Hay, a rant!

Canada has begun shipping hay to China, according to this report.  The report also highlights Canada’s involvement in China’s growing dairy industry and mentions how the “Government of Canada is delivering on its commitment to agricultural co-operation with China”.  This first shipment of hay was only 20 containers, or about $600,000 worth.   The way the report reads, this is a good thing for Canada  – we’re selling them this wonderful hay, we’re selling live animals for their dairy herds, we’re advising on “best management” practices, etc.  It’s great that China is developing a dairy industry, if that’s what they want.  Canada’s been shipping hay for quite a while to various places, and not in huge quantities by global standards (the US ships far more), so the small quantity going to China is really not news.  Why does this bother me? It’s not just about the hay.

It’s about the words “agricultural co-operation”.  The North American continent has wildly diverse geography and climate, so regional specialization is pretty much a given.  Don’t get me wrong.  Self sufficiency is one of the most important goals my family has, and we believe it should be the goal of every community too.  But consider this.  If our communities were all completely self sufficient and self sustaining, and global trade didn’t exist, which is a scenario I like to dwell on in my more utopian daydreams,  my children would never have seen or tasted citrus fruit, bananas, pineapples, almonds, pecans, olives, chocolate, or many spices.  I would never have tasted coffee!   None of those things will grow in my climate without huge inputs of heat, water, light, and even then, not all of them are possible – olives for example.   Many people who do the locavore thing (myself included) have a list of exceptions based on this whole issue.  Without regional trade, I could still feed my children a healthy and varied diet from what is available locally, but our winter diet would be a little repetitive. And of course, there are many parts of the world right now where people never see some of the local foods my children take for granted.  Despite my locavore aspirations, I do buy California oranges occasionally, mandarins at Christmas and definitely chocolate!  As a complete aside, if you want to see some really great visuals on regional eating and what people spend on food in other places, have a look at Peter Menzel’s book, “How the World Eats“.  So despite my locavore and self sufficiency beliefs,  I think regional trade is a pretty natural outcome of diversity.

But here’s where I disagree with “agricultural co-operation”.  Canada exports frozen whole broilers to China.  We import processed chicken from China.  Why in the world?  Canada raises beef.  A lot of it for the domestic market but we export beef too and import even more.  Why, why, why? I know it’s called the global economy which would fall apart without trades like this.  And I’m not an expert on economics, for sure.  Canada isn’t alone in doing business this way – The US and Australia do huge amounts too.  In Europe, the EU requires England to carry milk in it’s grocery stores from other countries, even though they have more than enough dairy to supply themselves (or they used to before the common market concept!).  It may be the global economy, but it’s crazy stuff.

To get back to my concern about the hay going to China.  What do they get to sell us in return?  What does agricultural co-operation mean in this context?  Is Canadian hay going into dairy cows there and coming back to Canada as ice cream? or cheese?  Stuff we already produce plenty of domestically?  Is the government thinking this through?  Nope, they’re just thinking about the dollar signs.  Speaking of which, does anyone else think this will make the domestic price for hay go up, since the export price is already increasing?  How are we ever going to get people to buy into buying local when governments can’t even manage it within their own countries or regions?

One last thing.  Overseas buyers are interested in buying up agricultural land in Canada.  This article might raise your hackles as it does mine.  If XYZ  company from wherever owns 1000 acres of BC rangeland, lets say, they could grow their own hay or beef, save the purchase costs, and ship it to themselves.  That’s the best case scenario.  Because really, think of all the other things they could do with it too.

I know this whole rant is preaching to the choir.  Sorry.  But we who know our right from our wrong have to be vocal about it.  Educate our customers, our friends, our families. Grow our own food, raise our own meat.  Write letters to MPs, write blogs to the world.  Get the word out there.  Raise our children to have strong values and to question those who don’t.  Live our lives like this stuff matters.


8 thoughts on “Hay, a rant!

  1. A lot of it does seem strange to me. We try to be somewhat self sufficient, but I am happy for things like chocolate 😉

  2. Well, you asked for it. I’ll try to restrain myself. Clever title, btw.

    I like your product. You like mine. We make a contract, agree on a price, exchange goods and call it macaroni. What, exactly, is the government’s role in this?

