Water, water everywhere: Why irrigation would help Western Canada beat drought

Ken and Brian Vandeburgt have never seen corn so short on their dairy farm near Dewdney, B.C. “Typically we have 12-foot high corn,” Ken says. “This year it’s really short. It looks like Saskatchewan corn.”

The brothers also just finished the third of five cuts of their hay, but the fields are so dry that “the diesel that we burnt was worth more than the feed that we cut.”

In a typical year, the Vandeburgts fight mud on their farm, which sprawls in the valley of the mighty Fraser River in a normally wet, lush part of Canada. But this year’s hot, dry summer across B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan has left thousands of dairy, cattle and grain producers parched, as they grapple with the worst drought in more than a decade.

BEN NELMS for National Post

BEN NELMS for National PostAn irrigation system sprays water on David Janssens hay field at his farm.

But Western Canada’s struggles with dry weather leave farmers in much of the world scratching their heads. There is a simple solution to lack of rain, employed to great success all over the world and in much of Canada: irrigation.

Israel, which famously made its deserts bloom, is an agricultural exporter, producing grain, cotton, wheat, sunflowers and citrus fruits, with only a small fraction of Canada’s fresh water.

Israel’s irrigation know-how has also yielded industrial spinoffs. For example, Netafim Irrigation Inc., born on a kibbutz 50 years ago, is now on every continent, employs 4,000 people, and its sales of drip irrigation technology earned revenue last year of about US$750 million.

California, meanwhile, relies on irrigation to produce the bulk of North America’s fresh vegetables. But as California grapples with a four-year drought, it lacks the key resource that Canada boasts in abundance: fresh water.

California must bring water across the Rockies, while farmers in western Canada are near an abundant supply of water in lakes and rivers — if only they could get it to their crops like other farmers do.

The plight of the Vandeburgts contrasts with the broad smile on the face of David Janssens, a fellow B.C. dairy farmer who works 650 acres of the agricultural land reserve in Surrey, just south of Vancouver.

In the late 1990s, after weathering a couple of dry summers, Nicomekl Farms dug trenches and installed high-density, big black flexible pipe across his farm. Big hose reel irrigator sets, like giant guns, irrigate four to five hectares at a time, day and night.

“Investing in irrigation seemed to be the right thing to do,” says Janssens, who milks 450 cows and has six employees.

Other farmers, as their crops wither, see his lush fields and tell him he’s lucky. “It’s not luck, it’s smarts,” he says. “You spend money. It’s not rocket science. It’s pumps and pipes.”

The water, he says, comes from the Nicomekl River, which flows past his farm. “There’s still lots of water around,” he notes. He points to the Fraser, which pours millions of litres of fresh water into the Pacific Ocean every day, water he suggests B.C. could harness to grow food.

Agriculture and Agri-food Canada did not have anyone available to comment for this story.

BEN NELMS for National Post

BEN NELMS for National PostCalifornia relies on irrigation to produce the bulk of North America's fresh vegetables.

Another province facing hot and dry weather is Saskatchewan. Farmers here have seen this before, specifically in the Great Depression. “If you think about the Dirty Thirties, it was dry for many, many years,” notes Terri Lang, a warning preparedness meteorologist at Environment Canada in Saskatoon.

Back then, visionaries took action. Starting in 1959, they built the Gardiner Dam (named after Jim Gardiner, a former Saskatchewan minister of agriculture) across the South Saskatchewan River, impeding its flow north towards Hudson’s Bay. On Canada’s 100th birthday, in 1967, water filled the 225-kilometre long reservoir, creating Lake Diefenbaker.

Today, the lake irrigates about 110,000 acres of farmland in southern Saskatchewan. That is a drop in the bucket compared to the lake’s irrigation potential, Roger Pederson says.

Pederson, alongside a brother and a son, uses a central pivot irrigation system, which consists of a pipe device mounted on several sets of wheels that turn on an axis to spray the crops. He draws water from Lake Diefenbaker to irrigate his 900 acres of peas, lentils, fava beans, canola, wheat, barley, potatoes and hay.

“Dry weather doesn’t affect us as much as dryland farmers,” Pederson says of the farmers who solely rely on rain. “It affects our total production not at all. In fact, dry and warm weather is great for us.”

Investing in irrigation seemed to be the right thing to do

Pederson chairs the Saskatchewan Irrigation Projects Association, whose members have long advocated expanding the province’s irrigation network. Even at the height of its growing season, Saskatchewan imports 90 per cent of its fresh vegetables — food it could grow at home with a little imagination and a whole lot of pipe.

“There just hasn’t been the infrastructure in place to allow vegetable production,” Pederson says. “Lake Diefenbaker holds three times the amount of water that Alberta is able to hold in its reservoir system, and Alberta irrigates about 1.5 million acres. Do the math. There’s the potential.”

