Monday, October 29, 2012

Young eagles heading south: slide-show

Two weekends back, Karen and I made our fall eagle walk up to the headwaters of the branch of Indian Head Creek that flows into Cherry Lake. A few years ago we discovered that for several days each October eagles like to roost at the big beaver pond at the head of the tributary. They settle there by evening and sit in the big poplars that surround the pond. We have seen as many as fourteen roosting there, a mix of adult and sub-adult bald eagles.

This year, well before we arrived at the pond we began seeing young eagles circling low over the valley. They stayed with us for twenty minutes or more, making passes almost directly overhead, their tawny breast feathers catching the last gold of the sun. Once our necks got sore we lay down in the tall grass in the coulee bottom and watched in silence, my camera making the only sounds. A pair of ravens joined the eagles in their play just above the western rim of the coulee where an updraft was rising to meet the colder air aloft.

We counted four sub-adults, all apparently in their second year "white-belly II" plumage. Bald Eagles take four years to gain their adult plumage and in their immature feathering can be mottled dark brown and white to varying degrees. In some of the photos I took you can see the saw-tooth trailing edge of the wings, showing where two or three longer feathers remain from the last set of secondary feathers.

Just before we left the coulee, four adult eagles hove into view coming from the northeast. Here is a "movie" I put together using some of the photos I took that day.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Throne speech tomorrow: truth a casualty in the rush to sell the pastures

cattle left all summer on a badly abused private pasture near Indian Head

The Sask Party's rush to get the pasture issue settled and start selling land has made truth into a casualty:

The provincial government has claimed many things that must be challenged if we are to see what is really happening here: they say they have consulted with all the interest groups; they say there is nothing to worry about because they will only sell to patrons; they say the patrons are all the best stewards of the environment; they say that the Federal Species at Risk Act will be enforced on any land sold or leased to private interests. None of this is completely true. The Throne speech is tomorrow. It is a good time to call the Provincial Government to account on its plan and face the facts:

1. No, they have not consulted all people and groups concerned about the pastures. The five person advisory group who Minister Stewart worked with on this had two representatives of Sask. Stockgrowers and two representatives from the Sask. Cattlemen's Association--none of whom apparently have been recent patrons of a PFRA pasture.

The PFRA pastures lists somewhere over 2000 current patrons and there are many others who would like to be patrons in the future, some of them young producers--none of them have been consulted in any meaningful way. Four environmental organizations were brought in for private meetings one by one to be informed of the plan, but they were not given a chance to influence the decision in any meaningful way and from what I hear all still would prefer that not a single acre of the PFRA pastures ever be put up for sale. What about the 200-plus existing pasture employees and their families and communities? What about younger cattle producers who need help getting ahead? What about others who use to use the PFRA system but cannot afford to buy or lease at market values? What about First Nations? What about other rural and urban interest groups, people who want the pastures to remain part of Canada's natural heritage and public trust?

2. No, saying you will only sell to the patrons does not protect the land from re-sale. Leasing too will be impossible to monitor in ways that will protect the land from eventually falling into the hands of out of province interests.

Under this plan we will have no control over who is bankrolling "patron groups" or who the land will be re-sold to in five years. Will it end up in the hands of the meat industry’s big players—huge out of province cattle operators, or Cargill, XL Foods and JBS of Brazil?

3. No, the grazing patrons who will buy or lease the land are not capable of managing these ecological jewels at a level anywhere near the standard achieved by the PFRA (see yesterday's post with testimony from long-time pasture managers). A quick look at any land managed by many of the existing local grazing co-ops in the province will prove this point.

the endangered Loggerhead Shrike, one of 31 species at risk that depend on professional pasture management

4. No, the Federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) will not be enforced on these lands whether we sell or lease them. Andrea Olive from the University of Toronto is an expert on SARA and has done a case study on its application in Saskatchewan . I asked Andrea for her opinion on Lyle Stewart's recent assertion in letters to Saskatoon and Regina newspapers declaring that SARA will be enforced on pasture land sold or leased. Here is what she said:

"Lyle Stewart has no business saying that SARA will be enforced on private lands or in the province at all. SARA is a federal law. Since when are provincial governments in the business of applying federal laws? Moreover, SARA applies only to federal lands - about 5% of land in the country. As a province, SK actually has jurisdiction over private property matters. The only way SARA can apply to private land is through the "safety net" provision that states when provinces fail to protect species, the federal government will step in and do it. By taking the pasture lands out of the federal government's jurisdiction, the province is taking SARA off the land. How will the province protect the swift fox or burrowing owl or prairie grass on private property? Not through SARA. Not through the Wildlife Act. Is the provincial government going to create new legislation? Is the province going to create new species at risk legislation that will work with private landowners? Or legislation that is going to regulate private lands? That is the only way those species will continue to be protected in a similar fashion as they would under SARA.  SK is one of only 4 provinces to not have stand-alone legislation for species at risk.
So, at the end of the day, Lyle Stewart is removing a layer of protection for those species. They are going from Pasture Lands where SARA protects them to privately held lands where no laws are in place to enhance or ensure stewardship. Of course, private landowners are capable of protecting and stewarding SK. But there would need to be provisions in place such that the new landowners realize that endangered species occupy the land. And the new landowner might need some assistance, perhaps financial assistance, to properly steward the species.  How is Lyle Stewart going to ensure that is happening? Sounds like he is writing new species at risk legislation for SK. Congratulations to him!"

5. No, conservation easements are not enough to protect the biodiversity of the pastures. Who will be watching to enforce the easements and see that they do not get ploughed? And, even if they are not ploughed there are many ways to destroy a grassland ecosystem besides ploughing. Compare the bird and plant life on a PFRA pasture with that on a badly managed and overstocked piece of leased Crown Land and you will see what I mean.

These five concerns (there are others) should be enough to convince anyone that the Province must slow down and re-think this. We need to push for a moratorium on any attempt to dispose of the pastures and insist that nothing be done with them until an inclusive and independent consultation has been undertaken, allowing all Saskatchewan people to have a say on the topic of what will happen to the lands that the government's own ecologists will tell you are the most important conservation lands in the province. Until we do that and then figure out a model that will provide for professional management of the grasslands--at least at the level of our existing provincial community pastures (though that is a rock bottom minimum)--it is rash and indefensible to go forward with the plan announced on October 19.

And yes, there are many species at risk that depend on the ten pastures that the Government says it wants to sell first. Click on the image below for a list of species at risk found these lands being put up for bid:

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

What is the hurry to dispose of the pastures?

This wild penstemmon (image by Hamilton Greenwood) is one of hundreds of native plants on the PFRA pastures that rely on the good stewardship of the PFRA pasture managers

Having spoken to many people in the conservation community in the last couple of days, it is beginning to become clear that last week's announcement by Lyle Stewart, the Saskatchewan Agriculture Minister, was not the good news that it seemed at first.

A leasing option sounds better if it means that more of the land might remain under provincial ownership instead of being sold to private interests. Once land is privatized, there is little recourse to defend its natural ecosystems and species at risk from development or damaging agricultural practices.
But the more I think about this new plan announced by the province, the more it seems that we are being rushed into a decision on the pastures that over the long run will not serve Saskatchewan people or our endangered and threatened prairie species very well. I believe we can do much better than Minister Stewart's plan, which would simply hand Canada’s most ecologically intact and well-managed native grassland remnants over to what he is calling “patron-controlled operation.” In the end, the question of whether the successful patron groups buy or lease the first ten pastures being put up for bid may not be as important as the question of how they manage the land. Mr. Stewart has told us not to worry because the “patrons have been grazing these pastures for years; they know this land better than anyone else; they are our best environmental stewards.”

Last night I called up Mert Taylor, pasture manager for Bigstick PFRA Pasture and one of the PFRA’s longest-standing pasture managers, to ask him what he thought about this statement, which comes from Minister Stewart’s release on Friday.

Mert is as straight a shooter as you are going to find in the federal pasture system. Here is what he said about Lyle Stewart's assurances that the patrons are "our best environmental stewards."

“What a load of crap. I'm sorry, but I’ve been involved nearly all my life with these pastures: thirty years as a manager, and I rode twelve years before that. The number of patrons I have met who would even know where their cattle are at any given moment is about 1%. They know we are going to take care of their cows, they will get the best grass around and get their shots at the right time. Now, sure, there are always a few producers who know a bit about grass, but 90% of them are only concerned about the bottom line. Most are just so busy trying to make a living they can’t take care of a pasture the way we do. And it only makes sense—they have to look out for their self-interest like any business person. They aren’t going to be able to manage the grass the way we have.”

Then I spoke to another pasture employee who wished to remain anonymous and asked him the same question.

