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Letters – for Mar. 10, 2011

Time to change directions

Your recent editorial “A Change In Thinking,” February 17, hits the nail on the head. Past farmer thinking has concentrated too much on income support and not enough on change and innovation.

Taxpayer-sourced payments made simply for producing and selling a commodity, interest-free loans and advances, rewards for year-to-year income variability and cost-of-production programs have all been supported by farmers and our associations at times in the past.

Forward-thinking farmers will agree to diverting public money from income support to research and innovation. As you say, it’s time to change directions.

Tom Hewson Langbank, Sask.

Wowchuk Assertion Preposterous

In “Saskatchewan wants our power,”Manitoba Co-operator, Feb. 24, Rosann Wowchuk, minister responsible for Manitoba Hydro, continues to mislead the citizens of Manitoba when she ties the possibility of export to Saskatchewan to her government’s decision to force Manitoba Hydro to run the next transmission line (Bipole III) down the west side of the province.

Direct-current (DC) transmission is used today almost exclusively for point-to-point transmission. Because of the higher resistance associated with the longer (by 54 per cent) west-side line, such a line cannot match the transfer capability of a shorter east-side line.

To imply that we can send a large block of power to Saskatchewan from a line that would be already heavily loaded would render Bipole III virtually useless as a reliable backup to the existing DC lines.

For Wowchuk to claim that a Bipole III west-side route can both provide a big block of power to Saskatchewan and, at the same time, be a reliable backup for the existing DC lines is preposterous. There are existing transmission ties with Saskatchewan for the sale of smaller blocks of power.

Should Wowchuk insist on using a west-side Bipole III as a supply for Saskatchewan, conversion equipment would be needed at the Saskatchewan border. Conversion equipment has become very costly. Recently, we have learned that Bipole III costs have risen from $2.2 billion to $4.1 billion.

A converter station at the border would cost in the vicinity of an additional $1 billion, an extremely costly venture. It is hard to conceive how such a costly undertaking can leave any room for profit, especially when selling power to an energy-rich province like Saskatchewan which has huge resources of coal, oil and gas.

The Government of Manitoba needs to stop interfering with the business of Manitoba Hydro, and leave the power utility to choose the best route for Bipole III. Manitoba could then save a billion dollars by building Bipole III on the shorter, more economical and more reliable east side with its reduced socio-economic impact, as recommended by the Bipole III Coalition (www.bipoleiiicoali tion.ca).

Will Tishinski, vice-president, power system planning,

Manitoba Hydro (retired) Garland Laliberte, dean emeritus, faculty of engineering, University of Manitoba

Too Much Of A Good Thing?

The old saying “too much of a good thing” doesn’t seem to apply to Alberta’s beef-packing companies. The Feb. 11 announcement that XL Foods (a Nilsson Bros. company) will receive $1.6 million in Growing Forward/ALMA funding over the next two years to increase the value-added production capacity of their Lakeside, Brooks plant follows hot on the heels of the December $3-million gift to Cargill Meat Solutions to “improve operational efficiencies” at its High River Plant. In a province that prides itself in “free market” ideals, these actions are proof that in Alberta the facts are negotiable as long as the ideology stands.

As both these plants were built in Alberta initially with the benefit of subsidies, a sense of entitlement seems to have been afforded them that doesn’t appear to apply to new entrants in the beef-processing sector. During the BSE crisis, the owners of these two plants received tens of millions of dollars direct compensation from the government, in addition to the windfall gains they made through manipulating market prices to siphon off compensation payments intended for cattle producers.

The icing on the cake was utilizing the captive supply situation created by the U.S. border closure to procure Canadian cattle cheaply and sell boxed beef into the hottest market the U.S. had ever seen.

This is particularly galling to cattle producers, especially cow-calf operators who bore the brunt of the losses after BSE. Many of these ranchers approached the Alberta Government with proposals to build producer-owned or -controlled packing plants with the intention of creating more competition for live cattle, accessing new markets and enhancing producers’ returns.

Almost without exception these requests for financial backing, even simple bridge financing, were turned down. Seven years later, our beef sector has been gutted of equity, and greatly reduced in size; the government policy of subsidizing the established mega-packers has clearly failed.

Indeed their financial support of the established packers whilst denying support to smaller-scale producer initiatives has accelerated the pace of consolidation and significantly reduced competition in the sector.

Iain Aitken Rimbey, Alta.

More Corporate Welfare For Hogs

Regarding the story “Small hog producers get manure storage break” in the March 3 Manitoba Co-operator,isn’t this just another form of a “bailout” or “ransom payment” to help keep the hog industry in Manitoba?

