Letters to the editor – March 19, 2020

No need to kill all the gophers

Re: Prairie farm groups vow to fight PMRA strychnine ban, (WP, March 12).

I write this in response to the headline in the March 12 edition concerning the proposed strychnine ban. I am very much in favour of this proposal.

I was a veterinary practitioner (mostly large animal) in rural Saskatchewan for more than 40 years and had considerable experience with this evil chemical.

I call it “evil” because it causes death by spastic paralyses of the respiratory muscles — the animal dies an agonizing death by suffocation. Any scavenger who eats a gopher that happens to die above ground stands a good chance of perishing the same way.

Strychnine takes no prisoners. Any non-target critter that takes the bait is at risk.

Most of my strychnine experience was treating dogs that were deliberately targeted (as well as a few that ate a dead gopher). A standard claim made in this debate is the plethora of broken legs in cattle and horses caused by gopher holes. I never saw a fracture attributed to a gopher hole my entire career.

Gopher colonies invariably are located in well drained, overgrazed pastures. The gophers do not cause the overgrazing — they are there because it is overgrazed.

My wife and I ran our practice from a farm west of Ebenezer we moved to in 1996. We inherited a huge colony like this just across the road from the yard. I did nothing to “control” these gophers other than good grazing management. Three years later the whole colony disappeared. The only gophers I have seen there since is the occasional striped gopher.

I have since learned that colony collapses like this are a normal part of the grassland ecology. This applies to prairie dog colonies as well. It is believed to be caused by the same bacteria (yersina pestis) that caused the bubonic plague. This bug can be readily cultured from fleas associated with the rodents.

A gopher colony will grow until it reaches an unknown “tipping point” when the plague decimates the colony in a few weeks. The soil at this site will ultimately be healthier due to aeration and nutrient incorporation facilitated by the burrowing and the addition of gopher dung and their remains.

Full disclosure — Growing up I embraced “The only good gopher is a dead gopher” ethic like all Saskatchewan farm boys are taught as soon as they learn how to use a .22 rifle. Looking back, I realize all those pastures we tried to cleanse of cute little guys were always teeming with the little varmints the next spring. Maybe we were actually perpetuating the colony by preventing it from reaching the tipping point.

Since the dawn of industrial agriculture the “varmints — let’s kill them all” attitude has pervaded North America. There is a growing body of research that shows this is a bad idea, whether it’s coyotes, crows or gophers. We will never exterminate gophers with this noxious poison.

We can live with these little guys, in fact they can make our world a better place. What would Saskatchewan be without gophers?

Kenn Wood

Ebenezer, Sask.

Seed royalty plan not good for farmers

I’d like to make a few observations on the seed royalty proposed by the seed companies.

I haven’t seen any figures about the extent of the royalty, but let’s compare it to the canola seed prices. The seed companies took canola that was developed by producers’ and taxpayers’ money, paid zero for it; added one gene and voila, the price tripled overnight.

Seed costs went from $10 an acre to $30 per acre. It didn’t stop there. it’s now doubled again to approximately $65 an acre.

I haven’t got the figures of what the seed companies pay the producer for growing the seed, but I’m guessing less than $15 per bushel. Allow another $15 a bushel for cleaning and treating; I’m not sure what treating costs are but the seed companies control that too.

A bag of seed, one bushel, costs the grower approximately $650, almost 20 times their cost to produce it. I understand that research costs are above that, but 22 times?

A couple of chemical companies have made enough in a few years to buy control of the whole seed industry. Now they’re pushing for the same situation in the cereal grain seed. There’s one way to stop that — just don’t buy any seed that has a royalty attached to it.

Roger Brandl,  

Fort St. John, B.C.


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