Alberta Farmers, Ranchers Use Social Media to Lobby Against Farm Safety Bill

There is growing pushback in rural Alberta against the NDP government’s plan to include farm and ranch workers in safety and workplace legislation.

A group called Farmers Against NDP Bill 6 has appeared on Facebook with more than 22,000 members.

Organizer Sara Wheale says the government’s plan to cover farm workers under occupational health and safety laws and workers’ compensation would kill family farms.

Wheale, who lives near the village of Breton southwest of Edmonton, says the province is ignoring their concerns.

Opponents of the legislation are planning a rally at the Alberta legislature on Friday.

Alberta is the only jurisdiction in Canada without coverage for farm and ranch workers.

“I created this group for everyone to share and get around to show how many people really are against this new Bill 6,” Wheale writes on the Facebook page.

“This is our lives and what we live for. Let’s take a stand.”

The government’s proposal would allow investigators to review serious injuries or deaths on the commercial portion of farms.

Officials say 25 people died from farm-related accidents in 2014 _ nine more than the previous year.

The government is holding information sessions to help explain the legislation.

Agriculture organizations say they support improving farm safety, but have misgivings about how the new rules would work and how they might affect the bottom line of agriculture.

The Facebook page features the names, comments and photographs of farmers who oppose the legislation. Some of the posts contain profanity and pictures of people making rude gestures.

Sarah Neill included photos of her and her horses.

“Alberta was built on farming. Without farming we would have nothing. Our grocery stores would be empty. Our lives would be changed,” Neill writes.

“We as farmers and ranchers should decide our own hours and our own work ethic.”


Alberta tables bill to redraw rules on work and safety on 43,000 farms, ranches

By Dean Bennett


EDMONTON _ Alberta is redrawing the rules on work and safety for 60,000 workers on farms and ranches across the province.

Jobs Minister Lori Sigurdson introduced legislation Tuesday making farms and ranches subject to Occupational Health and Safety rules.

Farm and ranch workers would also be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits if injured on the job.

There would be new rules on labour relations and employment standards covering areas such as hours, vacation pay, minimum wages, and the safety of young workers.

Workers will be able to join unions and bargain for wages.

They will be allowed to refuse unsafe work without having to fear being fired.

About 43,000 farming and ranching operations would be affected.

“This is a historic day for Alberta,” Sigurdson told the house as she introduced Bill 6, the proposed Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act.

“If (the bill is) passed, Alberta would join every other jurisdiction in Canada in applying workplace legislation to Alberta’s farms and ranches.”

Under the bill, Alberta investigators will be allowed to investigate serious injuries or deaths that occur on the commercial portion of farms.

Figures provided by the province showed that 25 people died from farm-related accidents in 2014 nine more than the previous year.

The bill will require farm owners to buy mandatory insurance coverage for injured workers, whereas previously they could opt out.

The occupational health and safety provisions would cover anyone tasked to work on the farm, regardless of age, including a neighbour helping out for free.

Alberta is one of four provinces without mandatory workers’ compensation for farmers. The others are Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, and Prince Edward Island.

Farms and ranches are currently exempt from employment standard rules when it comes to supervision, types and hours of work regarding children.

And Alberta is the only jurisdiction in Canada without any form of labour relations coverage for farm and ranch workers.

The regulations will be worked out following consultations in November and December and phased in.

However, farms and ranch workers will be protected by occupational health and safety rules as of Jan. 1. They will also be covered under workers’ compensation as of that date.

The legislation was promised but stalled for years under former Progressive Conservative governments.

Opposition Liberal Leader David Swann said the bill is long overdue and covers all the bases.

“I say hallelujah. Everybody is going to benefit from this,” said Swann.

He said Alberta farmers are already paying dearly for not having workers’ compensation insurance, saying that when there is serious injury or death on a farm, the farm owner pays another way through civil court.

“These guys get sued and they go under,” said Swann.

The opposition Wildrose party said the bill is rushed and needs more consultation with farmers before becoming law.

Wildrose agriculture critic Rick Strankman said farmers need to know what we are doing as legislators in Edmonton will not cause them undo harm through excessive regulation.

“The most important solution is education and having farmers come together, and a farmer-driven focus on solutions.”


U.S. crop insurance controversy worth watching

Strong opposition to a plan to slash crop insurance support in the United States is worth watching even though it highlights the difference between the American and Canadian systems.

On October 28, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would have set the federal budget for the next two years, in other words until after the 2016 Presidential and congressional elections. It would authorize an increase in the U.S. debt ceiling. To hold the line on government spending, it called for a US$3-billion chop over 10 years to the federal crop insurance program.

That decision provoked sharp reaction from the National Association of Professional Insurance Agents (PIA), which drew promises from key senators to ensure that the crop insurance wasn’t gutted when spending authorizations are decided in the coming weeks. The association got its members across the United States to flood Congress and the Senate with the message that the crop insurance program had to be protected. The legislation has been passed by the Senate on Oct. 30 but the association is confident the program will be spared.

