I am part of a brotherhood. I feel it every day and I feel an almost everywhere go. Being a farmer is something very special but regardless of where you are in this world I share much common interest with people who farm the land. A few years ago I walked out into the rice paddies of Bangladesh and talked fertilizer strategy with the local farmers. It was one of the highlights of my career talking to farmers on the other side of the world. I’ve done it a few times and I surely hope to continue that conversation in far-off lands.
I also feel that I am part of a brotherhood in some of my social media conversation on Twitter. There are many of us who farm and exchange ideas about farming methods, equipment opinions and the unending marketing advice. I wear my farmer badge everywhere go.
However, we aren’t the most cohesive bunch when it comes to agricultural policy and politics. I remember very clearly back in 2006, I was given a microphone and asked to lead the 10,000 Canadian farmers who gathered in front of me and Pierre Rheaume of the UPA on Parliament Hill, where we were protesting the lack of a Canadian agricultural safety net. I was there partly because I was the safe choice, a guy without any political aspirations, who could be trusted.
I did the best I could that day, trying to draw farmers together. Farmers were a force that day, pushing an agenda on a new government that needed a push. It was the right thing to do and a great example of Canadian farmers working together.
So it’s a bit discouraging to me when I see that the 3 large general farm organizations, the OFA, CFFO and National Farmers Union have yet to get accreditation under the Farm Registration and Farm Organization Funding Act in Ontario. The Farm Organizations Accreditation Tribunal, a bureaucratic board, which oversees the legislation, has denied them. As a guy who shed some blood in front of Parliament Hill at my own expense for the greater good of Canadian farmers, I find the current Ontario situation untenable and discouraging. Simply put, we can do better than this.
My issue is not with the tribunal or the Ontario government; they are simply interpreting the legislation in the way it was written. My issues are with farmers themselves. I recently read a report from a farmer who had asked for his money back from all 3 farm organizations and was quoted as saying he wanted to make life miserable for all 3 farm organizations. I’m thinking why?
The problem is we need farm organizations to get things done especially at a time when there are fewer farmers. I remember very clearly when the Farm Registration and Farm Organization funding act came about. Farmers were suffering from very low prices in Ontario and we were asking for stable funding for our farm organizations. That eventually came about and yes maybe it didn’t quite work out like many had hoped for but it was still better than the status quo. Strong form organizations like they have in Québec are directly related to the health of the provincial and Canadian agricultural economy.
Are farm organizations perfect? No, far from it and maybe that’s why they had somebody like me out there that day on April 6th, 2006 in front of Parliament Hill. However, what makes it worse is when farmers actively disagree when if they swallow a little pride it would go a long way. There will come a time again when the agricultural economics will turn against us and we will need farm organizations to mobilize. The good times that we have seen over the last 3 years in much of Canadian agriculture delude many of us into the thinking that it will continue forever. However, I have news for you, forever is a long time and it is not going to happen. We will surely have gnashing of the teeth on Canadian farms like we did only 6 years ago when we stood on Parliament Hill.
When that happens I hope we have some strong Canadian Farm Organizations that collectively bring agriculture together. Hopefully, all this accreditation business will be long in the rear view mirror. The camaraderie of farmer brotherhood needs to be extended even in good times like we’re experiencing now. In Canada its never been easy, our farm country is vast and made up of two languages. Squabbles are bound to happen, just on language alone. However, staying focused is key. We’re all Canadian farmers. Working together, although a cliché, can go a long way.