Bread and Wine

November 1. Zurich airport: I leave behind the brilliant colours of late autumn; the still lush green pastures. I don’t mind leaving behind the heavy fog that often accompanies this time of year. If we’re lucky it lifts by noon, or maybe mid afternoon, to make way for a deep blue fall sky.

An Agriculture Canada analysis of the impact of government cost recovery on the food industry says the total cross-government bill is $139 million and the impact on most farm income is small.The conclusions of the long-awaited report were immediately criticized by farm and farm supply groups as inaccurate and too conservative."I think this is a very low-ball figure, that's for sure," said Sally Rutherford of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture. "To be fair to them, I know they had a terrible time trying to get numbers out of other departments."A number of industry groups, including the feed industry, have complained the numbers for their sectors are not credible because they start from inadequate assumptions about costs and effects.Rutherford noted the report was completed inside the department and sent to selected sources in mid-December without fanfare. She suggested the low-key release is an indication of the lack of confidence in the credibility of the analysis.According to the report, the food sector faces cost recovery fees of $110 million from Agriculture Canada and $29 million from other departments, including Health Canada (responsible for the Pest Management Regulatory Agency and veterinary drug approvals) and Transport Canada."From 1994-95 to 1997-98, cost recovery fees affecting the agri-food sector increased 28 percent, from $109 million to $139 million," it said.Cattle sectorThe sector most affected is the cattle industry, which last year faced $17.2 million in cost recovery fees and saw a 3.2 percent reduction in net operating income because of it.The meat processing industry faced an additional bill of almost $10 million, with an income impact of 3.4 percent.The study said the large impact on the processor income bottom line came because "the industry has virtually no capacity to pass on these costs to their input suppliers, nor to their customers."Because of its size, the largest sector hit came in the prairie grains and oilseeds industry.The sector faced fees of $62 million in 1997-98 and Agriculture Canada economists said the overall impact was a 2.5 percent reduction in net operating income.The study said fees have started to decline.In the potato industry, fees for such services as inspection and grading reduced net operating income by an average 2.7 percent, and as much as 7.5 percent on smaller farms.

I’m on my way ‘home’ to the farm in Westlock for a month. People ask me if I still know where home is. After two and a half months in Schleitheim, supporting my aging in-laws, Schleitheim has become home again too. I guess home has become where I am, whether that’s Switzerland, Canada, or Zambia. We’ll be spending the winter in Schleitheim this year. Our son and his wife are presenting us with twins for Christmas (give or take a bit), our first grandchildren. We want to be around to enjoy them for a little, after which we’ll probably spend some time in Zambia again with the small farmers project.

 

Veteran Winnipeg Liberal MP John Harvard has been asked by the prime minister to answer a question that has bedeviled the Liberal party for more than four decades - why are Liberals not more popular in the West?Harvard will chair a Liberal caucus task force of two MPs and a senator from British Columbia, two Alberta senators and MPs from Ontario, Quebec and Prince Edward Island.Saskatchewan critics last week offered some quick answers to the question of why the province is not Liberal country. The Saskatchewan Party complained the province is not represented on the task force and is being neglected.Harvard said the group will receive opinion from Saskatchewan Liberals and from other provincial groups.On Jan. 7, prime minister Jean ChrŽtien announced formation of the 12-member caucus task force to hold meetings across the West, with an order to report back by October.ChrŽtien said it will be an effort to allow Western Canadians to "articulate their hopes, aspirations and concerns as Canada approaches a new millennium."He said the government wants to hear from westerners "as they move toward assuming their proper place in governing Canada at the dawn of the 21st century." Others saw it as a simple Liberal quest to figure out how they can stay in power by winning more seats west of Ontario. The Liberals last won the most western seats in the 1953 election.Harvard, a 10-year parliamentary veteran and chair of the House of Commons agriculture committee, accepted the latter view and defended it."All political parties are always trying to figure out how to win more political support," he said in a Jan. 8 interview from Winnipeg. "This is as normal as milk going onto my dry cereal. I don't understand the cynicism."He said the task force begins by understanding that Western Canada has provided slim picking for Liberals in recent memory. In the 1997 election, Liberals won just 16 of 88 seats in the four western provinces."I realize there is a tough nut to crack," he said. "But I'm always an optimist. My goal will be to prepare a report that is both descriptive and prescriptive."University of Manitoba political scientist Paul Thomas figures the task force will quickly find there are few simple solutions.It will report there is a problem and perhaps could recommend some symbolic gestures such as cabinet or caucus meetings in the West, a bureaucratic process to guarantee a hearing for western opinions or perhaps a committee of senior bureaucrats to regularly deal with western issues, he said.But much of the western alienation comes from a perception that is not always supported by facts, Thomas said. It is a perception of the region as a victim in confederation.Yet the last Conservative government dealt with many traditional western grievances, from the National Energy Program and free trade to multi-billion dollar farm aid spending.The Tory reward was to lose every one of its western seats in 1993 to a regional party created to protest western grievances."These attitudes of being a victim are so deeply entrenched that it is a delusion to imagine a task force can find a way for the Liberals to overcome it," he said.Harvard said he accepted that some western grievances may be based more on myth than reality."But in politics, perception becomes reality and that's what we have to deal with," he said.

