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Shoreline Beacon - - Opinion -

y sev­eral ac­counts the 2018 crop year has pro­vided an ex­tra­or­di­nary chal­lenge for on­tario corn farm­ers.

it isn’t only un­cer­tain com­mod­ity mar­kets in the chaotic trad­ing en­vi­ron­ment that fol­lows around af­ter u.S. Pres­i­dent don­ald trump. Be­yond that, an un­usu­ally damp au­tumn has also com­pli­cated corn pro­duc­tion.

Most re­cently, grain Farm­ers of on­tario (gFo) has stepped up lob­by­ing ef­forts aimed at ex­tra­or­di­nary com­pen­sa­tion for corn grow­ers af­fected by un­usual lev­els of mould in what ap­pears oth­er­wise to have been an ex­cep­tional crop.

Mould at high lev­els can im­pair the use­ful­ness of corn for pro­cess­ing. Farm pa­pers are filled with the news of what gFo has called “one of the most se­vere out­breaks of don (de­oxyni­valenol) in corn that we have ever seen.”

Mould in­fec­tion of ma­tur­ing ears of corn can pro­duce tox­ins that make it un­ac­cept­able as food and may in­ter­fere with its use in in­dus­trial pro­cesses such as ethanol pro­duc­tion. Farms.com mar­ket an­a­lysts Moe agostino and aben­ish gopal in the Jan­uary edi­tion of Bet­ter Farm­ing de­scribe crops with 10 parts per mil­lion of such tox­ins as “vir­tu­ally un­sal­able.”

The sit­u­a­tion is com­pli­cated by the fact that mois­ture re­spon­si­ble for mould ap­pears also to have boosted grain yield. as a re­sult, rou­tine crop in­sur­ance pay­outs based on pro­duc­tion vol­ume won’t fully com­pen­sate for mould losses.

in mid-no­vem­ber, agri­corp, the prov­ince’s crop in­sur­ance agency, an­nounced a “corn sal­vage ben­e­fit” which Farm­tario magazine es­ti­mated will pay $0.79 per el­i­gi­ble bushel. But gFo chair Markus haerle has also an­nounced a mem­ber­ship sur­vey and a se­ries of meet­ings with agri­cul­ture Min­is­ter Ernie harde­man and other of­fi­cials to con­sider the dam­age in greater de­tail.

all of this fur­ther un­der­lines the pre­car­i­ous­ness of com­mer­cial agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion sub­ject, as it is so of­ten, to un­fore­seen changes in mar­kets and cli­mate. gov­ern­ment pol­icy is of­ten re­quired to fill gaps in the suc­cess or fail­ure of agri­cul­tural en­ter­prises.

in the u.S. in 2018, be­cause of trump trade dis­rup­tions, amer­i­can tax­pay­ers have funded an ex­tra­or­di­nary $12 bil­lion (uS$) mar­ket ad­just­ment pro­gram to help off­set lost ex­port op­por­tu­ni­ties. in on­tario, be­cause of un­usual har­vest sea­son damp­ness, pro­vin­cial tax­pay­ers now face sim­i­lar ex­pec­ta­tions for pub­lic fund­ing of cli­mate-re­lated losses.

This is not new in agri­cul­ture where sub­si­diza­tion is as old as civ­i­liza­tion it­self. Sta­ble, health­ful food sup­plies are es­sen­tial to any suc­cess­ful state.

it’s been some time, how­ever, since agri­cul­ture pol­icy mak­ers in ei­ther the u.S. or canada have ex­pe­ri­enced new de­mands for pub­lic sup­port of agri­cul­ture on this scale. That on­tario’s new Pro­gres­sive con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment will re­spond seems likely, con­sid­er­ing sup­port­ive com­ments about agri­cul­ture from Pre­mier doug Ford since he took of­fice last June.

The full ex­tent of on­tario’s mouldy corn prob­lem re­mains to be seen. it will de­pend on the pre­cise level of con­tam­i­na­tion and the fi­nal size of this year’s corn har­vest.

The pro­vin­cial agri­cul­ture min­istry’s 2018 corn sur­vey cites agri­corp yield data as of dec. 19 show­ing 53 per cent of in­sured acreage with av­er­age yield of 181 bushels per acre, well above the 10 year av­er­age of 170 bu./ ac. What pro­por­tion of the to­tal crop will be mar­keted and at what price have yet to be de­ter­mined.

Through sev­eral years of rel­a­tively high com­mod­ity prices, agri­cul­ture has made rel­a­tively few new de­mands on pub­lic spend­ing. The past 10 years has seen grow­ing ap­pre­ci­a­tion for agri­cul­ture among po­lit­i­cal lead­ers who have come to see it as an ex­pand­able source of ex­port in­come.

But you can’t ex­port mouldy corn. and that may re­quire sub­stan­tial farm pro­gram spend­ing from an on­tario gov­ern­ment just now pre­par­ing its first bud­get.

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