Chesterville Record, March 2, 2005 and AgriNews Interactive,
March 2005, Vol. 29, No. 3
Orchard has fruitful visit to Cornwall
By Nelson Zandbergen
CORNWALL — David Orchard, political maverick and
would-be leader of the defunct Progressive Conservative
Party of Canada, plowed fertile ground in Cornwall on
Sat., Feb. 26.
"We can feed the world without pesticides and
herbicides, we can harmonize with nature and extol the
benefits of what organic agriculture has done," Orchard
said in a warmly received keynote address to 175 people
at the annual Eco Farm Day conference.
Judging from his almost reverential reception at the
Ramada Inn, one has to wonder, why did the organic
farmer from Saskatchewan with a serious case of
protectionist heebie-jeebies ever go looking for votes
in Brian Mulroney’s old Tory party — twice?
But for this audience, Orchard was no enigma,
pressing all the right buttons by slamming the use of
agricultural chemicals, the rise of genetically modified
crops, and trade liberalization in general.
He delivered it with a credibility that only a
30-year pioneer of organic production could offer.
His ancestral farmstead has been chemical-free since
1975, he said, the year he took over from his retiring
parents. Today, the operation stands at 2,500 acres, one
third of which has been rehabilitated to natural
habitat. Last year, he noted with pride, the Orchard
farm celebrated its 100th anniversary through four
His thinking on conventional production underwent a
"reorientation" after reading Rachel Carson’s Silent
Spring in University, he said. "I read about the sprays
and pesticides and herbicides in a serious way, how they
were originally designed as chemical war agents to kill
Crop yields on his farm "match or exceed" what they
were before the switch to organic production, he said,
thanks to the skillful use of crop rotation.
"There’s no necessity to use these chemicals to feed
the world," he said, adding that an "epidemic" of cancer
has been the result. One in every two men will get the
disease in their lifetimes, and one in three women.
"What is causing it? We’re told more research is
necessary," he scoffed, as indignant chuckles rippled
through the crowd.
His audience sat riveted as he noted his own father’s
death from prostate cancer, and then recounted a
conversation with a neighbour whose seven-year-old son
had also died of cancer. "He thought that the chemicals
had killed his boy."
Organic agriculture offers not only a way of cleaning
up the environment, but a "better rate of return" for
Canada’s hard-up agricultural sector, he said. "We don’t
need subsidies," he said of the organic sector. His own
farm has delivered "a return we wouldn’t have been able
to get otherwise," he remarked.
Meanwhile, conventional agricultural has only led to
larger farms and lower incomes, he argued. He has spoken
to prairie farmers with spreads of 15,000 acres, "and
the husband has a job in the mines, and she’s selling
pies in the market to make ends meet. This is not
Free trade policies have also conspired to drive down
farmers’ earnings, he said, with incomes chopped 90
percent in his home province in the past decade.
He also opined that the reopening of the American
border to live cattle from Canada, scheduled for March
7, likely won’t happen.
Orchard took aim at genetically-modified crop
varieties as a specific threat to organic producers in
particular, by contaminating their fields through
The release of "Round-Up ready" canola varieties had
already "killed" Canada’s export market for organic
canola, and he fretted the possible introduction of
similarly designed strains of wheat and alfalfa.
A "rapid and massive expansion" in the number of
organic growers is needed to meet these challenges, he
said, "before the opportunity is foreclosed by these
large companies as they’ve done with canola." He
recommended the audience write their federal politicians
to express concerns about the advance of GMO foods and
crops. "In Canada, we’re all eating GMO’s, and it’s all
one grand experiment, as Dr. Suzuki pointed out."
And while the government shuts down publicly funded
agricultural research stations across Canada, those
former public servants, he said, are finding new homes
in the private sector and "working on more GMOs." At the
same time, "leading edge" research in organic crop
production has fallen to small-time operators and
individuals — he lauded an 80-year-old farmer in
Saskatchewan for his groundbreaking work in crop
rotation — but they can’t get government funding.
He reserved a good portion of his righteous outrage
for the North American Free Trade Agreement and starkly
highlighted the BSE crisis as an example, commenting,
"There’s still American beef coming into Ontario and
Speaking in broader terms, "the dream of seamless
access" to American markets from Canada, he argued, was
nonsensical. "There’s only one market with guaranteed
access, and that’s our own internal, domestic market."
He groused that NAFTA prevents Canada from creating
its own National Energy Policy, yet Mexico has done so,
while the security-conscious U.S. is also "looking at
"We’re the coldest country of the three and we’re
committed to shipping our energy across the border at a
zero percent royalty," he added.
Later, during a question and answer session, Orchard
said every law passed by Canadian governments must be
vetted for compliance with NAFTA, which he called "the
new constitution." He pointed out that Canada backed
away from a legislated ban on the gasoline additive MMT
after the American manufacturer sued the government,
under the terms of NAFTA.
The conference was again led by Canadian Organic
Growers Ottawa chapter chair Tom Manley of Berwick, who
also happens to serve as agricultural advocate for the
Green Party of Canada. But Orchard wasn’t about to come
out as a Greenie just yet, declaring himself a
"political orphan" when asked about his current
And an Orchard speech wouldn’t be complete without a
nod to his former PC leadership rival, Nova Scotia MP
Peter MacKay, who had famously promised to never merge
the PCs with the Canadian Alliance in return for
Orchard’s support. Orchard was, of course, jilted on
that deal, and when a member of the audience claimed to
have recently spotted MacKay and his new girlfriend, MP
Belinda Stronach, at the Chateau Laurier Hotel, Orchard
couldn’t resist a humorous dig, drawing a parallel
between mergers of both a political and personal nature.
MacKay, he eagerly recounted with a broad smile, had
"declared his love" for a former girlfriend in his
victory speech at the last PC leadership convention,
"then he signed his agreement with me." Neither
arrangement worked out, he noted, to complete the
He said his favourite political cartoon, which
appeared in a national newspaper, depicts himself
warning Stronach about MacKay’s trustworthiness.
Tom Manley noted the sense of optimism and youth
surrounding the organic agriculture movement, as
evidenced by the knapsack-toting crowd at the
conference, many of whom raised their hands when he
asked for a show of hands of those under 30.
The demographic and mood stood in marked contrast
with conventional farming organizations, Manley
suggested. "The positive attitude, the inquisitiveness,
is different," he said.
Participants strolled through a trade show and
earnestly took notes at educational session topics
ranging from organic fruit production to drum composting
to the ongoing fight for farmers to grow and save their