Dick Hunt's Blog

January 2, 2010

There Is Grave Concern Over Our Food Supply

Filed under: Current — Dick Hunt's Blog @ 4:31 pm

There Is Grave Concern Over Our Food Supply
by Dick Hunt, February 28th, 2008.
In the year 1929 much of North America and beyond was drying up and food supplies were dwindling. Sounds a bit like Joseph in Egypt and the seven years of famine (see Genesis Chapters 37-47).  There were years when there was no grain crop at all in some areas. In 1936, there was so little snow and rain where I lived in Alberta that we were able to sow wheat starting on April 10th with no threat of frost.  We were able to harvest a mere five bushels of wheat per acre that fall.  It required one bushel of seed to produce five bushels of grain.  That is the way of no return. But even  that was better than the former years.
By the time the Second World War began in 1939, moisture conditions were improving and the years of near famine were behind  us.  In the fall of 1947, we suffered the first blizzard of the year and were completely snowed in on the 28th of September.  It snowed and snowed and the first time we were able to get a wheeled vehicle on the road again was May 15th 1948.  We wintered nearly 1000 cattle that winter,  fed 1,500 tons of hay, 26 stacks of new straw, 16 stacks of old straw, tons and tons of sugar beet molasses and sugar beet pulp.  We finished the winter with five tons of hay.  Many of the cattle on the prairies starved to death or were shot on the farms by the R.C.M.P. to put them out of their misery.  We lost no cattle at all, for my Father was a very astute Rancher who looked ahead and made provision for tough times.  In good years we grew additional feed to enable a carryover for the dry years.
Today farming methods have devloped to the point where available moisture is being preserved by more scientific tillage methods.  And new varieties of grains have been developed to be more drought resistant. Now we have new problems brought about by Government regulations  and farming as a way of life is being squeezed out of production.
For example; for the last several years livestock producers have been forbidden to process their own animals for sale in local markets.  It is illegal for a farmer to butcher his own animals, even for his own personal use.  They  must be taken to a Licenced Abattoir and processed there at great expense to the grower and marketed through the licenced marketers.  The Government says that meat processed locally by “amateurs” is not safe for human consumption.That means that a farmer has to buy his own meat products from the meat markets at a great increase in cost –  like two middlemen plus the truckers who each each have to have their profit.
My Father was a butcher, having served a seven year apprenticeship in England before coming to Canada.  For many years he did all our butchering for the Ranch population.  I learned from him and I also studied the art in Agricultural college for two years.  When Dad retired, I carried on as butcher.  In all the years at the Ranch, until the Government stepped in and moved the goal posts, we never, ever, had any illness related to meat consumption.  Yet we are constantly hearing of food poisoning from tainted meat from todays licenced packers.  And it is not only meat producers who are suffering from bureaucratic intervention.  Grain producers are equally at great risk of being put of business.  The family farm and way of life are  in great jeopardy.
We used to use a term in the depression which largely fits today’s problems and that was, “Land rich and dirt poor”.  One of the heavy costs for grain producers these days is  that the Richardson Ground Squirrels ((better known as Gophers) are mutiplying at a furious rate and eating immense  amounts of grain and grass.  Farmers used to be able to keep their spread under control by poisoning them with strychnine on oat grain.  But the authorities decided that was too cruel and outlawed that form of poison.  They now only allow a much weaker form of poison which just makes the gophers sick and doesn’t kill them. So they are overrunning crop and hay land to the extent that  they cannot be controlled at all. They can strip large areas of new grain or grass in a few days. And that destroys the crop for the year.  High costs and no return. Game over!
All costs of growing food products are increasing to the point that  farm bankruptcy’s are becoming normal.  Long hours of hard work, uncertain climates and prices, government intervention at all levels, nearly zero young people staying in Agriculture, impossibility of competing with other demands for labor. Even if it was possible to fin anyone who would put in the long hours of hard work at low pay makes the future of food producers a quickly vanishing breed.  So where is our food going to come from?  And how will we pay the ever rising prices for food produced far away from where we live?
Obviously, Governments have not discovered that there is a problem.  And nor have the consumers of food.  Food comes in packages and bottles, but it certainly doesn’t grow in packages and bottles.  Years ago when we were still ranching in Alberta, I was milking the cows one evening when a young girl, daughter of our weekend guests from Calgary came into the barn.  She was interested in what I was doing and I said, “Donalda if you would like a drink of nice warm milk, bring the tin cup that is by the water trough near the door and I will get you some straight from the cow”.  But she shook her head, horrified, as “they get their milk in bottles”.  Donalda is now retired from her vocation in teaching, her last assignment being a long spell as a school principal in Langley City.  And since that time the general public has not learned anything about how their food supply arrives at their tables. We stand on the brink of a precipitous awakening which is going to be  very costly and tragic.
