RD April 2015 Letters

Missed opportunities?
RD: I have enjoyed your magazine for many years. With the digital world, I suspect it becomes a challenge to remain relevant to old folks like me as well as new and younger people. 
    We have had an agricultural institution in Truro for many years. I believe they do good work and in addition to basic science, they work on studies closer to the table. It might help your readers to separate fact from what seems like a good idea but just does not work. Farmers have less time now to discover what does and does not work. 
    The station at Kentville also does good work. I am not sure they are allowed to talk about what they do as it is run by the Harper government. 
    I can’t help but believe there is an opportunity to communicate with them and write more articles that would be relevant and interesting to your readers on a regular basis. Thanks for listening.
Bob MacDiarmid
Fall River, N.S.

(Bob, thank you for your comments and suggestions. We must make more of an effort to uncover research at our institutions. It is especially important in the absence of fully-funded extension services with the mandate of  “extending” research findings to farmers while conversely informing researchers of farmers’ needs. DvL) 

Perfect spuds
RD: It is with sadness that I announce the passing of Bill Higgins of Christmas Island Cape Breton on Feb. 17, Bill was a hobby farmer who devoted considerable time to the growing of the perfect potato, including having two of his own varieties registered and which were featured in RD’s  “Letters” column at one time (April 2009).
Danny Dougall
Port Hastings, N.S.

A good belly laugh
RD: I always enjoy Frank Macdonald’s writings but “Man-spreading” (March issue) is the best yet. A really good belly laugh on a (yet again) wild, snowy night. At my age I would be very tempted to say something like “Yes? And what are you trying to prove?” Socks, indeed!
Betty Thibodeau
West Quaco, N.B.

Painful fingers
RD: I presently suffer from White finger syndrome, caused from use of equipment with serious vibration during operation, i.e. the power saw. Terrible cold numbness in tips of fingers. Am wondering if other woods men/farmers may have found a cure? Any suggestions would be much appreciated. 
Duncan Kennedy
Tangier, N.S.

(Duncan, I’ve heard once you have it White finger is for life. It will be interesting to hear if there are ways to ease the pain. I’m wondering, too, if saws with heated handles might be a help. DvL)

Workshop for women
RD: If Elizabeth Hunter (“A passion for old iron” RD Jan/Feb) decides to run a tractor workshop for women count me in! Let me know when!
    Years ago (1970s or 1980s) I took the draft horses workshop for women at the agricultural college in Truro, and it was one of the best things I’ve ever done. So, I imagine that a tractor workshop for women would be equally fun.     
    My farm was certified organic for many years, but I finally had to stop, only because of the huge expense. I really appreciate the articles you print about the situation with organics. It is becoming really fraught with politics, and especially concerns about GMO, chemical residues, etc. The point about CO being about the process rather than the final product, is well taken, and is being a bit lost in all the to-ing and fro-ing with CFIA.
   Thank heavens for smart, articulate people like Vandana Shiva! It was a thrill to see her at the ACORN conference. I would have been gripped by her speech if it went on for hours!    
  Thank you for the article featuring her, and a great magazine overall.
Jude Major
Lake Charlotte, N.S.

New hero 
RD: Is there anywhere I can obtain a machine-readable copy of David Boehm’s marvelous review of Brewster Kneen’s memoir?  I’d like to share it with others.   I have found a new hero!  Despite the Fundamentalist underpinnings of Kneen’s lifelong quest, he has lived a life devoted to a noble path.  I wish more people who consider themselves Christians would read this and perhaps let their lives and actions be guided by its message.  (As one of Woody Allen’s characters remarks, “If Jesus were alive today he’d never stop throwing up.”  But he would surely smile upon Mr. Kneen and those who are travelling in his wake.)
Richard Rachals 
Lunenburg, N.S.

(Richard, a copy of David Boehm’s review of Brewster Kneen’s book, “Journey of an Unrepentant Socialist” is on its way. Copies of the book are available for $20 postpaid within Canada. Send cheque to The Ram’s Horn, 2746 Cassels St., Ottawa, ON, K2B 6N7. DvL)

Upholding organic standards
RD: As both an organic inspector and certified organic operator, I was alarmed when reading the article titled “Organic’s big makeover,” by Rupert Jannasch in the Jan-Feb 2015 edition. Some of the information stated did not seem quite right to me, so I took the opportunity these winter months provide to do some fact checking.
    Jannasch was correct that organic agriculture is about a production system. I also agree that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) Fact Sheet on organics could have been better written or at least better organized. I cannot, however agree with Jannasch’s interpretation that the fact sheet is “explaining why testing is suddenly needed” or that “organic products are riddled with pesticides because of fraud...”

