Letters to the editor – February 4, 2021

Straw better off kept in the fields

I am dismayed to read that Great Plains MDF is proposing a wheat straw plant in Alberta to make medium density fibre board. There is no soil in Western Canada that doesn’t need all of the straw produced to be put back onto the land to prevent the destruction of this precious resource.

When I graduated from Olds College in 1968, we had learned that it was unwise to burn or bale straw — unless you have livestock — because even then, the soil organic matter was becoming severely depleted.

Fifty plus years later our soils are in much worse shape with the reduction of organic matter being 40 to 85 percent from what it was when first broken. Some tests show organic matter to be less than one percent when it should be five to 10 percent to be healthy.

Sustainable farming technology is starting to rectify this problem, but the straw regenerates the land, taking 50 to 100 years to make much difference. The decaying residue has great nutritive value for future crops, and you can’t sell the straw and make up the difference by buying extra fertilizer.

This whole proposal is ill-conceived because straw is not a residual agricultural waste. Claims of reducing greenhouse emissions are false. Land that is properly covered by straw or grass sequesters carbon, not the other way around.

If this plant is built, it will fail because farmers will realize that they cannot afford this so-called “cash crop” because of the loss of their soil and higher fertilizer costs.

Another point mentioned about not cutting trees to make MDF doesn’t make sense either because there are more trees in Western Canada than there were in 1950, and where trees are cut they are replanted. Trees do not build soil — only grasses and grains do.

Dick L. Staudinger,

Alix, Alta.

Alberta must fix AgriStability

The AgriStability program was once a key program for Alberta farmers, designed to protect them against large declines in farming income. Iconic Albertan cattle ranchers and grain farmers were especially reliant on it as a guaranteed backstop should they face a bad year. It accounted for millions of dollars in the pockets of farmers who needed it the most.

However, farmers were blindsided in 2012 when the previous federal Conservative government cut AgriStability. The cuts included a reference margin limit, which limits payments and makes the program too complex. Farmers have become increasingly frustrated that there is no predictability on receiving payment. As a result, most farmers do not even bother signing up for the program any more. They don’t believe it’s worth their time or money.

Recently, the federal Liberal agriculture minister proposed to improve the program by removing the reference margin limit and increasing the compensation rate back up to 80 percent. These proposed fixes to AgriStability would produce $170 million in direct support payments to farmers annually. Alberta farmers would enjoy a substantial financial boost by receiving a significant amount of those support dollars.

To make these changes happen, the federal Liberal government needs provinces to agree to pay their 40 percent share. Provinces across Canada are agreeing, and it has come down to the prairie governments to step up in support of their farmers.

Prairie farmers are urging their provincial governments to accept the deal, but the United Conservative Party government in Alberta does not seem enthusiastic to repair this broken program. The UCP government has created the narrative that the Trudeau administration doesn’t do anything for Albertans, but here is a tangible example of action by the feds that would provide a huge benefit to Alberta. This precious opportunity for farmers may be sacrificed on the altar of politics.

Proper support programs are vital to the success of farmers and rural Alberta as a whole. I worked with Farm Credit Canada and in agricultural finance, and I know the financial stress farmers can face. The Kenny government must listen to farmers on this one, take the deal and get this important AgriStability program back on track.

Ronald Brochu,

Devon, Alta.

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