“PIA thanks the House and Senate leadership for quickly responding to the calls from their constituents by pledging to reverse the cuts to the crop insurance program,” said PIA national vice-president of government relations Jon Gentile. “These cuts would seriously jeopardize private-sector delivery of crop insurance, part of a successful public-private partnership. America’s farmers and consumers deserve better.”

The U.S. privately run program stands in contrast to AgriInsurance in Canada, which is a federal-provincial-producer cost-shared program. AgriInsurance is a provincially delivered program to which the federal government contributes a portion of total premiums and administrative costs. The federal government also provides a reinsurance arrangement (deficit financing) to provinces. Currently, five provinces (Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia) participate in the reinsurance arrangement. Canadian farm organizations are watching development south of the border but are not offering any comments on the situation.

AgriInsurance plans have been expanded to cover livestock as well as crops including wheat, corn, oats and barley as well as horticultural crops such as lettuce, strawberries, carrots and eggplants. Some provinces also provide coverage for bee mortality as well as maple syrup production.

In the U.S., the House of Representatives is expected to undo the damage done to crop insurance when it discusses the appropriations measure to fund the federal government, which must take place by December 11. The moves has the backing of Agriculture Committee chairmen and party leaders in both chambers.

PIA will continue to work with our allies to hold congressional leadership to their word. “This victory clearly shows the power of grassroots advocacy,” Gentile said.

He said the proposed cuts could push farmers and providers out of the insurance market.

Joshua Woodard, assistant professor of agricultural business and finance at Cornell’s Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, said the proposed cuts will increase premiums, lead to lower uptake by farmers, and further discourage providers from participating in Federal Crop Insurance.

With the Agricultural Act of 2014, our policy-makers clearly established crop insurance as the primary and preferred tool for dealing with yield and revenue risks inherent to crop-based agriculture. The government relies on the private sector for delivery of the Federal Crop Insurance Program, and these companies also share in the risk.

“Some of our recent research on crop insurance participation patterns has revealed that demand can be quite responsive to subsidization. A look back to the last 40 years shows that farmers do not tend to use crop insurance unless premiums are subsidized.

“Reducing the subsidy on these revenue insurance products from the current level of approximately 60 per cent to 50 per cent would mean an increase in farmer-paid premiums on those products by about 25 per cent, and probably similar reductions in farmer buy-up.”

He said many of the larger agribusiness players are already in the process of exiting the market, perhaps because it has become far less attractive from an underwriting perspective. For example, John Deere recently completed the sale of its crop insurance business. Monsanto’s crop insurance arm — Climate Corporation — recently left the Federal Crop Insurance market as well, and Wells Fargo has put its crop insurance business up for sale.”

Crop insurance payouts soar after drought and hail


While yields may be better than expected in many areas, this season’s drought and hail still hit producers hard.

Agricultural Financial Services Corporation expects to pay out between $700 million and $900 million in crop insurance payments — a huge increase from the 2014 tally of $370 million.

“The payouts are expected to be higher than a typical year,” said corporation spokesperson Nikki Booth. “It’s been a real mixed year. We’ve had hail, lack of moisture, a whole lot of moisture and then the wildlife issue as well. It’s been a real mixed bag.”

Not all of the claims are in, and while about $300 million in payments had gone out by mid-October, the total won’t be known until later this month. The claims that have come in so far are a mix of pre-harvest losses due to drought and hail. The highest number of claims came from the Parkland region (Camrose to Drumheller) and the southern part of the province (Calgary to Foremost).

The eastern part of the province was especially hard hit by drought, said Gary Stanford, president of the Grain Growers of Canada and an Alberta Wheat Commission director.

“I heard that through the Wainwright area and over by Viking, there was a lot of land that was quite dry,” said Stanford.

Late rains kept farmers in his area from having to resort to using drought insurance, said the Magrath-area producer.

“As dry as it was in May and June, most farmers were pleasantly surprised by how good their yields were,” he said. “Certain areas were worse than others (but) the drought wasn’t nearly as big as I would have thought.”

And those filing drought claims should see decent payments, he added.

“When I farmed in the 1980s, coverage didn’t even cover all our expenses, because it was a drought year after a drought year,” said Stanford.

Since this year’s drought was preceded by two or three years of good yield, most producers have more coverage on their land.

“When your yield is higher, you can take more money for drought insurance to help cover it when there is a drought — it’s way better than it used to be back in the 1980s,” said Stanford.

Many of this year’s claims were related to hail.

“We can see where there have been big hailstorms, and how this has affected the claim numbers this year,” said Booth. “Once the rains came, we did see a significant amount of hail claims.”

About 6,400 of the 11,000 processed claims were for hail.

Some areas, such as Cardston and Strathmore, were especially hard hit.

