Tag Archives: agriculture

Did Gray, Burnbrae or EFO ‘Inhale’ or Not?

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According to a blog post by Jim Romahn (http://agri007.blogspot.com/2013/06/court-documents-detail-egg-deficiencies.html), Canada Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) reports demonstrate that the statements made by Norman Bourdeau about cracks being packed into retail Grade A egg cartons, are true.  Attempts to keep this evidence hidden have been going on for years and now the ‘yolk’ is on L. H. Gray/Gray Egg Farms.  The consequences for this are yet to be determined, but let’s hope there are some consequences.  Especially since Gray, through his legal representative, has been protesting and denying this practice vehemently since this whole saga began. 

 

Gray isn’t the only party who said the equivalent of “but I didn’t inhale”.  Burnbrae Eggs and the Egg Farmers of Ontario also took that position.  So is Mr. Bourdeau correct about them too?  I had hoped that Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission would have at least checked into EFO as they are the supervising body for EFO.  Literally after years of repeated requests, Farm Products is finally (and probably reluctantly) ‘investigating’ EFO – but it’s just their transparency that is being questioned.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’ve been hollering about EFO’s lack of transparency for years so I’m thankful that Farm Products is finally doing something – or at least appear to be doing something.  But this goes beyond transparency and that should be evident to all parties involved – egg producers, graders, Farm Products, CFIA and the Ministry of Agriculture.  If only the majority of consumers understood the egg industry and supply management, this would have been investigated long ago. 

 

It appears that Mr. Bourdeau is not Chicken Little stating that the sky is falling.  The question is how many foxes are there in this tale?  

 

 

 

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The Battle of the Eggs Continues in the Courts

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The egg industry wars have fired up again!  Yee-haw!  I’ve been getting a little bored lately – so thanks to Jim Romahn’s blog post, “Here’s the scoop” (http://agri007.blogspot.ca/2012/12/heres-scoop_7234.html) for lifting my Christmas spirits once again!  That blog post is definitely a lengthy one but anyone who wants to know what Gray is being accused of can certainly become informed – complete with email quotes.  Considering those quotes, it makes me wonder how in the world Bill Gray, L.H. Gray staff and Egg Farmers of Ontario (EFO), specifically EFO General Manager, Harry Pelissero, can claim that they have done nothing wrong.  Really?  I’m not buyin’ it.  And if this information isn’t true and damaging, why does the Gray lawyer want it kept secret?  Is the EFO Board of Directors still ready to support their manager and staff in light of this information?  If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, must be a duck?  That’s right. 

I also caught wind of the new policy that’s being implemented at EFO, regarding quota increases.  For those folks who don’t understand how it used to work, when the supply of eggs in Ontario needed to be increased because Harry and his Board deemed it necessary, quota was given (yes, I said GIVEN!!) to already existing egg producers.  So let’s see how that worked – so for an egg producer who had 10,000 chickens already (which is a small flock in Ontario) and a 1% increase was GIVEN, that egg producer would be GIVEN the right to house an additional 100 chickens but if they didn’t have room for those birds because their barn was full, they got to SELL that GIFT of birds.  In this case, to the tune of $250/bird for a total GIFT of $25,000.  Well Merry Christmas Egg Producers! 

Now the process involves leasing out the increased quota which equates to added revenue to EFO rather than to the individual producers.   So why the policy change now?  Trans Pacific Trade Talks making them a little nervous?  Possibly?  Needing a bit more revenue to fund those lawsuits that Harry says aren’t costing EFO anything?  Definitely.  One will never know the real reason unless it is ‘leaked’ by someone in-the-know as EFO isn’t accountable to anyone – even their own producers.   Maybe the lawsuits or the trade talks will change that.  Here’s hoping! 

