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Top 5 Ag News Stories Of 2009

Look beyond your standard industry sources for material as this can give you a fresh perspective and new ideas about shared challenges.

Agribusiness was a fixture in headlines of the largest media outlets in Canada in 2009. With so much focus on the highs and lows, January is a good time to reflect on the biggest new stories from the past year and consider the plan ahead for the coming seasons. Here are five of the biggest ag issues from 2009 and their implications for 2010.

1. VOLATILE COMMODITY MARKETS

With prices at their highest in 30 years in mid-June 2008, many producers went into 2009 with a bumper year behind them. Since then, prices have declined with the recession, which affected the pricing threshold for basic food items. At the same time, we have continued to see a growing need for food around the world along with increased biofuel demands. Some hope these new linkages between food and energy markets will break the downward trend in agricultural commodity prices. Meanwhile fertilizer prices have experienced some extreme fluctuations of their own.

To navigate these choppy waters, many producers have been concentrating on beefing up their marketing know-how while doing all they can to get the best yields possible. Markets may remain volatile but strategic business decisions and sound agronomic choices can help you weather the storm.

2. EXTREME WEATHER

With a record dry spring in some parts of the Prairies and relentless flooding in others, 2009 was a roller coaster of extreme weather systems. For many, a wet, cold summer stunted crop growth and caused producers to fall behind schedule, though some found relief in a warm, dry harvest. It often seemed as though what one area of the country needed desperately was what another had in excess.

Despite erratic weather conditions, many growers made out well depending on crop, agronomic choices and marketing decisions. For others, the year was simply a disappointment. While some factors — weather and commodity prices — are beyond a producer’s control, knowledge is always a powerful tool to navigate the challenges and opportunities that may come your way. The winter season is a great time to do some concerted learning: catch up your reading, consider taking a course or workshop, and reflect on what you’ve learned this past year. Look beyond your standard industry sources for material as this can give you a fresh perspective and new ideas about shared challenges.

3. TRADE

The past year was full of high profile trade issues — more fuel for top news across Canada. For example, after reports of genetically modified CDC Triffid flaxseed contaminating flax shipments to Europe in early September, Europe banned any further imports of Canadian flax. With 70 per cent of Canada’s flax exports destined for Europe, the ban caused great pressure on the flaxseed market, forcing producers to sell at much lower prices.

Then in November, China announced drastic trade restrictions

on Canadian canola. This posed a significant issue for canola producers, given the quantity of canola typically shipped to China. According to the Canola Council of Canada, our nation was the number one canola exporter to China in 2008, exporting 2.87 million tonnes worth $1.3 billion.

The past year also saw numerous news stories about the U. S.’s mandatory country-of-origin labelling (COOL) law, which requires food items to list the origin of all agricultural ingredients. The Canadian government argues it imposes “unfair and unnecessary costs” on the supply chain, reducing competitiveness and creating confusion between Canada and the U. S. This issue is still on the table as talks continue and the WTO dispute settlement board convenes to determine if the new law meets the U. S.’s trade obligations in a report due later this year.

Trade is sure to remain a hot topic in the year ahead — after all, it is essential to the agriculture industry. Canada is the

third largest exporter of agricultural products in the world. Keeping on top of trade issues is important for everyone in this industry.

4. GLOBAL FOOD SECURITY CHALLENGES

Within the past few years, food security has become a topic for discussion even at the most urban intersections of the country. Popularity of books such as “In Defense of Food” and the movie “Food Inc.” illustrate the concern and intrigue among the general public. These discussions are well warranted. With world population expanding by about two people per second, we will reach an estimated nine billion by 2050. To meet the dietary needs of these people, production will need to increase by 70 per cent. Simply put, farmers need to grow more from less. With this challenge ahead, now is the time to evaluate farming practices and policies, be champions of sustainable farming, and encourage agricultural innovation.

5. BUSINESS INNOVATION

The very definition of agriculture is expanding. As volatile markets cause uncertainty for many Canadian producers, many are diversifying their operation to take advantage of new opportunities. Agricultural news in 2009 featured stories of producers experimenting with niche crops or breeds, adding an agritourism component to their operation, connecting with new buyers — from local chefs to overseas businesses, or offering new services such as seed treatment. What’s more, we’re hearing about these initiatives in new ways: via Twitter, blogs, online news services, networking events, and more. These initiatives and new ways of sharing information are all excellent examples of how Canadian producers are seeing opportunities in the challenges and are demonstrating true Canadian innovation.

Greg Jowett heads the Western Business Region for Syngenta Crop Protection Canada, Inc.

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