by Jason Byvelds, Farmer
Having read some recent contributions to the NG Times, I’d suggest Colin Creasey and Kelvin Hodges actually read the regulations and standards for organic production on the Canadian Food Inspections webpage, like the Permitted Substance List (CAN/CGSB-32.311) that has the insecticides and herbicides used in organic farming. Colin and Kelvin might also both be interested in knowing that Canada ranks No. 1 out of 17 OECD countries according to the 2014 World Ranking Food Safety Performance. All farmers are proud of the crops that leave their farm, and Canada has some of the highest food and safety standards. We should be proud to share the extra that we have with the rest of the world.
And, as over 98% of Canadian farms are not certified organic, and a farmer is responding to your article as well as Kelvin’s, how do you think it was received amongst my peers? Let me provide a clear example with wheat yields and acreage, since I’m not certain you understand the actual impact of the Green Revolution on land use and sustainability. In 2019, Canadians will consume about 9.3 million tons of wheat, 1 ton of wheat is 36.744 bushels, so we consume 341,719,200 bushels, thank God for our harvester combines! With a population of 37.59 million, that’s about 9.1 bushels of wheat per person, an average family of four would consume about 36.4 bushels of wheat per year. Let’s suppose a family ordered two years supply of wheat from Saskatchewan (sorry OMAFRA doesn’t distinguish between farming types in its yield data), 36.4 bushels of organic wheat and 36.4 bushels of conventional wheat. The average yield for Saskatchewan-grown organic wheat is 20 bushels per acre, so we need a bit less than 2 acres to supply wheat for a family of four for a year. The average yield for conventionally grown wheat is 38 bushels per acre, so a bit less than 1 acre to feed a family of four for a year. I would note that these are average yearly yields, this doesn’t account for taking farmland out of production every 3rd or 4th year to green manure it in organic production, removing 25-33% of arable acres puts the organic yield in the 13.4 to 15 bushels per acre, pushing a year’s supply of wheat for a family of four to 2.4 to 2.7 acres per year. That’s why you pay more Colin, and not everyone can afford that luxury or to pretend it’s sustainable.
I’m with you on food waste and we all need to improve and work together. This is a daily concern for farmers this fall as we try to get crops off and dried so they don’t spoil in storage because of moisture. We learn and improve from mistakes, from overshooting the gravity wagon when unloading, to properly cleaning and maintaining our combines to cut down the field loss out the back (responsible for 20% of the loss) and the header (the other 80%). One way we can measure, track and improve on this is looking at a field after it is harvested, for every four soybeans per square foot found on the ground equals one bushel per acre of loss as a benchmark to give readers an example. Taking soil samples to be analyzed in a lab, trapping and assessing pests, or splitting or fixing tile drainage are all regular practices that land stewardship requires so the next generation can continue to feed Canada and the world’s growing population.
I wish I had more time to respond to Colin and Kelvin’s other concerns about the food Canadian farmers produce, as only 2% of the population farms in Canada; however, as I am sure you can appreciate, I’m working long days to catch up now that CN and its workers have reached a tentative deal, and thankfully back to work government legislation wasn’t tabled.
As the holiday season is upon us and it’s always a busy time for food banks, I’d ask NG Times readers to grab an extra non-perishable item or two for them instead of spending that extra money for organic, as more food will make it to the plates of those who are most in need this season.