    CFIA is responsible for the National Chemical Residue Monitoring Program (NCRMP) that has been in existence since 1978.  Under this long-standing program, the CFIA does test food products for a variety of chemical residues including pesticides, to identify possible risks to the public. However, it is important to note this program does not specifically target organics, and the cost of such testing is the responsibility of the CFIA, not the operator.
    If an organic food is tested under the NCRMP, this information is shared with the Canadian Organic Office (COO), which is a division of the CFIA.  If a chemical residue is detected that is not identified in the Organic Permitted Substances List or that is prohibited for use in the Canadian Organic Standard, the results are shared with the Certification Body (CB).
    Depending on the percentage of residues detected, the COO has provided guidance on the appropriate follow up procedures for certifying bodies ranging from immediate inspection of operations where high levels of residues were detected, to more conservative measures for low-level residue detection. Likewise, the level of detection and the findings upon inspection will determine the outcomes from outright cancellation of organic certification to no impact where it is determined that the residues are a result of (unfortunate) presence from environmental persistence of pesticides.
    All this is to clarify that although there is random pesticide residue testing in Canada, it’s not under the Canada Organic Regime. There is no random testing for prohibited substances to determine organic status. Period. Nothing in the Organic Products Regulations or the Canadian Organic Standard or the Organic Operating Manual (guidance document) states or implies random testing. 
    Certifying Bodies have not been “put on notice to include residue testing in their audits (as part of inspections).” That said, inspectors have always had residue testing in their tool kits and “the CB shall require pre-harvest or post-harvest sampling and testing when there is a reason to suspect that the agricultural input or agricultural product has come into contact with a prohibited substance” (as stated in the Organic Operating Manual).  The “reason to suspect” is determined by the inspector. As an inspector, I have been trained to identify such clues and indicators of prohibited use, but have yet to encounter the need for sampling/testing.
    Residue testing in organics is therefore not random, as asserted by Jannasch, but only employed as a result of reasons to suspect contact with prohibited substances, and in this case, the cost of such testing would indeed be charged to the operator. Jannasch’s concern that organic operators will be unnecessarily burdened with the cost of random pesticide residue testing is unfounded.
    In fact, the CFIA is not following the lead of its U.S. counterpart, where random testing is required. 
    Are we on a slippery slope to an eventual system based solely on residue testing? I think not. The Canadian Organic Standards and Permitted Substances List is owned by us, the organic sector, unlike other countries where it is owned by government. I believe that as long as there are people like Jannasch and myself and our organic colleagues across the country, we can rest assured that organic remains as it should be, a production system based on environmental responsibility.
Allison Grant
Newport, N.S.

(The note following was on the back of a letter carried by dog sled from Humphrey to Rosseau, Ont., February 14, on the 31st anniversary of the Sequin Sled Dog Mail run, “likely the longest recurring Official Sled Dog Mail Run in the world,” according to the letter forwarded on to Rural Delivery by subscriber Harvey Clare.)

RD: Enjoy your publications. Nephew in Nova Scotia gave me a bag full of copies in early 2000s. Also got me hooked on Lee Valley Tools in the ’90s. Been to over half of their locations. Would like someday to watch the scythe games. 
  Minus 25 degrees F yesterday. The dogs are leaving soon so I’ll close for now.
Harvey Clare     
McDougall, Ont.

What killed the strawberries?
RD: I need help! We plowed new ground to plant strawberries. The fine roots on the plants got eaten off and they all died. Never had this before. I would like to find someone who could help with problem.
Jerry Green
Donkin, N.S.

(Jerry, we passed your question on to John Lewis, horticulturist with Perennia, Nova Scotia’s extension service. He replied, “Planting on newly plowed land (from sod) is always a high risk for White grub (June bug larvae) damage which is as Mr. Green describes. The larvae live in the soil for up to three years and whenever new land from sod is brought into production we always recommend that the grower spend at least one season fallowing the land with cultivation every three to four weeks. The latter causes physical mortality to the grubs as well as bringing many to the surface where birds further reduce them. The summer of cultivation also reduces the weed seed bank, which is usually very high coming out of sod and helps with weed management after planting the strawberries.”)

Tad excessive snow
RD: The Jan.-Feb. RD was one of the most enjoyable in what’s always an enjoyable publication. And I do not miss the screaming yellow headline on the front cover, not one bit. Every issue, I think I need to drop you a line to tell you how greatly we appreciate this plain publication, and then the issue gets dragged around and crumpled and water damaged (bringing out the recipes) and time goes by. 
    On P.E.I. we’re dealing with a lovely but tad excessive amount of snow. Oh, and a complete change in government months before it was due (so much for fixed election dates). There’s a huge disconnect between those who’ve lived here many generations and want to farm the way government and industry says is safe and profitable; those who worry about every bite of food (whether in paying for it or in its safety, or both), and those who are in government who don’t do much of their own food preparation. Not sure of any answers here, just that communication has to help.
    I write a daily email column of sorts, CANews, sent to a couple hundred Islanders for a little non-profit group called The Citizens’Alliance of P.E.I., focusing on environmental and democratic issues of P.E.I. May I quote the occasional pithy statement from “Pot Luck?” I’m usually good about citations. 
    Also, my youngest (14) is studying history in our homeschool, and using a program called “History Odyssey.” One narrative text is by Hendrik Willem van Loon. This month I notice the name in the books section of RD. Relation? A revised edition!

Chris Ortenburger
Bonshaw, P.E.I.

(Chris, you’re welcomed to any pithy comments you think are worth repeating in CANews, to which we are providing a link at RuralLife.ca. Hendrik, who wrote “The Story of Mankind,” was my grand pappy. The copy we are selling is a revised edition; updated over the years by various historians. DvL)