More to blueberry prices
RD: The collapse in blueberry prices is certainly due to supply increases exceeding the growth in global demand (“More blueberries, lower prices,” Jan. RD, p.28). The situation in the Maritimes, however, has been worsened by an apparent structural change in price setting practices. This has resulted in the prices paid to growers falling relative to frozen product prices and compared to the prices paid to growers in other regions.
Since 2013, the Maritime grower price has declined from 70 cents to 30 cents. The first 10-15 cents or so of this 40-cent drop was not related to supply and demand but to the change in pricing. This is not a small matter. The cumulative loss for growers over the 2013, 2014, and 2015 crops roughly equates with the total returns growers realized from the 2016 crop. Furthermore, returns from the 2016 crop might otherwise have been about 30 percent more.
The rates of acreage abandonment and of growers exiting the industry over the next 3-5 years are expected to be higher in the Maritimes compared to other blueberry growing regions. These differences will partly reflect the additional losses related to the pricing change. Nova Scotia alone may see 500 or more growers exiting the industry in the next few years, and will likely see the largest reduction in acreage.
Oxford Frozen Foods is the price leader in the Maritimes, and two company developments coincided with the pricing change. First, the low level of processor competition in the Maritimes was further reduced when Oxford acquired two competitors. One of these was the last independent processor in the region and the other a receiving station that had been a purchasing agent for a processor in Maine. These acquisitions occurred in 2014 but preceded Oxford’s final determination of the 2013 crop price. The Canadian Competition Bureau received at least one request to review the acquisitions in light of the adverse change in pricing. It isn’t known if the Bureau actually looked into the situation.
Later that same year (2014), Oxford’s huge New Brunswick expansion was announced. Oxford’s financial capital needs related to its N.B. expansion may have been the principle factor behind the unexplained pricing change. If so, the Province of New Brunswick is implicated and should be willing to investigate to see if provincial actions contributed to the damage to independent growers.
The New Brunswick Farm Products Commission, the Nova Scotia Natural Products Marketing Council, and the Prince Edward Island Marketing Council all have the legislated power to: “investigate the prices, price spreads, trade practices, policies, and other matters relating to the marketing or the production and marketing of any farm product.” Furthermore, for such investigations these agencies enjoy all the powers and privileges conferred by the Inquiries Act. Controversies involving blueberry prices and related issues have simmered for many years (the processors, for example, were convicted of price fixing in Maine in 2003) but the provincial agencies have never been directed nor asked by grower associations to investigate. Along with the failure of growers to organize and collectively negotiate, this inattention or inaction has been costly for rural businesses across the three provinces.
Last spring, growers in the northeast region of New Brunswick voted overwhelmingly for a marketing board. The approval and formation of a board would be a positive development for the Maritime blueberry industry as a whole. The modernization of the grower-processor marketing system regarding pricing or price negotiations, quality incentives, and system efficiency is long overdue.
Price Analyst & Publisher
Acadia Blueberry Price Report
Will the true acacia stand up?
RD: I just reviewed the 2015 Year in Review, in particular the article “Nifty interloper,” (AFR section, p.52). I had not previously seen this article. I am wondering if there was a follow-up to it. I question the comment about a similar plant being used to induce vomiting. It seems out of place and misleading. The acacia flowers are used in France in baking and to make jelly and other confectionery. Hope that you can shed some light on this matter.
The clue to Ms Bergeron’s puzzling comment is that she’s talking about non-poisonous true acacia (Acacia spp.) while I’m writing about false or pseudo-acacia, an American species.
True acacias grow mainly in arid hot regions (called thorn in Africa, wattle in Australia, and mimosa elsewhere). A few thrive in non-tropical regions like
southern Europe, and those are safe to eat (i.e. pods, flowers, foliage.
But Robinia pseudo-acacia is not. And I’d have been remiss not to say so.
Greenhouses and colouring
RD: As always, I enjoy your magazine from front to back. I am pleased to see Carol Tomlinson remembered my description of my greenhouse building project, although I wonder if, with MS, she is able to do it. I have fibromyalgia, and I would be happy to communicate with her.
I enclose a photo of a poster RD sold many years ago called “Cooking with Herbs.” I coloured it and have had it in my kitchen for a couple of decades! Is there any chance you might find this and reprint it? I find it very handy and hang it right next to my herb and spice rack. Keep up the great magazine.
Interesting and informative
RD: My husband Dan had been receiving Rural Delivery for years and read it from cover to cover. He passed away almost two years ago, and I always enjoyed it as well. So I will renew for two more years. The magazine is always very informative – some very interesting stories and recipes.
RD: I have to share my introduction of raising pigs with you and Rural Delivery readers. Growing up and having a railroad career a long ways from my roots, I was working out of Cranbrook, B.C. I was lucky enough to have a co-worker that was into small-scale farming. When I retired and planned on moving back to Nova Scotia, I would talk to her about the animals I wanted to raise, one of which was pigs. For my going away gift she gave me what she called her “bible on raising pigs.” I did not realize it until I got back to Nova Scotia that it was your book Small-Scale Pig Raising, copyright 1978.
