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BSE Class Actions Seek Merger Into One

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Lawyers behind the two remaining class-action suits pitting about 135,000 Canadian cattle producers against Ottawa over losses due to BSE will go to court in April to ask for one last merger.

Cameron Pallett, a Toronto lawyer for Ontario producer Bill Sauer, said Feb. 17 that counsel for cattleman Donald Berneche of St-Gabriel de Brandon, Que. will appear in Quebec Superior Court before Justice Richard Wagner in Montreal on April 19.

There they’ll ask that Berneche’s class-action suit be folded into Sauer’s.

Berneche’s and Sauer’s suits were two of four co-ordinated actions filed against the federal government, feed maker Ridley Inc. and unnamed federal bureaucrats in April 2005. Suits filed by cattlemen in Alberta and Saskatchewan were stayed in 2008 and folded into Sauer’s suit in Ontario.

Ridley settled out of court in January last year, making no admission of liability or wrongdoing but paying $6 million that has since been rolled over to fund the remaining two actions.

The Quebec suit, with Berneche as the representative plaintiff for the “class” of all cattle producers in that province, was certified as a class action in 2007. The Ontario suit, with Niagara Falls-area producer Sauer as its representative plaintiff and all other cattle producers in Canada in its “class,” was certified last year.

Both suits claim negligence within the government led directly to the costly BSE-related closure of the U. S. border and other foreign ports to Canadian cattle and beef. The lawsuits’ allegations against the government and individual bureaucrats have not yet been proven in court.

Sauer’s suit, as filed in 2005, had claimed $100,000 for every member of the “class” in “general damages… for pain, suffering and loss of enjoyment of life” as well as “aggravated damages” of $100,000 per class member.

Pallett said that the Quebec suit had no specific issues that make it different from his client’s suit in Ontario, making it simple to fold into the Ontario action.

INFORMATION SESSIONS

No trial date has yet been set for the Ontario suit, and Pallett in the meantime is urging that the government seek an independently mediated settlement.

Pallett noted that he and lawyers for the government got a court order in July last year that sees all action against Ridley “dismissed without cause.”

The order blocks Ottawa from trying to apportion any possible fault to Ridley, which regardless of Ridley’s settlement could have substantially cut the potential size of a possible federal payout.

(Ridley, when it settled last year, emphasized it “will continue to contest any allegation it was responsible for the plaintiffs’ damages.”)

Pallett said in March last year that cattle producers need help now and don’t want to drag their case for years through trials and appeals, he said. At that time he said he didn’t see a trial underway for four years at best, due to “procedural song and dance” that accompanies such cases.

While the legal process lumbers toward a possible trial, Pallett has been appearing at information meetings to update cattle producers on the suits’ status.

His next such appearance is scheduled for March 31 at Westerner Park in Red Deer, at the Stockmens Pavilion. That session is tentatively scheduled to start at noon.

RUSSELL, MANITOBA

Bunch ’em up, and keep ’em moving. That, in a nutshell was Terry Gompert’s message to the Western Canadian Holistic Management conference here.

Gompert, who ranches near Centre, Nebraska, favours ultrahigh stock density, also known as mob grazing, where many animals are grazed together in small paddocks and then moved to fresh grass on a daily or even hourly basis. He says the strategy is paying dividends.

“Every year that I have used it, I have had increased production regardless of rainfall,” said Gompert, who is an extension educator from the University of Nebraska and a certified holistic management teacher.

First, it heals the land. Grazing mobs of cattle trample the grass stems that they don’t eat, creating surface litter. This eventually breaks down via microbial action into nutrients that feed new growth. Without hoof action, or “deep massage,” much of the grass would never have contact with the soil – it simply dries up, oxidizes and literally blows away.

Second, mob grazing heals the pocketbook. More soil organic matter means more retained moisture, and more litter on top creates shade to keep it from drying out.

That means more grass for more cattle – and more money for the rancher.

Since he started mob grazing in 2005, Gompert has averaged 74 Animal Days per Acre (ADA), or 2.85 ADA per inch of rain, nearly three times the area average under continuous grazing, which is just one ADA per inch of rainfall.

One animal day equates to 26 pounds of dry matter in the gut of a 1,000-pound cow.

His pastures have improved steadily under mob grazing, Gompert added. In 2008, he got 85 ADA, even though only 20 inches of rain fell (his average is 25), giving him 4.25 ADA per inch of rain, a four-fold increase over the average.

In his area of Nebraska, one ADA is worth $74 per year in pasture rent. That means anything he can do to increase productivity puts more money in his pocket.

That, plus gains on buying, selling and raising cattle, comes out to about $125 profit for every extra ADA per grazing season that he can squeeze out of his pastures.

“So, knowing my ADAs, and knowing my efficiency, becomes critical to my profitability,” Gompert said.

YOU’RE GOING TO LOSE

In his job at the university, he’s often asked how to get rid of leafy spurge. It isn’t intentional, but he admits that he tends to annoy the people who ask such questions. That’s because he insists on asking them, “Why do you want to get rid of it?”

Gompert’s aim is to encourage people to figure out what they really want. That means going beyond band-aid chemical solutions and embracing holistic thinking, which means looking at their entire operation as a whole, not just individual parts.

“If you’re working against nature, I’ll tell you what, you’re going to lose. That’s all there is to it. And the number one thing you’re going to lose is money.”

Working with nature could mean obvious strategies, such as May-June calving, which is more in sync with nature.

“That’s a ‘duh!’, isn’t it,” he said, with a laugh.

Gompert, who described himself a “recovering” registered purebred breeder, has traded artificial insemination on his ranch for multi-sire breeding.

“There is strength in complexity. (Holistic management founder) Allan Savory says that we are losing complexity and diversity on our Earth and having desertification as a result,” he said.

“If we want to be profitable, we need to save the Earth. We need complex, diverse systems, not monocultures. We need to have adapted animals that know our forage, our land, and our operation. You do not get an animal that knows your land by using A. I.”

STARTS WITH THE SOIL

Gompert said his favourite sport these days is learning about the soil food web. From the myriad microscopic creatures that dwell in between grains of sand, to the dung beetles that break up cow patties, all are critical to a rancher’s success because they work together to cycle nutrients to feed the grass.

“The old rule of thumb is that there are more pounds of life under the soil surface than there are pounds of life above it,” he said. “We don’t even think about that when we use fly tags, because we’re killing the dung beetles that actually solve the problem of flies.”

“Weaning and yearling weights and carcass data have little to do with profitability. That’s mostly about product,” he said. “My suggestion is that you save every female and male from these found-out matron cows. These animals cannot be purchased.”

On purebred farms, he noted, the older cows are sold off long before they get a chance to prove their worth over time.

Smart ranchers, on the other hand, are paying attention to longevity and fertility in order to produce their own herd sires that are naturally adapted to the unique conditions found on their farms.

About the author

Editor, Daily News

Dave Bedard

Editor, Daily News, Glacier FarmMedia Network. A Saskatchewan transplant in Winnipeg.

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