    I don’t care what the group of humans behind this line sell to the group of humans behind that line. We’re all humans here. Countries come and go every so many centuries. The human condition continues to improve, often in spite of government action. Each of us will only act to improve our condition.

    Because goods are scarce, those who utilize resources most efficiently profit the most…and gain access to additional resources. Profit is THE measure of efficiency. Let’s say you live in Canada and grow more hay than you need and feel like exporting your nutrients in exchange for something. Let’s say I live in China and need hay and just happen to have something you need…even if it’s simply a medium of future exchange. Nothing wrong with that is there? Maybe that hay could be purchased by someone in BC instead. The Canadian would certainly pay less for shipping. That means that I, the buyer for China, am not only willing to pay the top price for the hay, I’m also willing to carry it halfway around the world. I, the Chinese buyer, have to find some pretty incredible efficiency to overcome the time and energy used to haul hay and the fact that I paid a price above market price. Remember, profit is the measure of efficiency and because goods are scarce (boy are they!) we have to ensure only the most efficient producers can utilize our raw materials. Price/profit manages this for us. Any number of government-created distortions prevent this from working but that’s the ideal…

    If Chinese just feed cows they need to look into ways to manage their water, build soil and manage grazing locally because I promise you, their cows aren’t any more efficient at eating hay than ours are. My guess is they are consuming their domestic dairy production and shipping out container loads of useless consumer electronics and bicycles in exchange for the hay. Exports are the means by which we pay for imports. If I want cinnamon I have to have something to trade for it so it’s in my best interest to solve my half of the equation before my cinnamon supply runs out.

    It’s a shame we N. Americans are exporting our soil carbon in exchange for useless trinkets. It has happened before though. From Magua in Last of the Mohicans, “The Dutch landed, and gave my people the fire-water; they drank until the heavens and the earth seemed to meet, and they foolishly thought they had found the Great Spirit. Then they parted with their land. Foot by foot, they were driven back from the shores, until I, that am a chief and a Sagamore, have never seen the sun shine but through the trees, and have never visited the graves of my fathers.”

    Chinese, Canadian, Yank, Huron, Dutch…we’re all humans…borders be damned. If I, in Illinois need cinnamon (and I do), let me trade for it. But, for Pete’s sake, let it be an honest trade. I don’t want to trade away my land for trinkets…electronic or otherwise. And please keep government tarriffs (taxes) from artifically inflating the price I have to pay for my cinnamon, sugar, etc.

    Sorry about that.

    • No apology needed – it’s a rant, you’re allowed. I’m glad to see you restrained yourself, lol.
      You’ve clearly been round this line of thought before, your usual clarity is evident. Just to clarify myself, I did not mean this to be necessarily about China. It could be about any country, as you say. I just used that report as an example, because it caught my eye the other day. This topic is also obviously only partly about hay. The same pertains to a great many agricultural “products” that are exported and imported globally.

      • If some fella in Whatsthatistan finds a way to entice me into selling him my broilers, ships them to his home, cuts them up and entices me into buying them back again, good for him. Good for him.

        I have seen Chinese containers up and down the road here in the Midwest. What I have learned is they don’t want to send them home empty so they fill them with soybeans. I suspect the hay is the same deal.

        It’s too bad we don’t make anything…and you can guess who I blame for that. BTW, check out the trade deficit the US has with Canada. Your ribbon population is poised and ready to march…hockey sticks in hand. Good think I still have some Loonies somewhere.

    • If you’ve got any Canadian pennies, get rid of them – they’ve stopped making them. Either that or hold onto them for a century till they have value again.

      • Canadian pennies? They show up all the time down here. I even have a couple of centennial pennies…

        It’s only the post ’96 Canadian pennies that are worthless…or nearly so.

      • ha – true.
        I just had a US dollar coin at work today – first one I’ve seen.
        And get your collecting hat on, because apparently the Canadian Mint is about to produce some commemorative quarters with dinosaurs that glow in the dark. Not kidding.

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