Fast forward – I have enjoyed the book. And now am enjoying the new book, very well done. If only I was turned on to Rural Delivery years gone by. But I have been fortunate to be a subscriber for nine years now. I read it cover to cover and thoroughly enjoy the entire magazine. A must read for me. Please keep up the good work.
Port Mouton, N.S.
Alpacas on her mind
RD: I am enclosing a cheque for the renewal of our subscription for two years. I’m also enclosing the March survey.
I wonder if any of your readers would remember an article written about alpacas? It was quite awhile ago, and I think it might have been written by a veterinarian. It contained a lot of detailed information, and I’m sorry I didn’t save it. Perhaps you know the article I’m referring to?
Thank you for your magazine. I know now, as an adult, what a special childhood I had growing up on a farm.
(You’re right, Jean. We hear from so many people who recognize, later in life, how fortunate they were to grow up on a farm or at least with some direct exposure to agriculture. And as for the article you’re referring to, we think it was “It’s all in the fleece – some fine points of alpaca farming,” based on an interview with Dr. Peter Woodyer, RD Nov. 2014, p.16. We will post a link to it at our website, RuralLife.ca.)
Farm-life magazine legacy
RD: I enjoy RD, always read the “Pot Luck” and then the recipes. I’m 80 years old and grew up with the Family Herald. Keep up the good work.
Regulations on Canadian farmers
RD: In a move started under the Harper government and now continued by the Trudeau government, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is pushing forward a plan to increase the licensing and regulatory requirements on Canadian farms: the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations. Who could be against safe food? I certainly am not. I’m a small Canadian farmer and my livelihood depends on safe food. If we have a major food safety issue from our farm it would put us out of business in a heartbeat. Food safety is a number one priority.
That said, I do not believe that increasing regulation on Canadian farmers will actually benefit Canadians, and instead I believe it will only continue to speed up the widespread loss of Canadian family farms. I support the notion that regulations be consolidated and simplified, but I do not support increasing the regulations on fresh fruit and vegetable farmers, nor do I support increasing regulations for the organic food sector, which is already so regulated that young and new farmers are being scared off.
I reviewed all the food safety recalls on the CFIA website from 2013 - Feb. 2017 and discovered that there were 840 food recalls (sometimes multiple recalls pertaining to one issue) during this time. Of these, half are for labeling-related issues pertaining to allergens not listed on the label, etc. Of the other half which are related to food safety, the majority are for meats and packaged ready-to-eat foods, with only 22 recalls of fresh fruit and vegetables (excluding seeds, grains, and packaged herbs). Of these, 21 cases are either clearly imported or international in scope. Several recalls were triggered by recalls in other countries, but it does not specify where the product was grown. Only one recall was clearly from Canadian farms, and this was the needle issue in potatoes from P.E.I. There were no injuries or deaths as a result.
CFIA documentation shows that fresh fruit and vegetable imports into Canada doubled between 2006 and 2015. I can see that we may be importing more product out of season, and more tropical fruits, etc., but twice as much in nine short years? This tells me Canadian farmers are already at a disadvantage. We can’t compete in the global marketplace and it is increasingly cheaper to bring fresh fruits and vegetables from other countries. The statistics also show that this is where the vast majority of food-related contamination is coming from.
The Government of Canada’s solution to the problem? Regulate everyone! Regulate imports and regulate the Canadian farmer because we have to be on a “level playing field.” Sadly, our playing field is not level from the start, and this will only exacerbate the problem. Canadian farmers have already shown that they are not the primary problem.
If the Canadian government pushes forward with this regulatory agenda, how much is it going to cost the farmer? The same CFIA publication says, “the estimated average annualized costs for an impacted business to implement preventative controls and a PCP (Preventive Control Procedure) are $6,370.” This is every year, folks!
So my message to the Canadian Government is: Don’t punish us for the problems brought in with imported foods. Regulate the imports if you must, but whatever you do, do not put more regulatory burdens on the Canadian farmer who is already doing a great job.
There is a public comment period open now to all Canadians. Please support Canadian farmers and speak up. Tell our government that you want to buy and eat Canadian-grown food, and that we do not need more regulations on Canadian farmers who are clearly doing a great job. For those interested in organic food, please tell our government that we need to make the certification process possible for more farms to join, and do not support making the process harder and more costly, which will only serve to reduce the availability of great Canadian-grown organic food.
Strawberry Hill Farm,
(Thanks for bringing this to our attention, Tim. Readers can follow the “Safe Food for Canadians Regulations” link at RuralLife.ca to view the draft regulations and the CFIA’s impact analysis. There is also a link allowing you to register for information “webinars” that will be held by the CFIA on March 28 (French) and March 30 (English); and a “consultation” link where specific regulations are broken down by commodity. Public comments will be received until April 21, 2017. Written submission may be sent to: Richard Arsenault, Executive Director, Domestic Food Safety Systems and Meat Hygiene Directorate, Canadian Food Inspection Agency, 1400 Merivale Road, Tower 1, Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0Y9; or emailed to: CFIA-Modernisation-ACIA@inspection.gc.ca.)