Agriculture This Week - Companies influencing farm decisions

As we embark on a new year, it is always a time to contemplate what the world of agriculture may evolve to become?

One thing that does seem likely to occur moving forward is that big corporations will increasingly decide what farmers produce, and perhaps more concerning will increasingly be telling producers how to operate their farms.

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The consumer has always had some level of control in regards to what producers purchase by their collective buying habits.

If consumers shy away from buying romaine lettuce for months after a food scare, farmers will get the message and reduce production.

On a larger scale supply-and-demand has always been a key factor in the cropping intentions of farmers, or on how many replacement heifers they decide to keep on the cattle side of things.

But for the most part business has had limited forays into telling producers how to operate their farms.

That is changing.

Recently, McDonald’s, the biggie in terms of fast food restaurants, released a new policy on antibiotics that will affect cattle producers in North America, Europe, Brazil and Australia.

The chain has always had the power to influence things on the farm. When they were selling the McRib, a pork-based sandwich, the demand for pork increased, and a corresponding price bump was often the result. That is the influence of a major chain using more of a particular product than they normally do.

The latest directive for the chain is not about influencing the supply/demand chain by altering its menu, but is about moving to a more defined and stringent set of regulations regarding how much beef they purchase has been raised on the farm.

The company’s new policy is supposed to be designed to encourage producers to adopt an approach to antibiotic use where critical antibiotics for human medicine are used as a last resort or never used at all. That means phasing out use of the highest priority critically important antimicrobials, as defined by the World Health Organization.

Given issues with bacterial resistance to certain drugs the policy has some obvious merits.

But back on the farm, producers are going to find they have to change their practices if they want to sell into the supply chain headed to McDonalds.

Whenever a tried and true regiment of antibiotics is changed, it leaves two questions for producers, are the alternatives as effective? And, equally important, will the use of alternative controls cost more?

The cost factor is certainly a valid concern because it is highly unlikely McDonalds, or any other company looking to impose new regulations on farm production have any interest in increasing what they pay for product to offset any added production costs.

That will be the concern of producers moving forward. Even when the regulations appear strongly based on the goal of human health, should farm producers pay the added costs, or should business and consumers pay more to ensure the safety they seek?

Calvin Daniels is Editor with Yorkton This Week.

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