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The Tangled Web Woven by EFO and Ontario Farm Products Commission

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As a former EFO egg producer, I constantly asked my Board of Director to improve the transparency of the management of EFO.  When I became dissatisfied with the absence of improvements, I complained to the overseeing government body of EFO, the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission, to take action to force EFO to become more transparent.  And let’s be clear, I wasn’t asking for videotaped meetings being shown on YouTube.  I wasn’t asking to view the complete accounting ledgers of EFO’s operations.  I was asking for minutes of meetings!  I was asking for accountability regarding how EFO was spending the money that I provided for them!  Quite simply, I was asking for honesty.  I guess that’s too much to ask from EFO and it appears that Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission has difficulty being honest as well after having read Jim Romahn’s August 20, 2012 blog posting about their lack of transparency (http://agri007.blogspot.ca/2012/08/kamenz-accused-of-misleading-egg-lawyer.html). 

 Over the weekend, I was told about a form that all EFO Board of Directors are required to sign when they become a Director.  The form is in place so that the Directors agree not to talk or discuss with anyone, even egg producers, about policy, procedures or business activities of EFO.  Well, holy shit!  Why does EFO even have a Board of Directors?  Just let Mr. Pelissero run EFO and get rid of the façade of having a producer-run Board.  Quit having the meetings and paying all the Directors to go to them!  Those honorariums are going to be needed to fund the legal defense anyway.  The Directors should be ashamed of themselves if they agree to sign this form and accept the terms included in the form.  And the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission appears to be in EFO’s back pocket.  Taxpayer dollars wasted again!  The head of the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission, Geri Kamenz should recognize that the tail is wagging the dog.  Maybe that’s how it worked at Mr. Kamenz previous job, Ontario Federation of Agriculture?  I guess farmers are accustomed to having their taxpayer dollars wasted. 

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It’s Your Own Damn Fault

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There’s a phrase in the English language that I often use.  When my colleagues have stated it to me, it often makes me feel appropriately guilty and sometimes it makes me feel appropriately foolish.  The phrase is “it’s your own damn fault”.  I use this phrase when business associates, friends and family complain about certain situations affecting life.  The complaints can be personal, political, social, or financial but from an objective perspective it’s very easy to look at these complaints and assign the accountability phrase of “well, it’s your own damn fault”.  I’ve often commented that I (or any other writer) could write a weekly column entitled “It’s your own damn fault”.  There’s a never-ending supply of actions that could have that headline attached to it. 

Now that Canada has received and accepted the invitation to the Trans Pacific Trade Talks, the likelihood of hearing that phrase (or some similar phrase) will increase.  I don’t pretend to know the dairy industry or the chicken industry, but I am very familiar with the egg industry and EFO (Egg Farmers of Ontario).  The Board and management of this organization have been taking actions that make supply management (and its secret operations) look like a very poor system for consumers.  The Board’s actions don’t try to make the system more efficient, more transparent or even better at all – except of course for those folks who benefit monetarily from the system.

The actions being taken by EFO are an attempt to keep the system in place and keep the lucrative revenue stream to the producers and management of the Board.  Those folks aren’t crazy – they’ve got a sweet thing going.  Right now, all’s quiet on the egg industry lawsuit front but confidential mediation and/or backdoor negotiation is likely underway to keep all the details quiet.  What happens if all that ‘protected’ data gets out to the media during these trade talks?  Will all that attention give the government yet another reason to ‘alter’ the supply management system?  At the end of the trade negotiations, if the tariffs are reduced or eliminated, if the supply management is changed in any way, it will be my voice, along with many, many others that can be heard saying to EFO, “It’s your own damn fault”.  And the sad part is that preparing for the changes or making the system better prior to these trade talks could have and should have been done but the revenues were just too good to want to change the system.  The system is just too comfortable and too protected.  Welcome to the trade talks – and reality.  Hope EFO is ready for the competition.      