"The patrons are not the stewards of the pastures. The pasture managers are, but they have done it with a lot of support from professionals--grass specialists, water management specialists, livestock specialists, species at risk specialists. If we turn the management over to the patrons, it will be disastrous. We make decisions based on what is good for the grass and that is not always what will serve this year's bottom line. The patrons are mostly thinking about their calf crop that will be sold in the fall, and that's about it. When I started working for the pastures, I didn't understand how fragile this land can be. If I go out and drive my truck through the grass today, that trail will still be there fifteen years from now. If this pasture is given to the patrons to manage I'll have to move away. I might come back once to see how it looks, but I wouldn't be likely to come back a second time."

this shot of a pasture managed by an owner-operator in the Qu'Appelle Valley
shows that not all of our cattlemen are good stewards

The PFRA employees, some of the last real cowboys on the prairie, are an irreplacable resource and a keystone to the future management of these globally important grasslands. We owe it to them, to the heritage of all the PFRA has accomplished, and to our descendants to retain these important caretakers--the real stewards of Canada's last great pieces of native grassland.

A closing thought. The government's own ecologists will tell you that these are the most important conservation lands in the province. Why are we treating them like any other chunk of farmland?

Tomorrow I will try to post a response to Lyle Stewart's ludicrous assertion (in his letter to the editor in yesterday's Leader Post) that the Federal Species at Risk Act will be enforced on any land sold or leased under his plan.

Grazing practices matter: this shot by Hamilton Greenwood shows the difference from one side of the
fence to the other under different operator-owners

Monday, October 22, 2012

On second thought . . .

screen capture from PSAC campaign petition page
The more I look at the provincial government's new plan to sell and lease the 62 community pastures now up for grabs, the more I think we are being sold a bill of goods. (I will explain why in a separate post in a day or two.)

Meanwhile, the pasture managers who have been taking care of the pastures and who are represented by the Agriculture Union - PSAC have responded with a campaign we should all support.

Here is a quote from a news release the union put out on Friday: "The proposed sale of community pastures in Saskatchewan is supported by virtually no one in the province or the country and today's announcement by the provincial government raises more questions than it provides answers, according to the Agriculture Union - PSAC which has launched a campaign to protect the prairie grasslands in question. . . . With the support of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society Saskatchewan branch and the Saskatchewan Environmental Society, the Agriculture Union has launched, a campaign to ensure that ironclad environmental and conservation guarantees are in place to protect the pastures going forward." Go to their site to join their campaign as soon as you can.

Here is a digital story they created for the campaign--it makes the point beautifully:

Friday, October 19, 2012

Not there yet, but some pretty good news on the community pastures

Burrowing owl family--one of the 31 or more endangered species who will be affected by our decisions on the community pastures--
image courtesy of Hamilton Greenwood

In a news release this morning, the Saskatchewan Government announced a new plan for the PFRA community pastures (i.e. the federal Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration community pastures that are being transferred back to the province because Stephen Harper has washed his hands of any responsibility for them).

Though it is not quite time to congratulate the Saskatchewan Government for saving the day on the pastures, today’s announcement does represent a real improvement. Sometime next week, I will look at the primary issue that has not been addressed in this new plan (namely, they are still putting the pastures up for sale, removing these agriculturally and ecologically important landscapes from public oversight, and leaving them vulnerable over the long term to market forces and to takeover from out of province interests--both immediately with the issue of investors possibly bankrolling the patron groups or down the road when the patrons eventually re-sell the land), but for today it is time to look at the half-full part of the glass.

The gist of the change is that, although the province still seems to prefer to sell the pastures to grazing patron groups, they have added a new option that will help producers who want to continue to have access to a pasture without purchasing the land. Specifically, this new plan allows for leasing the land. In the words of the news release, “patrons will have the opportunity to own or lease these pastures.”
blue grama grass (Bouteloua gracilis), a common native grass on the pastures--
image courtesy of Hamilton Greenwood

This option is a meaningful improvement for several reasons--it definitely will help out the local cattlemen who cannot afford to buy land at escalating prices--but the one I like best is that patrons who have traditionally used the pastures will be less inclined to go search for money to purchase them if they know they have the option to lease.

Land that stays in the public domain is land that all citizens may continue to benefit from and have at least the potential of some say over the way it is treated. Hunters who have always had access to the pastures in season will continue to do so. The same goes for botanists and bird watchers as well as scientists and naturalists conducting grassland research. While they may not be grazing patrons, these interest groups and the Canadian public at large, will continue to have recourse through government to be involved in the way these rare and unique ecosystems are used and accessed, as long as the province retains ownership. If today’s announcement leads to more of the pastures remaining as Crown land, then this will turn out to be a very good decision indeed.

