetofarm.com. Watch it, share it, and get involved in the fight to keep your license to farm.

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Canola, almost exclusively grown as a GMO crop in Canada.

Why I Want to Farm in Alberta

Perhaps this is me being overly sentimental, but I am particularly ready to be back among my cows today. These are my reasons for loving where I live and how I live:

  1. I love watching the sun come up on a winter’s morning, feeding and checking cows.103
  2. I love the smell of an hours-old baby calf in the barn (except when they make one of those nasty yellow milk poops).
  3. I love the exuberance with which my dogs greet me every morning.Summer 2013 118.JPG
  4. I love sitting on the porch in the late summer afternoons, on the last day of baling hay, and knowing that all will be well for the winter.
  5. Speaking of hay, there may not be a more wonderful smell in the world than a warm barn full of fresh alfalfa hay.Summer 2013 169
  6. I love watching cows calve and care for their new babies every spring.
  7. I love being able to watch the calves we had in the spring be weaned and start to grow.
  8. There is no better feeling in the world than going to the pasture and seeing a few cows that were born and raised on the farm.
  9. I love the family interactions that happen on the farm- the fights, the cooperation, the dinners, the snowball fights and hard work and genuine conversations.
  10. I love the sense of pride farmers take in the proper stewardship of the resources God has provided us.Summer 2013 147
  11. I love the smell of rain on hot soil in July.
  12. I love the way the mountains look on a bitterly cold, bright January morning.
  13. I love the colours of the sky at sunset and the silhouette of the Rocky Mountains at dusk.
  14. I love how mother cows talk to their babies constantly.
  15. I love watching calves playing in the snowbanks in early spring.110 (2)
  16. I love the feeling of numbness in my dominant arm after building or repairing fence all day (Or all week. The grass is always greener for some cows).
  17. I love watching the cows leap from the trailer when they are hauled to their summer pasture.
  18. I love the slow rocking of the square baler, making the rounds in the hay field.
  19. I love learning about farming from parents, friends, and neighbours.
  20. I love the trusting look the old cows give you when it’s time for them to come in the barn.cropped-24460_10151363503589110_238497461_n.jpg
  21. I love the look of a freshly mowed farm yard.
  22. I love the life lessons in science, mathematics, and communication that a rural lifestyle demands you learn.
  23. I love the look you get when you have to wear barn clothes to the grocery store (not to mention the crinkled noses).
  24. I love sharing agriculture with people who genuinely want to know more about how their food is produced.
  25. I love the agricultural can-do, will-do attitude, independence, and spirit.

Home 2011
Not everyone has the ability to experience life like I have. My life is radically different than the vast majority of people in this world. My life is not 8-5, Monday through Friday. It’s Sunday-Saturday, 12:00 am to 11:59 pm. And I love it.

The Tragedy of Mother Nature

Shortly after Christmas, Winter Storm Goliath hammered the panhandle of Texas and Northeastern New Mexico, leaving drifts of snow 12 and 14 feet high in some areas. Coming from Canada, I know what snow is like and how much of a deadly force a winter storm can really be, but I have been very fortunate that my home in Alberta has not been subjected to the likes of Goliath in my lifetime.

Tragically, across the state of Texas, 26 people lost their lives as Goliath swept across the panhandle as a very severe blizzard, and continued into central Texas as a flash-flood inducing, tornado-spawning low pressure cell. Tornadoes just south of Dallas and into Mississippi and Missouri, huge flooding in localized areas and river systems plagued central Texas and southern Missouri. The damage estimates are still climbing.

Tornado Damage.PNG

Perhaps the most severe toll of Goliath is the report out of the intensive dairy operations of the Texas panhandle and northeastern New Mexico, from Lubbock to Muleshoe, TX and around Clovis, NM. The current estimates of mature animal losses sits close to 30,000 animals. That’s 30,000 producing dairy animals. Losses of young animals may be even higher than that. As snow started to fall and wind speeds picked up across the flat, arid landscapes, cattle in pastures and drylots bunched together for warmth, and moved to fence corners and buildings for protection.

The nature of a prairie blizzard is normally not the amount of snow produced, but rather the wind and resulting drifts. On treeless high prairie, even six inches of snow can produce drifts of several feet in yards and around buildings, anywhere the wind changes directions and speeds and drops the snow it is carrying. If the storm is severe and the wind fast enough, drifts can start to form around pretty much anything, from fence posts to grouped-up cattle. The result is usually either suffocation, or death from being crushed by herdmates.

DigOutBlizzard

From Dairy Carrie. Image of a New Mexico dairy farmer digging out after Winter Storm Goliath.

Inevitably, there will be those who blame the dairies for not doing enough to prevent the deaths and protect the livestock. However, just like the surprise winter weather that ravaged the Dakotas a few years ago, there is no amount of preparation, no amount of protection, short of underground bunkers, that will offer sufficient protection. Farmers are at the mercy of mother nature every day of every season, every year, and when the terrible weather comes, there is not much that can be done.

As these producers clean up from the devastating effects of Goliath, remember that nature is a powerful force, and farmers and ranchers are completely at the whimsy of severe weather.