I think it is, and like all the previous cash handouts by our governments (and there has been several) at great expense to the ordinary Joe, the taxpayer. The goal is to eliminate winter spreading of manure and reduce the contamination threat to our water sources and Lake Winnipeg. This is recognized. But one must also consider what eventually will happen in the spring or later on when this manure “is spread.” Right now the generous phosphorus limitation set by the province is over 800 lbs. per acre. Agriculture requirements for growing and raising most crops is generally in the vicinity of 25 to 30 lbs. That’s too much phosphorus. There’s your contamination. If it’s a threat, then the province should make amends and set the limit that is appropriate to the crop usage.

This leaves me to conclude that this most recent subsidy (to help secure manure storage) will change nothing that would benefit our water sources and Lake Winnipeg, unless the adaption of reduced phosphorus regulations, with provisions of better nutrient management and the implementation of new technologies is put into force. Failing this, the subsidy is nothing more than a permit to further pollute, at a more specified time.

It was most interesting to read another report by Ron Friesen, “Unshackle food system, U.S. activist says.” Small-scale farms may be old-fashioned, but they are competitive, successful and self-sustaining. They do not require subsidies to succeed, and therefore, are not a burden to the taxpayer. They must be doing something right. The moral ethics of diversified holistic farming…. hmm. Isn’t that how farming was accomplished a long time ago?

Spending $26 million on corporate welfare just doesn’t seem right and appropriate when many First Nations people do not have clean water to drink and limited or no sewage facilities.

John Fefchak Virden, Man.

Build Industry By Focusing On Local Markets

Thank you for the very nice articles about the sheep industry in the Feb. 24 issue of the Co-operator.I would like to add a few points that seem to be glossed over. The movement of most of the lamb produced in Manitoba to Ontario and Alberta is not due to price, but rather a lack of inspected slaughter facilities that are logistically accessible to most producers. There is also the issue of getting animals booked into the few slots available in the province.

There is no lack of quality breeding stock in Canada and especially Manitoba, but rather a lack of knowledge of how to market and what is acceptable to market as breeding stock.

Many commercial operations have good ewe lambs available but do not know how to market them. A flock does not need to have all purebred ewes to be profitable, but rather putting a good, healthy sheep matched with the best-quality ram affordable will provide a good base. The management of sheep makes considerable difference in their profitability.

When purchasing sheep you need to be diligent in looking at records of the flock they are coming from, cleanliness of the operation, and general attitude of the shepherd caring for them.

You should also visit several operations, research different breeds of sheep and above all, you should buy something that appeals to you visually. In deciding on a breed or type of sheep, you need to consider if you want to be faced with certain aspects of shepherding, such as shearing or crutching, what facilities you have, and what other livestock you may be pairing the sheep with.

For most cattlemen, a better choice is the hair breeds (out-of- season breeders for those wishing to lamb three times in two years), which are more similar to their cows in management and provide an advantage with brush clearing; they are browsers and will target some areas of brushy pastures that the cows will avoid.

Fencing will not be such an issue as they can modify existing electric fences by adding a few lower wires. Coyotes eat less lambs with the addition of a few (two is best) good livestock guardian dogs, which also protect the cows and calves. This is not the place to scrimp on quality, bonded, and well-bred animals.

The recent RFID traceability funding and changes do nothing for the development of the sheep industry in Manitoba, and is just another cost of production.

Rather, what is required to build our industry is a major investment in centralized inspected slaughter to facilitate supplying the local provincial market with our quality lambs, thus keeping all the profits of the sheep-lamb industry in Manitoba. Providing our own lamb processed here in Manitoba to Manitoba consumers would be a boon to many associated industries and communities by putting more money directly back into the local economy and increasing the shepherd’s profit margins.

The question is how do we accomplish this? The recent project shows that the food service industry is interested, as well as major retailers. Unfortunately, there are few producers with high enough numbers to guarantee the number of lambs at a specific time, near enough to the slaughter facility to make it feasible to hold and deliver weekly. A larger processing plant would create the ability for more pooling of lambs to supply the required capacity, as long as there was a feedlot or producers learned how to finish lambs themselves. This is also a quandary as heavy wool breeds go to market at much higher butcher weights than do the hair breeds, which typically have a higher carcass percentage weight.

Both Alberta and Saskatchewan have programs to help improve the marketability of local lamb through the added value of ready-to- prepare meals from Canadian lamb.

Thank you once again for your efforts to bring forth better information and trends highlighting the sheep and lamb industry.

Lorna S. Wall Wall 2 Wall Sheep Ranch Poplarfield, Man.

Please forward letters to Manitoba Co-operator, 1666 Dublin Ave., Winnipeg, R3H 0H1 or Fax: 204-954-1422 or email: [email protected] (subject: To the editor)

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