 

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Farming – Half Full or Half Empty

ImageIn my June 6, 2012 blog posting (Spin Cycle for Agriculture Not Required), I provide comment on FCC’s surveys and specifically FCC’s President and CEO’s comments of changing the public’s perception of farming.  Shortly after that posting, Mr. Stewart commented on my blog posting.  Mr. Stewart’s comments can be found on the June 6 posting page.  I thank him for his comments and wish to comment further to his response. 

Mr. Stewart states “farmers joke about winning the lottery and farming until it’s all gone. That doesn’t convey a very positive – or accurate – outlook.”

I agree that outlook is not positive but have to disagree about the accuracy.  In many cases this is very accurate. 

Mr. Stewart also states “a majority of Canadians have come to believe that agriculture is not progressive, forward-thinking or a great potential career opportunity”. 

I believe that a majority of Canadians believe that agriculture is very progressive, especially when tours of our farms showcase the massive equipment and advance technology involved in that equipment.  As far as a great potential career opportunity, farming is a great career but in order to support it, many farmers have to have a second career or secondary cash flow to support it.  Considering that fact, it’s up to the reader or farmer wanna-be to determine if farming has great potential or not.

FCC’s avenue to provide agriculture with a launching pad for their stories (www.agmorethanever.com) can definitely be an asset.  But when the general public views farmers as some of the most honest workers in the world, taking a chance to change that view is definitely a gamble.  At the same time, the general public’s view of bankers and/or pseudo-bankers like FCC isn’t quite as favourable.  In fact bankers rate right up there with politicians and lawyers – Yikes!  Common sense tells me to be careful of affiliations with bankers and their kind.  Along that same line, when Mr. Stewart states that “Our support of Agriculture More Than Ever is not about selling products or building our loan portfolio”, I say but it certainly won’t hurt FCC if it does sell more products or increase their loan portfolio as a result.  In other words, can anyone say ‘conflict of interest’?

Mr. Stewart professes that FCC offers farmers – even non-FCC customers – services for free.   As stated in a previous blog posting, that four-letter word, ‘free’ is very misleading.  The offer of something free, rarely is.  FCC’s objective is to make money – like any business.  So if they’re offering something free, that cost is being covered somewhere else in their business plan – like every other business. 

In the end, I truly believe that both Mr. Stewart and FCC believe that agriculture is a great industry.  I believe that too.  But it doesn’t mean that I would recommend agriculture as a potential career to any young person.  Agriculture is hard work, has long hours, is very risky and takes a great deal of capital to begin.  It’s also rewarding and it takes a special person to handle the pressures of farming.  Young people know this, which is why fewer folks are entering the farming fold.  Don’t start spinning the information to get them in it.  If it takes a pretty picture that has hidden challenges and dangers behind the barn door rendering, to get a young person into farming, the artist has done a disservice to the young person and to the agricultural industry.  But maybe this picture could have gotten another customer for FCC.  I don’t think it’s worth it.      

Being truthful about the agricultural industry provides better information to the general public about farming than having an approach of changing the perception of farming.  The truth is what the public deserves and wants – and it’s what farmers have given – at least up until now.  If Agriculture More Than Ever has honest, true, factual information, I’m all for it.  After all, a glass half-full is the same as half-empty.      

 

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Spin Cycle for Agriculture Not Required

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Farmers are deemed as one of the most trustworthy occupations in Canada.  That’s why Ontario Egg Farmers changed their name from Ontario Egg Producers back in 2006.  That’s a great thing as far as I’m concerned.  So why is it that Greg Stewart, CEO of Farm Credit Canada, thinks that farmers and agriculture need to change that perception. 

 In the June issue of FCC Express (www.fccfac.ca/newsletters/en/express/articles/20120601_e.asp) it was reported that the Canadian general public showed a prevailing assumption that agriculture was unlikely to have a bright future.  Mr. Stewart adds, “Image matters.  To attract the people, skills and investment needed to meet the growing demand for food, those of us involved in agriculture have a responsibility to promote the industry.”  Really?  Shouldn’t being the most trustworthy occupation be the best image one can achieve and the best way to promote the industry?  Is Mr. Stewart saying that the agriculture industry needs a ‘spin doctor’?  I can see why he might think this is necessary as he represents a pseudo-bank (with government ties) – and banks certainly need a spin doctor – a whole bushel basket of them, a whole grain truck full of them, a whole barn full of them, etc., etc.,!   