There have also been a significant number of claims for wildlife damage. Because of the rain and wet conditions around harvest time, many producers were unable to get their crop off before wildlife could get to it.

Booth is anticipating sales of insurance will go up over the next couple of years as producers see the benefit of having insurance.

“For the next year or two after a situation like this occurs, we do see an increase in the number of producers purchasing insurance,” she said. “That’s something we might see, but it’s a bit of speculation on our part.”

More producers are buying more hail insurance because there’s so much money on the line.

“It costs so much money to put crops in, and people have high machinery payments and expenses, so people are buying as much coverage as they can for hail,” he said.

“I used to just buy enough so I could make land or rent payments, but those days are gone. We have so many expenses that you want to make sure you have everything covered when you’re buying hail insurance,” he said.

Calgary thieves targeting places where consumers leave keys in drop boxes

As Calgary experiences a dramatic spike in reported vehicle thefts, opportunistic thieves have found another way to separate cars, trucks and vans from their rightful owners.
Nearly 130 vehicles are reported stolen in Calgary each week, some of which have been snatched from dealerships, storage companies or auto body shops where owners have left their keys in what they believed was a secure lockbox.

Staff-Sgt. Kristie Verheul of the Calgary police force’s economic crimes unit says such businesses are definitely being targetted.
On a recent Sunday night, Lee and Diane Schneider parked their 2014 Jeep Cherokee in the Tower Chrysler lot to undergo repairs and dropped the keys in the lock box.
When the Schneiders called the dealership to find out when they could pick up their Jeep, the dealership had no record of their vehicle.
Lee Schneider says the receptionist admitted the dealership had been the target of a break-in where the thieves took all the keys out of the lock box’.
“When I talked to the police they said dealers have been warned this is a really lousy system,” he says.
“You’re handing your keys and the possession of your vehicle to the dealer and you expect there to be a standard of care as if it was their own vehicle.”
Verheul says police are asking dealerships to take steps to ensure keys remain out of reach of would-be thieves.
“When it comes to lock boxes, we are asking that they make them break-in proof,” says Verheul. “Ones that can’t be fished out of with a hook of some sort.”
The Schneiders are thankful their insurance will cover the theft but say they’ll think twice before leaving their keys in a drop box again.


Wild salmon fraud a widespread problem

By Karin Larsen, CBC News

DNA testing has proven that the sale of farmed Atlantic salmon fraudulently labelled as wild salmon is a widespread problem, according to a new report.

The study by conservation group Oceana used 82 samples gathered in grocery stores and restaurants in the United States to uncover widespread salmon mislabelling.

A whopping 43 per cent of the samples were found to be mislabelled, and more than two-thirds of those were Atlantic farmed salmon being passed off as wild salmon.

Wild salmon products fetch a premium in the marketplace, usually costing up to a third more.

Josh Laughren of Oceana Canada says the U.S. findings mimic Canadian studies that have shown consumers here are also frequently duped by mislabelled seafood.

He says there needs to be more transparency and accountability in the seafood industry.

“The answer is a system that actually requires traceability and labelling so that there is some assurance that you’re getting what you think you’re getting,” said Laughren.

“You can track your UPS package from halfway around the world to your door in real time,” he said. “The technology is there. We just haven’t required it from seafood, and we should.”

Unscrupulous bad actors

Fisherman Dane Chauvel of Organic Ocean Seafoods in Vancouver says mislabelling is a quick and easy way for unscrupulous players in the salmon industry to increase their margins.

“It’s bad actors that are trying to profit by misrepresenting and mislabelling an inferior product and trying to pass it off as a higher-quality product,” he told CBC News.

Mike McDermid, a former marine biologist who now co-owns Vancouver’s Fish Counter seafood shop, says consumer interest in sustainable seafood is growing, and so should the regulations around it.

“Seafood is the most complex of our food systems,” he said

“It changes hand on average five to six times. There has to be some form of regular testing at the source, a DNA fingerprinting analysis or something like that.”

Josh Laughren agrees, but feels the issue is much bigger than assuring that a piece of wild salmon sashimi on your lunch plate is actually what the menu or label says it is.

“With seafood being part of what we need to feed a growing world, it’s a great source of sustainable protein if we do it well,” he said.

“I think there’s no question that tackling this transparency and accountability issue is critical in ensuring the long-term health of our oceans and health of a really critical food supply.

Key findings

Key findings in the Oceana study include:

  • 43 per cent of salmon samples collected and tested were mislabelled.
  • The most common form of mislabelling was farmed Atlantic salmon being sold as wild salmon — 69 per cent.
  • Restaurants wrongly identified salmon five times as often as grocery stores.
  • Salmon is less likely to be mislabelled in-season versus out-of-season, especially in restaurants.
  • Products that include additional information like the type of salmon (chinook, sockeye, coho, etc.) were less likely to be mislabelled.

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