The Western Producer

Here are a few of the articles that I wrote while interning at the Western Producer.

Conservatives confident new boundaries won’t change vote results

Carlton Trail-Eagle Creek is a new riding in 2015

Sep. 24th, 2015 by Ashley Robinson

The new electoral riding of Carlton Trail-Eagle Creek is gearing up to be an interesting race now that long-time Conservative MP Maurice Vellacott is not running.

Kelly Block, Conservative MP for the old riding of Saskatoon–Rosetown–Biggar, is taking Vellacott’s place. Her former constituency, which encompassed parts of Carlton Trail-Eagle Creek, also included parts of the new Sask-atoon West riding, where in the 2011 election she won by a narrow margin of slightly more than 500 votes.

“Kelly Block moved from a riding where she won by a relatively slim margin to this one, which she realized was a relatively safe riding. So that was a strategic move on her part to become the candidate for this,” said Joseph Garcea, a political science professor at the University of Saskatchewan.

Block declined a telephone interview and would only agree to provide email comments.

She said she felt the new riding was a good fit.

“I have spent the last seven years representing a significant portion of the new rural riding of Carlton Trail-Eagle Creek and had previously lived for many years in both Warman and Waldheim, both located within the riding of Carlton Trail-Eagle Creek.”

The electoral boundaries were redrawn to reflect changes in Canada’s population. The old Carlton Trail-Eagle Creek constituency, Saskatoon-Wanuskewin, included part of Saskatoon. Garcea said it has been a historically Conservative riding with most people believing that support stemmed from the rural part of the riding.

“If (the Conservatives) lose this one, this constituency, then they really would be vulnerable in many other constituencies because this one’s a hard one for the Conservatives to lose,” Garcea said.

Block said the new boundaries will not have a major effect on the election.

Liberal candidate Alex Slusar believes the new boundaries will bring a better focus to rural issues.

“I think before there was a strong rural vote, but I think a lot of the policies and actions have been directed more towards the urban, and now we’ve got an opportunity to really make our voices heard as a rural community,” Slusar said.

NDP candidate Glenn Wright said voters have been telling him they want change, and he thinks that Carlton Trail-Eagle Creek will be one of the ridings to watch on election night.

“When I go on doorsteps I hear an awful lot of people who are undecided, and as many folks as there are that are dyed in the wool Conservative supporters, there are just as many saying to me that it’s anything but the Conservatives,” Wright said.

Green party candidate Lynn Oliphant is hoping the redrawn boundaries will mean that one of the non-Conservative candidates will win.

“(The redrawn boundaries) probably means that we’re going to have other parties represented, which I think is a good thing. It is more reflected of the will of the voters, if you will,” Oliphant said.

Garcea said support for the Conservatives would have to notably decline for a different party to win the riding.

“Even if the Conservative vote is greatly diminished, they could still win as a result of people who are anti-Conservative being split between the other two parties.”

Cancer-causing cattle disease increasing across Canada

Nov. 26th, 2015 by Ashley Robinson

Infection rates for bovine leukosis, which can cause cancer in cattle, are growing.

“(Producers) should be worried, and they should do something about it because, as I said, the prevalence is high,” said Omid Nekouei, a PhD candidate of veterinary epidemiology at the Atlantic Veterinary College.

Nekouei, who is working on a thesis study on bovine leukosis, said he has found the number of dairy cattle with the disease has increased in the last 15 to 20 years. Bovine leukosis is a virus that can cause a form of cancer called bovine lymphosarcoma.

“The lympho site is a white blood cell in our bloodstream, and cattle have the same type of white blood cells,” said John Campbell, head of the large animal clinical sciences department at the University of Saskatchewan’s Western College of Veterinary Medicine.

“Basically this virus can cause a proliferation of those white blood cells, just like a leukemia in people.”

The proliferation can cause enlarged lymph nodes in cattle and can also occur in the heart, stomach and reproductive tract.