Last Friday Res Mueller of Osterfingen was spraying herbicide on his nicely emerged dinkel. Dinkel is an old grain that has seen a strong rise in popular demand in the last years. We had dinkel bread with our apple/celery soup last Sunday. The bread had a rich nutty flavour which I love. If you are a white bread person, you would probably find it too strong.
Our Swiss farm, the Emmerhof, was named after emmer, another old grain that has seen resurgence. I wonder how much the demand for these old traditional grains has to do with their taste, and how much with mistrust of modern plant breeding that many think fosters mass production and less real nutrition.
Res’s field is surrounded by the Osterfingen vineyards, resplendent in rich reds, coppers and golds. It was in one of those vineyards that I helped with the harvest a few weeks ago. Later that day I had accompanied Werner as he delivered the grapes to the Lindenhof winery. Part of the ritual of delivering the grape harvest is to drink a glass of wine together, a lovely Rose.

 

Grain farmers won't have to pay CP Rail's bills in its legal battle with the Canadian Wheat Board, says a senior railway official."At the end of the day, I don't have the capability to just pass costs on, so I wouldn't expect that to occur," said Ray Foot, assistant vice-president for grain.During an appearance at the annual convention of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association, Foot was asked whether the railway would try to recoup from farmers its legal bills and any damages assessed by the courts.The railway has been sued for $45 million by the CWB for failing to provide adequate grain-hauling service during the winter of 1996-97.It has already faced the expense of defending itself during six weeks of public hearings by the Canadian Transportation Agency last year. In September, the agency ruled that CP illegally discriminated against grain in favor of other commodities like coal.Foot told the wheat growers the railway would still prefer to settle its dispute with the board without going to court."I really hope we will not get to that point," he said. "We've talked about whether things like non-binding mediation might be a better manner to address this issue in."The previous day, the wheat growers had passed a resolution urging the wheat board to drop its court case.Bill Cooper of West Bend, Sask., who introduced the motion, said farmers won't benefit from any compensation won by the board."The railways probably spent $3 million already and that will be reflected in the freight rates at some point and we'll end up paying," he said. "And even if they get $30 or $40 million, it will get included in the freight rate too."

I tasted some more of the Lindenhof wine at the Schaffhausen trade fair (Messe) last weekend, a deep red cabernet merlot. Wine is definitely an important industry in the Schaffhausen area. If a person tasted wine at every booth at the Messe, they would have trouble finding their way home later. No wonder the Messe is such a popular affair!

 

McCain Foods says its $93.9 million french fry potato processing plant will be located in the County of Lethbridge.McCain announced the plant in the fall of 1998, but did not have a site selected.It said last week the site will be about 12 kilometres east of Coaldale, near Chin, Alta., adjacent to Highway 3 and the CP Rail line.The world's largest french fry processor will now seek licensing, infrastructure support and regulatory approvals in preparation for construction. The plant is scheduled to begin operations in 2000.

A bottle of Stamm wine is in my suitcase, designated for a raclette party with friends in Westlock this Sunday evening. The bottle comes from Thomas and Mariann Stamm’s family winery in Thayingen, on the other side of Schaffausen. Too bad these Stamms aren’t relatives!

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