It’s not due to a lack of talk, he adds. “Conversations have been happening for 20 or 30 years. Up until now, other than small additions to the existing systems, there has been no appetite from the governments. We’re talking a lot of money to irrigate 500,000 acres, but the payback in GDP, and in jobs at the potash mines, would be enormous. It takes political will.”

Not all Saskatchewan farms can benefit from irrigation. Jeff Schoenau, an agrologist in the soil sciences department at the University of Saskatchewan, farms 1,600 acres near Central Butte, about 160 kilometres south of Saskatoon, where he grows canola, wheat, peas and flax.

His drinking water comes from a well, but the sodium content of the water makes it unsuitable to irrigate crops. And he is too far from Lake Diefenbaker to draw its water.

That said, “the crop has held up very well,” he says. “There was a lot of stored soil moisture.”

On Monday, a tremendous deluge drenched Saskatchewan. About 90 millimetres of rain pummelled Regina; it was one of the rainiest days ever recorded in the area. But the torrent came too late to save many crops.

Back in B.C., the Vandeburgt brothers have had lively discussions about whether to invest in irrigation. Their father immigrated in 1956 from Holland and began farming in Dewdney in 1970. He has only seen a year as dry as 2015 once in 45 years.

“We are in a lower-lying area,” says Ken Vandeburgt. “All these years we have been complaining about being stuck in the mud. Normally when people go camping in B.C., it rains every day. Is this a one-off, or is this a trend?”

Either way, this fall he will have to buy hay from Alberta or from Washington State; with the loonie worth 77 cents U.S., that will be expensive.

Still, Ken says, “We can’t complain. We live in B.C. It’s a beautiful place to live.” Nevertheless, he adds, “We might just pull the pin on it, and invest in irrigation and have something for the next generation.”

FDA warns of security flaw in Hospira infusion pumps

BOSTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday advised hospitals not to use Hospira Inc’s Symbiq infusion system, saying a security vulnerability could allow cyber attackers to take remote control of the system.

China’s New Silk Road Promises Prosperity Across Eurasia

SINGAPORE — For centuries the historical Silk Road connected Asia and Europe by land and by sea. The new proposal of China, while reviving the ancient concept of the Silk Road, aims to carry forward the spirit of peace, cooperation, openness and inclusiveness for shared benefits.

Naturally, it takes time for people to fully take in a big idea. The first challenge is choosing a good translation that captures the world’s imagination. This initiative is translated into English as the “Belt and Road” initiative. I have been asked many times to explain what this means. The first question is always, “Why does China want a belt built on land and a road built in the sea?”

What Chinese President Xi Jinping means to convey is a renewed connectivity both within Asia and between Asia and Europe, both by land and by the sea, and both by means of strengthening traditional infrastructure and through building highways of trade, finance and cultural exchange to strengthen connectivity.

There has already been a warm response from more than 60 countries and a number of international organizations. And there are ongoing discussions at bilateral, multilateral and regional levels on how to take the initiative forward through concrete projects, such as the China-ASEAN upgraded Free Trade Area, the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar economic corridor, dovetailing with the Eurasian Economic Union and the setting up of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. All of these fit together with many other domestic programs.

transsiberian railway
The Trans-Siberian railway under construction, circa 1903. Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

The Aspiration for Asia-Europe Connectivity

To connect Asia and Europe from the Atlantic to the Pacific through land has long been a dream. The two continents have made many attempts over the past one hundred years.

In the 19th century, for example, Russia built the Trans-Siberian Railway, successfully connecting the Baltic Sea to the Pacific, which is known as the northern line. However, that railway was more for security purposes and brought little economic benefits.

The second railway effort is known as the Eurasian Bridge that runs through the center of the region. In 1990, China extended a railway through the extreme end of the Xinjiang Autonomous Region to Kazakhstan, which enabled a connection from Lianyungang port on China’s Pacific coast to European networks all the way to Rotterdam.

I myself made a field trip to the Alashan Pass in the mid 1990s and found that, because the rails on the Chinese side and those on the other side of Kazakhstan were not of the same gauge, goods brought by trains had to be moved from the trains that fit one gauge and reloaded to another train of another gauge. I saw lines of trains waiting to be unloaded and loaded. This made the concept of connectivity more academic than real in those years.

The third line is in the south. Quite a few railway lines were constructed within China from north to south, with the the idea of connecting China and Southeast Asia all the way to Malaysia, and from Singapore all the way to India. This network has never been fully realized.

“Across the vast land space of China, we have in those intervening decades built a network of highways and the world’s longest high-speed railway system.”

In the 1990s the Asian Development Bank also proposed a series of Asia infrastructure network programs. The Kunming-Bangkok Highway was built by joint efforts of the ADB and China, Laos and Thailand together.