As I said earlier, there are some remaining concerns because these legacy grasslands, so rich with endangered species and the history of ranching in this province, are still up for sale, but we have to give provincial Agriculture Minister Lyle Stewart credit for brokering a more palatable plan and be grateful for the real progress we are beginning to make on the whole question of what Saskatchewan people want to have happen to our last large pieces of native prairie.

Mr.  Stewart is showing signs that he is going to be an Agriculture Minister who is approachable and unafraid of public discussion and consultation--one who wants to hear from the whole public, and who recognizes that there are ecological issues related to food production that are important to farmers and non-farmers alike. Last week he met with representatives from all the major environmental NGOs, discussing this new plan with them ahead of its announcement. That alone is a big improvement over his many predecessors who have been in charge of that department. In addition to the main points mentioned in the new plan, Mr. Stewart has apparently said that he would like to establish an advisory committee for overseeing the pastures system, and that he would like representation from the ENGOs on that committee. That is encouraging to say the least and I think those of us concerned about prairie conservation should commend him and embrace that opportunity to participate in an open and accountable public process that will oversee how our community pastures are used.
Do have a look at the announcement if you have time and let me know what you think.

a prairie critter that the last Sask. Ag minister did not like
--image courtesy of Hamilton Greenwood

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Photo essay--things that matter

At dawn, a sentinel peering into the mist at the end of a night's hunt . . .

the watchfulness of a young ruffed grouse flushed into the upper limbs . . .

one who is waiting until it is safe to go back to the nest. . . .

the repose of a post-top snipe, tired after the morning's airborne ecstacies. . .

the minerals that bring a fritillery not long from its chrysalis . . . .

the gold of a beaver-made pond in a coulee gone to autumn . . . .

the small worlds crafted by poplar, beetle, and woodpecker. . .

 summer's blushing just before the leaves let go . . .
the "journey work of stars" in leaves of grass, and  . . .

the secrets spilling over root and deadfall not only then but even now that we are far from the quiet wood, the balsam tang of the coulee air, and all the other things that matter.

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul. ~John Muir

Friday, October 12, 2012

A chat with Roland Crowe on the First Nations proposal for the PFRA pastures

coneflower through the fence at Brokenshell Community Pasture

I have been getting a few questions and comments lately from folks concerned about what may happen to the former PFRA pastures if they are managed or owned by First Nations. How would that affect grazing access, conservation initiatives, hunting rights, oil and gas issues? All good questions, worth pondering.

A week ago I met with Roland Crowe to hear first hand what his First Nations Land Management Joint Venture is proposing. Though we did not go over every detail and question of ecological management, grazing agreements, and public access, I have to say that in general Roland was forthright and very convincing. Their first aim, he said, is to simply prevent the lands from being sold off and removed from the public trust. Second, to protect the land's ecological values while managing it as a business for First Nations, which means grazing and carbon sequestration.

He said he did not think access for hunting would be a problem. "Why would we change that if they have always had access?"

When I asked if this is about getting control and ownership under Treaty Land Entitlement (TLE), he looked me in the eye and said "this is about keeping the land from going into private hands, but if the government insists on selling it, then of course we would like to own the land." Better these lands be owned in common by First Nations, he said, than to be put on the market with no plan for succession, no responsibility to the wider community.

Then I asked if their interest is driven by oil and gas potential. Oil and gas would be part of the revenue potential of the pastures, he said, as it will be no matter who owns them.

I expressed my concerns that oil and gas are already destroying some of the PFRA pastures and without pausing Roland answered, "yes, exactly, but we would do a better job of making sure that they don't leave such a mess."

I found myself thinking it would be nice if First Nations people could resist the temptation to develop the oil and gas on land they manage, but my second thought was, if no one else can pass up that opportunity for wealth, why should we expect the people with the least in the way of economic resources to be able to leave it in the ground? The reality is that one way or another every oil and gas field that is economically feasible to develop will be developed--no matter where it is, who owns the land, or how loudly we protest. Given that our federal and provincial regulations have done such a shoddy job of protecting our grasslands from resource development so far, can it hurt to give our First Nations a chance to see if they can do better?