Cattle can have the bovine leukosis gene and never develop cancer, which is usually found only in older animals.

The disease is commonly spread through blood contamination.

“If you injected one cow and then injected another cow with one needle, you could potentially spread the virus from one animal to another,” Campbell said.

The disease can also be transmitted in the uterus of the cow to the calf and through milk from cow to calf.

Bovine leukosis is more prominent in dairy herds, which Campbell said could be because dairy cattle are sold and moved around more often than beef animals and because multiple dairy calves are fed milk from the same cow.

David Kelton, research chair in dairy cattle health at Dairy Farmers of Ontario, said the disease’s major economic effect is on trade.

“(European countries have) been very aggressive over the years at identifying diseases and especially if they’re present at a very low level in their population, that they’ve worked to get rid of them.”

Kelton believes Canada has not fought to eliminate the disease because there has been no major effect on humans or the beef and dairy industries.

However, an American study recently linked bovine leukosis to breast cancer in humans.

The study, which was explained in an article published in September called Exposure to Bovine Leukemia Virus is Associated with Breast Cancer: A Case-Control Study, found that breast cancer incidence is markedly higher in countries with raw milk consumption.

It also suggested that humans could have been introduced to the bovine leukosis gene.

“This certainly isn’t a (definitive) study, but it certainly raises the question,” Kelton said.

It’s not certain how many cows are affected with bovine leukosis in Canada, but the first national dairy study is being completed this year.

Cider makers hope to be set free

Nov. 26th, 2015 by Ashley Robinson

The craft alcohol industry in Saskatchewan is taking off, and cider production is a growing part of it.

“Over the last decade, cider production, cider consumption in North America has gone up dramatically,” said Tyler Kaban, head cider maker at the Crossmount Cider Co. near Saskatoon.

The Prairies have been known for catching onto alcohol trends later than other places, he added.

The increased cider popularity will increase demand for Saskatchewan-grown fruit and other crops to make the alcohol.

A hindrance to the growing industry has been the Saskatchewan government’s regulations regarding the craft liquor industry.

Cideries are covered under the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority’s cottage winery rules, which state that they are allowed to produce 45,000 litres of alcohol per year. However, this may change.

The provincial government launched an independent review of the craft alcohol industry this year.

An SLGA spokesperson said the review is nearing completion, and a report will be submitted to the government for consideration soon. It’s response is expected to be released early next year.

Sue Echlin, owner of Living Sky Winery near Perdue, Sask., hopes the legislation will be updated.

The company started making cider as well as wine a few years ago.

However, it was forced to stop making cider last year after discovering that it couldn’t produce enough under the legislation to make a profit after production costs.

It resumed production this year in small batches, packaging it in growlers (large jugs) instead of bottles.

“It looks like there might be some changes to the cottage winery policy coming that will allow us to sort of make more cider, but in the interim, we’re just going to make small, really artisanal, limited batches,” Echlin said.

She sees room for growth in the province’s craft alcohol industry.

“It makes great sense that in this province, that grows so much, that we can have the opportunity to expand our abilities to make those raw products into great drinkable products.”

The Crossmount Cider Co., which is just getting up and running, has its own orchards.

It recently installed its cider making equipment and will begin production with sales to start in spring. The first batches will use apples from British Columbia.

Crossmount has a close association with the University of Sask-atchewan’s apple breeding program and is growing and testing varieties of apples from the university for cider production.

“The type of work, collaboration, that we’re doing with them will really lead to higher quality products and very unique products in this part of the world, or anywhere in the world, because we’re actually using seedlings of theirs, some of them are not even named yet,” Kaban said.

He said the province’s cottage winery policy doesn’t restrict his operation because it has not started selling products yet. He doesn’t yet know the exact details about how much cider it will be able to produce and sell.

“Ideally, we would like to be able to go beyond that 45,000 litre mark so we can actually sell off site and create more awareness for the product,” Kaban said.