 Maybe the general public has believed farmers when they say that agriculture is a very demanding, challenging and capital-heavy, risky industry.  A very honest representation – no spinning required.  If the general public has listened to the farmers, they also know that agriculture can be very rewarding – not always financially rewarding but rewarding in other ways. 

 Anyone that follows the FCC Express Newsletter would have recently seen the following article headlines:

 –        “Family farm still strong”

–        “Survey shows ag is robust”

–        “Canadian agriculture is strong”

–        “Farm cash income rises in 2011”

 This is just a quick sample of their headlines.  If I am to believe these lines, then why is it that young people aren’t flocking to this industry, begging to sign up?  Having young people believe the FCC headlines would definitely benefit FCC but would it be equally beneficial to the young people entering this very challenging industry?  Statistics  Canada states the average farmer age 54 years.   Something doesn’t add up here.  Could it be that the FCC newsletters and surveys don’t reflect the reality of agriculture?    Or maybe FCC is simply a bank in sheep’s clothing and everything they report should be questioned. 

 Agriculture doesn’t need a spin doctor, but maybe FCC does.  I’ll continue to believe farmers, rather than survey interpretations FCC provides.  Hope consumers do too. 

 

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Ontario Egg Producers Give Blank Cheque for 2012 Business Operations

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Though I didn’t attend the 2012 Annual General Meeting of the EFO, I did manage to take a peek at the 2011 annual report and financial statements that were handed out there.  Since the numbers contained in that document are as vague and disguised as a politician’s pre-election speech and absent of any 2012 budget figures, I asked an EFO attendee if any budget information was made available to the Ontario egg producers.  The reply was a definite and resounding “No”.  I thought the response was just a joke.  Wrong.  How could that be?  The two hundred plus egg producers of Ontario have given a blank cheque to a group of individuals who have landed the EFO smack dab in the middle of a multi-million dollar law suit.  Given a blank cheque to a group of individuals who provide only general information, when convenient and keep all details of the egg industry business behind closed doors.  Given a blank cheque to a group of individuals who are supposed to be ‘volunteers’ but wait!  That same group took home over $700,000 in ‘per diem payments and expenses’.  By the way, wouldn’t those payments be considered taxable benefits by the CRA?  Were T4’s given?  I think all of us know the answer to that.  Not bad for volunteers, eh? 

Since the past chair of the EFO likes to use ‘old sayings’, here’s one that definitely applies to Ontario egg producers after this lack of action at the annual meeting:  “A fool and his money are soon parted.”  Giving an open and ‘sky-less’ budget to the current EFO leadership team is completely incredible.  Where is the Chief Financial Officer, giving advice to the producers, telling the producers that it is a wise and necessary action to complete and approve a budget for the upcoming year’s revenues and expenses?  An action that promotes accountability.  Wait.  What am I thinking?  Isn’t the Chief Financial Officer or in this case, the secretary-treasurer of the Board, Harry Pelissero?  Is it wise for the keeper of the cash to be the same person that makes the decisions on how much cash to spend?  Why would Harry advise the producers to take a wise and proactive step to make HIM more accountable?  He’s just made it easier to avoid accountability for his actions.    

What are the egg producers of Ontario thinking?  Not thinking with their brains obviously!  I didn’t know the Board of Directors and the management team of EFO could have the same effect on the Ontario egg producers as a gorgeous woman has on a virile heterosexual man.  I can’t imagine that Harry is dressing that provocatively these days!  These producers are simply making it so easy for supply management opponents to make a case for the dissolution and/or major changes to the supply management system.   

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