No, none of this is ideal. In a better world, our Indigenous people would be able to thrive in the modern economy but still follow all of the spiritual values and respect-for-Creation traditions generally attributed to their ancestral religion. The same could be said for people of Christian ancestry, but we are never surprised when corporate and government economic growth imperatives leave out the mission to serve the poor.

I left the meeting with Roland Crowe thinking that, unless something better comes along, this First Nations proposal is our best chance to hold the government to account on the PFRA pastures. No other group has the legal position to demand that the province not sell the land to the private sector.

Does that mean that I am 100% convinced that if down the road the First Nations group did end up either managing or owning the PFRA pastures that they would fulfill their promises to manage them as well or better than the feds have been doing? There is no way to be sure, and all I can say is that so far the First Nations group is saying all the right things and hoping to work with the ENGO community and livestock groups to take their ideas forward. No one else making a play for the pastures is saying very much about the importance of managing the lands for ecological health.

If this initiative can buy us some time and stop the sale of the pastures then I think those of us in the conservation community should support it conditionally. The condition should be that the First Nations involved must be willing to discuss with the ENGO and livestock producing communities the formation of a trust that would formalize the oversight of how the lands are managed. The trustee in such a trust could be the whole Canadian public, which should not lose its investment and interest in these well-managed ecosystems.

Baird's Sparrows like this one thrive in the native grasslands at Brokenshell

Later I asked Carl Neggers, former PFRA Director-General, to send me an email outlining why he believes in the First Nations Joint Venture initiative. I asked whether he thought Roland Crowe and the other leaders were focussing on buying the land through TLE and he said that he believes they will only use their TLE rights "if the province is adamant that it wants to sell the land. However, the Joint Venture initiative is not about land ownership, it is solely about inclusive and sustainable land management."

Carl feels that the media has jumped to the conclusion that the Joint Venture is about buying the land under TLE:

"In several recent media releases there was some confusion regarding the specific intent of the Joint Venture that needs to be clarified. The media seems adamant that there needs to be conflict in a story or some "cowboy and indian" fight on the horizon to capture readers attention. The Joint Venture is not a fight, it is a constructive and innovative management approach. Specifically, this initiative host key benefits to all:

• the federal government achieves its fiscal policy goal of not running a community pasture program and under this JV management approach still meets many of it's legal requirements regarding a number of international biodiversity and trade agreements,

• the province does not assume a federal program that it doesn't want to manage and still satisfies it's goal of protecting patrons and providing much needed access to residual pasture land for small and medium sized stock growers,

• the land stays in the public domain and serves the various interests of stakeholders while protecting the land for future generations and finally

• the First Nations establish a collaborative business model that is viable economically and ecologically.

Given that this is likely the largest agricultural and ecological land transfer (in excess of $1.6 billion) to occur in western Canada in a few centuries, I believe it deserves critical public examination and regard. From my perspective I can't see any losers in the Joint Venture approach and I would put this initiative up on a white board with all other proposed approaches and/or alternatives and open them all up to public examination and scrutiny."

Carl may get that wish. I am working with a committee of folks who are just getting started planning an open public forum on what Saskatchewan people want for these public grasslands. If all goes well, we will be holding the forum this November. If you want to make sure you receive notice of the details, fire me an email at

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Testimony from one of the last of the PFRA cowboys

click on this map to see the the scale of what we
 stand to lose if the pastures are privatized

I love this map of the old PFRA pastures. Each a vital remnant of the old world of native grass, they stand around us like islands in the sea of industrialize agriculture. If you travelled through the soy cropland of the Amazon basin you would see much the same thing, but instead of grass it would be islands of the old tropical rainforest. I found the map in a wonderful article written by Alberta freelancer Sheri Monk and published earlier this week in Canadian Cowboy Country.

Take a look again at the map above. See that really big green chunk in the southwest corner of the province? That is a set of three massive community pastures that run for 25 miles along the Montana/Saskatchewan border. Bryan Tully, manager of the Govenlock PFRA Community Pasture, looks after 100 sections of land there, a vital part of one of the continent's last functioning pieces of grassland ecology. Tully speaks candidly and eloquently in Monk's article.

Here is an excerpt :

The news that all of the PFRA was being dismantled came as a shock and Bryan says residents feel betrayed.
"A lot of these families have been in the PF right from day one. A lot of them gave up land to form these blocks of pastureland. Then all of a sudden, the rug was pulled out from under them."