These efforts show that the vision of connecting Asia and Europe has remained alive all these years. No doubt the recent support for China’s AIIB is probably deeply rooted in this very dream of Eurasian connectivity.

However, while those grand ideas would occasionally come up at discussions by ASEAN and China at official and academic levels over the years, they would have to wait for the right conditions and the right vision.

In the past, the capital necessary to undertake such a grand project was not available and technology was not up to the required level. More importantly, China itself did not have the necessary infrastructure network at that time to make Eurasia connectivity work by supporting it from a base in the center of the region.

Twenty years on, those two constraints have more or less disappeared. Across the vast land space of China, we have in those intervening decades built a network of highways and the world’s longest high-speed railway system.

More importantly, China has come a long way in terms of economic strength with plentiful capital and upgraded technology. It is in this context that China put forward such a big initiative not only for further development in China but more importantly, for a higher level of growth in Asia and beyond.

All-Round Connectivity Promotes Peace, Stability and Economic Prosperity of the Region and Beyond

A country like Singapore sits on the world’s most vital arteries of trade between Asia and Europe. It is poised to play a very important part by virtue of being a gateway.

As we all know, however, most Asian countries are less prosperous inland than in the coastal regions. The lack of transportation and development facilities have left many people behind, including among the Southeast Asian countries as well as in the vast region of China’s western interior and the vast and very important region lying between China and Europe. Poverty, as we know, leads to instability and engenders problems such as human and drug trafficking and terrorism.

China is both a land and maritime country. Its inland area is four times as big as the eastern coastal region but lags far behind. But the potential is also huge. Western China, which lies at the center of Eurasian continent, offers the advantage of being a platform that can connect commerce both southwards and westwards.

Likewise, other maritime countries like Indonesia and Malaysia also need to improve connectivity inland so as to allow them to catch up with the new wave of growth in Asia.

By developing more arteries for connectivity, we should be able to build new blood vessels of development for disadvantaged economies in Asia’s hinterlands to create prosperity and opportunities and improve the competitiveness of the whole region.

Connectivity Programs — The New Driving Force for Cooperation

China is now the No. 1 trading partner of most Asian countries.

Among those countries which have announced their support for President Xi’s initiative, trade with China has mostly been growing by double digits. We hope when the initiative is translated into more cooperation projects in those countries, trade will grow further.

Take Singapore, for example. China and Singapore are not only important trade partners. Two-way investment has also grown with a strong momentum. Singapore has turned into China’s top foreign investor in the last two years. Chinese investment in Singapore is also picking up. I’m sure that this momentum will be reinforced by the implementation of the Silk Road initiative.

In the wider context, generally speaking, Asia is yet to tap its full potential.

According to the Asian Development Bank, 600 million people in Asia have no access to electricity. The demand for infrastructure between 2010 to 2020 is estimated to be as high as $8 trillion.

The Silk Road Fund set up by China of $40 billion, and the AIIB with an initial capital of $100 billion, will help jumpstart the region’s infrastructure and the overall development drive.

“In China, we say that connectivity is the shortcut to prosperity. That is what we have experienced in recent decades.”

In China, we say that connectivity is the shortcut to prosperity. That is what we have experienced in recent decades. Now China would like to share this experience crucial to success with other countries.

Chinese companies are capable of providing high quality, low cost and affordable infrastructure projects. They are already active in the region. According to the Ministry of Commerce, between January and May this year, Chinese companies signed up for more than 1,000 projects.

singapore cityscape

A view of Singapore cityscape from the Esplanade. William Cho/Flickr.

Singapore’s Role

In many ways Singapore has a crucial role to play. Singapore, as an important navigation, shipping and logistics center with advanced infrastructure, can be an important transit point and service provider for the maritime and land Silk Road programs.

Second, Singapore is an important financial center and the second biggest offshore RMB clearing center. This puts Singapore in a better position to provide trade, financing and investment services for the region.

Third, Singapore will be the country coordinator for China-ASEAN relations for the next three years. We count on Singapore to facilitate such important undertakings as the upgraded China-ASEAN FTA, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, and working towards an Asia-Pacific Free Trade Agreement.

We would also look to Singapore in leading regional connectivity projects.

At the moment, China and Singapore are in discussions about launching a new flagship project on connectivity and a modern service industry in west China. This will definitely strengthen Singapore’s ability to join the Silk Road development on land as well.

Challenges and Response

Any good initiative needs to be tested in its implementation. The Asia-Europe connectivity is also confronted with difficulties and challenges.

First, we need to build understanding. Admittedly, it’s always been a challenge for China to communicate its thinking and ideas to the outside world. There are, of course, language difficulties. It’s also a challenge to put conceptualized initiatives into more concrete practice.

Furthermore, to promote better understanding China should also listen more to its neighbors. The Silk Road initiative is an open and inclusive program geared toward common development from day one. It is therefore important to nurture the comfortable level of trust in order for the initiative to be successful.