The SLGA said five cottage wineries are licensed in the province.

Farmers may feel new climate change focus

Jan. 7th, 2016 by Ashley Robinson

Producers and researchers argue that the agricultural industry has already taken steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Farmers might soon have to deal with a worldwide political push to take more action on climate change.

The recent climate change summit in Paris, and a new Liberal government in Ottawa that has vowed to make it a priority, has brought added urgency to an issue long considered less important by the previous Conservative government.

The COP21/United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Paris has taken a new approach to establishing climate change targets.

“This time what they’re going to do, so they say, is try to create a different kind of framework in which they won’t impose or make any attempt to impose targets on countries,” said Jeremy Rayner, director of the University of Saskatchewan’s Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy.

“Countries will come forward with targets on their own.”

In Canada, prime minister Justin Trudeau has said he wants to work with the provinces on targets by meeting with premiers, who have told him they want to draw up their own climate change strategy for a bottom-up approach.

The Alberta government recently announced that it will implement a carbon tax, and British Columbia already has one.

“In some ways, for agriculture it is unfortunate that we’ve moved to the carbon tax because if we had a cap and trade system, then saved emissions would be counted as credits that could be sold,” Rayner said.

Purple gas and diesel used for agriculture are exempt from the carbon tax in B.C., and it is also ex-pected to be exempt in Alberta.

However, Manitoba recently announced that it would stick with a carbon cap-and-trade program for its climate change plan.

Even with carbon taxes being brought into the equation, agriculture still has a lot of opportunities to reduce its impact on the environment.

Many prairie producers took measures to help the environment decades ago by shifting to zero and minimal tillage and restoring shelter belts and waterways.

Tim Nerbas, director with the Sask-atchewan Soil Conservation Association, said 70 percent of Saskatchewan farmland is under direct seeding or a low soil disturbance system.

“We’re actually removing carbon from the system and we’re storing it back in the soil because when the soil was first broke, a lot of carbon was released for the agriculture of the day,” he said.

However, Nerbas said harmful practices, such as broadcasting nitrogen, appear to be returning.

He said it’s concerning because it leaves nutrients in the fertilizer on top of the soil, which then run off and end up in water systems and the atmosphere.

Jeff Schoenau, a professor in the U of S’s soil science department, said farmers should use the four Rs of fertilizer management: the right rate, the right source, the right time and the right place.

It means using GPS technology to place exact amounts of fertilizer where it is needed most.

Having a diversified crop rotation also helps build organic matter in the soil.

Schoenau said management practices that increase yields will generally enhance carbon sequestration in the soil.

“By increasing photosynthesis in the whole agricultural system, invariably some of that carbon that is fixed by plants in photosynthesis gets returned back to the soil in the form of dead roots and unharvested crops and crop residue,” he said.

High yielding crops can also be good for reducing cattle’s impact on the environment.

Reynold Bergen, science director with the Beef Cattle Research Council, said improving crop yields is important because producing forage and feeding from fewer acres lowers farmers’ environmental footprint

As well, he said anything that improves feed efficiency for cattle will help reduce their impact on the environment.

Feeding cattle grain instead of grass can reduce their impact on the environment because they can digest grain more efficiently, said Bergen.

Producers should also consult veterinarians or nutritionists to make sure cattle are getting the right balance of nutrients from their food.

Cattle also help the environment by grazing, but Bergen said it should be on a healthy pasture.

“That healthy pasture also has healthy roots, and those roots are a natural form of carbon sequestration,” he said.

“Roots are bigger and healthier in healthy plants than they are in overgrazed pastures, and so maintaining healthy pastures is really key, of course.”

It’s still not clear how the current political spotlight on climate change will affect agriculture, but experts agree that best management practices can help producers mitigate agriculture’s environmental footprint.

For a full list of my work at the Western Producer you can visit:

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