The federal government is handing the PFRA land to the provincial governments, a politically brilliant move as ultimately, it will be the provinces that take the heat for allowing the public land to become private. For the Saskatchewan Party who first took power in 2007 thanks in large part to the rural vote, inheriting the PFRA land is like catching a political hand grenade. Despite the potential fallout, it seems selling the land is a gamble the Sask. Party is willing to take.

"We would like to provide the existing patrons with the first opportunity to purchase these lands," said Saskatchewan Ag Minister Lyle Stewart, who also said they will work with stakeholders to decide the best course of action to deal with the transition. As a result, a five-member advisory committee was formed to represent the ranching sector.

As with the irrigation projects, it's likely the provincial governments will try to negotiate a selling price for the pastures in hope that the patrons who currently use them will be willing to take co-operative ownership of them. Producers are just beginning to recover from years of low cattle prices and many aren't in a position to borrow. But without those critical grazing lands, they won't be able to feed the stock they already have.

"A lot are looking at (losing) a third to one-half of their herd. There's a sense of panic, a sense of anger and there's a sense of real urgency," Bryan said.

Residents worry the land will end up in the hands of absentee owners. In recent years, a lot of land in the Southwest has been purchased by Albertans infatuated with Saskatchewan's prices. But the land is so marginal that in some areas, a quarter can only run four pair without being damaged. Unfamiliar with the land and its delicacy, these owners often leave the land overgrazed — which was one of the practices leading to the Dust Bowl 80 years ago.

Photo used in Canadian Cowboy Country article, by Kim Taylor / Slidin’ U Photography.

And here is how the feature ends, with Bryan Tully talking about the balance they always maintained between cattle grazing and the ecological values of the pastures:
Iconic prairie species such as burrowing owls, rattlesnakes, swift fox, pronghorn antelope and ferruginous hawks exist in a delicate balance in the Southwest. When the PFRA was formed, the region was a wasteland, and its tenuous recovery has been painstakingly slow — but it has recovered. And it's not just the PFRA — throughout the region, ranchers have taken conservation to heart. The excellent stewardship of the land enabled the government to create Grasslands National Park in the heart of region as a prairie showcase of biodiversity.

"That's what really hurts me personally. We're here because we want to see that on the pastures," says Bryan. "We work every day to have that equilibrium between the critters and the grass and the cows. To see the possibility of it all going to waste is heartbreaking."

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Unhealthy meat from an unhealthy industry

we all have reason to worry

[Note: since this post first came out there have been lots of interesting comments from readers, including a dialogue with Jude Capper, Phd., who defends the mainstream meat processing and feedlot industry with her research. Worth reading if you want to get to the heart of the questions surrounding the meat we eat.]

So what do E. coli outbreaks, Saskatchewan's plans to sell off the former PFRA pastures, and the recent letters to the editor of the federal minister of Agriculture, Gerry Ritz, all have in common? No, it's not that they will all make you sick in the stomach.

These three things are all signs that the Big Lies of our centralized and industrial approach to meat production are starting to wear thin. The lies? Here are some: 1. That the beef industry is serving the interests of small, local cattle producers who are doing so darn well they can afford all kinds of things, including a market price for the former community pastures. 2. That the current system, under which virtually all of Canada's cattle are slaughtered in massive facilities owned by an duopoly of the Nillson Bros. (they own XL Foods, producers of the recent E. coli) and Cargill, is working for both producers and consumers. 3. That it is possible to produce healthy beef products by taking animals fed for half a year in massive feedlots and then processing them in plants that handle as many as 4,500 head per day.

XL Foods and the Nillson Bros. have packing plants in the United States as well as feedlots, auction markets and cattle on feed. They are all about getting control of the entire supply chain from pasture to plate. No one should be surprised if we learn some day that they are the hidden backers behind an offer to purchase one or more of the pastures.
Ag Minister Ritz ponders his next assault on the truth

Meanwhile, Federal Minister Gerry Ritz, one of the main purveyors of official fiction about big agriculture in Canada, has nothing better to do than criticize Saskatchewan newspaper columnists who have the audacity to question agricultural policy. In his letter in today's Leader-Post, Ritz says that "because farmers expect us to work smarter with their tax dollars, we are winding down programs like community pastures and shelterbelts that have met their goals." Yep, I imagine he gets letters every day from farmers thanking him for cutting those programs.

But it is fun reading Ritz's letters to the editor, so here is another one worth a laugh or two. And a third where he takes a shot at Paul Hanley, Star-Phoenix columnist.

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