“The Silk Road initiative is an open and inclusive program geared toward common development from day one.”

Second, we need to be aware of security and other risks. Infrastructure projects are long-term and slow to show immediate returns. The success of projects depends entirely on the sovereign countries for ensuring the necessary environment and conditions while the companies themselves should base their decisions on proper risk assessment. Of course, good connectivity programs will also, in return, reinforce stability.

Third, we need to allow the companies and the market to determine what to do and what not to do, as connectivity programs concern specific projects. Economic viability holds the key to their success. What governments can do is to provide policy guidance and legal ground and the necessary facilities.

The list of challenges may go on. But the warm response we’ve seen to the initiative speaks to the keen interest.

I hope I’m not overstating the case to say that the region has never been so united and so full of hope for connectivity in all fronts and at all levels.

Should we achieve the success of the Silk Road initiative, it will not only create new development opportunities but also prosperity for hundreds of millions of people. There is no doubt in my mind that, if we cooperate as equal partners to build connectivity, everyone will benefit. “Let’s work together” ought to be our guiding motto.

This article is adapted from remarks given by Fu Ying to the China-Singapore Business Council in Singapore on July 27.

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(VIDEO) 14 Chinese Companies Now Among Top 100 Most Valuable Brands: Millward Brown

Going back a decade, when Millward Brown’s annual BrandZ study tracking the 100 most valuable global brands was first released, only one Chinese company made the list. Now there are 14, including the tech giants Tencent and Alibaba.

“Most of them are big brands, but they’re not truly globalized brands yet,” says Doreen Wang, Global Head of BrandZ at Millward Brown, the marketing and brand consultancy owned by WPP, in an interview with Beet.TV. “But they’ve already changed the competitive landscape in China, and they are aggressively going global.”

Brand value in the study is calculated using the views of potential and current buyers of a brand, along with financial data. Another striking development from this year’s ranking was Apple catapulting into the top spot over Google.

Apple’s brand value has increased to $247 billion, a 67% increase over last year and now roughly commensurate with the GDP of Finland, according to Wang.

Next on the list are Google (worth $173.7 billion) and Microsoft (worth $115.5 billion).

Wang observes that another fast mover up the ranks is Facebook (No. 12), which gained nine places since last year and experienced 99% year-over-year growth in brand value, according to the study.

You can find this post on Beet.TV.

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Plane debris flown out of Reunion

A piece of debris that experts believe could be from missing flight MH370 is flown from Reunion in the Indian Ocean to France for analysis.

Pacific Rim Free Trade Talks Go Down The Wire

LAHAINA, Hawaii, July 31 (Reuters) – Talks on a Pacific Rim free-trade pact faced a fast-approaching deadline on Friday as trading partners aimed to wrap up a deal within hours, with New Zealand digging in over trade in dairy products and ministers tussling over monopoly periods for next-generation drugs.

Trade ministers from the 12 nations negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would stretch from Japan to Chile and cover 40 percent of the world economy, delayed until 4 p.m. local time (10 p.m. ET) a news conference originally scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on the Hawaiian island of Maui.

“We are still aiming to conclude the negotiations by the time of the news conference,” Japanese Economy Minister Akira Amari said before heading into the morning plenary session.

“Some countries are insisting on enormous demands and that’s the cause of the impasse.”

A Japanese industry source briefed on the talks said New Zealand’s demands over dairy and the monopoly periods for biologics, drugs made from living cells, were the two remaining stumbling blocks.

New Zealand has said it will not back a deal that does not significantly open dairy markets, with an eye to the United States, Japan and Canada.

John Wilson, chairman of the world’s largest dairy exporter, New Zealand dairy cooperative Fonterra, arrived to attend the talks late on Thursday to press home the case.

“It’s still dire. This thing is now on a knife edge. There is still not enough in this for New Zealand at all,” said Mike Petersen, who represents New Zealand’s farm sector.

Ministers have also yet to agree on how long to protect data used to develop biologic drugs. U.S. drugmakers want 12 years, but Australia wants five. People briefed on the talks say a compromise on seven or eight years seems likely, but Mexican Trade Minister Ildefonso Guajardo stressed no deal was done.

“That is exactly what we are trying to negotiate,” he told reporters on his way into the meeting.

As the talks entered their final hours, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from the tobacco-growing state of Kentucky who will be influential in garnering votes in Congress for the deal, added his weight to warnings against excluding tobacco from rules allowing foreign companies to sue host governments over policies that harm their business.

Marlboro maker Philip Morris is suing Australia over its plain packaging tobacco laws. Australia is seeking a general exception from the rules for health and environment policy. (Reporting by Ami Miyazaki and Krista Hughes; Editing by Dan Grebler and Ken Wills)

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