There are many people who would outlaw the raising of cattle on the grounds that they produce manure and they produce harmful amounts of methane gas, thus destroying the ecosystem.  No more beef.  No more milk.  Whoever heard of cows or any other species which do not have digestive systems.  Of course, if there is no food we will not need digestive systems.
From time to time various levels of Government have announced programs to give financial help to farmers and ranchers, which help has very seldom ever reached those who suffer the burden and heat of the day to do what they have always done, produce food for themselves and for the hungry people of the world. Canada has a sad record in our support for Agriculture.  Europeans and the U.S.A. have a much more generous support system.  How do I know?  I do my research through people on the ground; my family and old neighbors.  And I read extensively and seek out the most honest news I can find.  That takes some doing these days when political correctness is thrust upon us from  all sides.
My early years were spent in Agriculture, on the ground and with the learning derived from long hours of hard and demanding work.  At the age of 35 I left that vocation, not because I couldn’t do it and meet the challenges, but because I was called of God to full time Christian ministry. I have recently completed 50 years of ordained ministry. But I have never been out of touch with the people of the soil and their deep concerns.  A whole and honorable way of life is being forced upon rural people to leave this honest service of thousands of years because they can no longer pay the costs of production.
Due to the ever rising wages available to people in the trades and professions of modern life, rural people have had to invest heavily in larger and more sophisticated machinery to operate their businesses. That has added to the burden of rising costs of all the other necessities of modern food production; weed control, fertilizer, ever rising taxes, disease control both for raising grain and for livestock, veterinary services, Bank financing, book keeping, legal fees where needed – the list goes on and on.
With the scares of Foot and Mouth Disease and then Mad Cow Disease, beef producers had a gun to their heads and lost almost their total net income for a long stretch of time. Bankruptcy became more and more common and hundreds of Ranchers were forced out of business. Then came the bird flu and the loss of millions of  domestic fowl. The encroachment of housing and industrial development, golf courses etc. places further pressures on the old ways of life. The self protection regulations forced upon producers of various foods, both animal and horticultural  by marketing boards has put growers in a straight jacket in many cases.  Internal marketing restraints between Provinces in  Canada and regulations preventing the free movement of labor, especially of public health personell has put a damper on the economy of some areas.
Old farmers and ranchers are just getting worn out and there are almost no younger generation men and women who can step in and take up the reins and go to work.  Even if the willingness is there, the capital costs of getting into production with so little chance of making a living income quickly kills the impulse.  Rural life is a wonderful lifestyle.  Rural people are the salt of the earth and earthy in the right sense of that word.  Down to earth.  With a rural background and upbringing, great citizens have emerged and produced fine leaders in society for many generations. People raised in Agriculture have provided great leaders in  every walk of life; the sciences, education, politics, engineering, the military, the churches, medical  and social care – the list goes on and on.
When I had completed my training in the R.C.A. F. during the war and reported for active duty on a Bomber and Reconnaissance station, the Flight Sargeant asked me where I was from.  When I said, I had just left number one wireless school in  Montreal, he said no, I mean where were you raised.  I told him I was raised on a cattle Ranch, and he said, “Thank God, now we have someone here who can do something”.
It does indeed take many years to train a rancher or farmer.  It is  a lifelong learning experience of the broadest kind. Not only do we need to undertake studies in all phases of agriculture, such  as animal and field husbandry, botany, horticulture, chemistry, soils, machinery and power systems, dairying, poultry, irrigation, even land surveying, but also book keeping and farm management, entemology,  butchering, to mention just some of the studies.  I spent prime time too in blacksmithing including forge welding, carpentry, design engineering and drafting.  For the rest of my education, I just did what rural people have done from  time immemorial. We adapted to the demands of the vocation, bent to the needs of the day, made the best use of our time  with our energy and the skills we developed and raised our families to do the same. And when we went to bed at night, we slept the sleep of the just.

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