Conservative Agricultural Policy Woefully Unprepared

I got an email the other day from my radio director telling me he wanted to run a series about Canadian agricultural policy.  He was wanting my opinion as he told me that we have so many governments, federations, farmers boards etc. on track and the consultations go for a long time and the programs come out, but that nobody is ever happy with. He also told me there was another review of safety net programs underway.  Needless to say what I wrote him back was on fire.

Let me make one thing clear. I disagree with what conservative agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz is doing for Canadian farmers.  In fact I can make an argument that what the conservatives have done with Canadian agricultural policy is just as inept as what the Liberals did before them.  What we have now is a bigger dearth in Canadian agriculture policy than we’ve had in years.  With our Canadian livestock industry in deep trouble along with increasingly alarming erosion in the grains and oil seed sector, Conservative agricultural apologists need to start their engines. Canada is a wonderful country but when it comes to agriculture policy outside the supply-managed sector, we never get it right.

I am writing this in a backdrop where almost every private yield-estimating firm is talking about bin busting yields for the 2009 crop.  For instance you might remember the USDA talking about 153.4 bushels per acre in their last crop update.  If you have been anywhere near an agricultural media outlet this past week you will know that 160-bushel per acre figure is being bandied about in the upcoming USDA reports.  Sure it is all speculation but it seems the market bears are getting even more aggressive.  With our American commentators advising American farmers to sign up for the acre program because of tough times ahead, it just makes you wonder what our government thinks we should do?  Who knows, maybe we should cower under a rock.

Sometimes I wish the powers that be would let me write Canadian agricultural policy.  In fact you could make an argument that I have been writing about it for almost 24 years.  I’ve always believed that farmers needed the support of their government through lean times because of two things. One of those things is as a protector of Canada’s cheap food policy; government has an obligation to help the people who bear the brunt of it, that being Canadian farmers.  The other reason I’ve always felt that we need Canadian government support within agriculture is because of the inherent nature of our agricultural economics.  Simply put, just because of the way our economics works, farm prices tend lower all the time.

That’s it in a nutshell for me. Forget anything you ever knew about agricultural economics or foreign policy and if you can remember those two facts I think it takes the cake.  What bothers me is we have built our Canadian agricultural policy around the process, which is unending and doomed to fail always.  I say that because it’s constantly in flux, debated by politicians who don’t have any background in agricultural economics and who do not understand the very basics of how agricultural prices are discovered and how the world works.  I’ve seen it 1000 times and I am so tired of it.

The other thing that bothers me about this process is that sometimes as farmers we forget ourselves.  I am not saying that I know everything.  However it’s pretty obvious in this country that for whatever reason the supply managed sector of the agricultural economy is extremely healthy.  And the only reason it is extremely healthy is because our politicians decided to make it and keep it that way.  At the same time they have decided not to keep every other sector that way.

A couple weeks ago I was invited by two local MPs to meet Pierre Lemieux, the MP for the riding of Glengarry Prescott Russell in Eastern Ontario.  The two MPs that invited me are very nice people but they were elected on the partisan cry of “we’ll scrap CAIS”.  Of course three years later that inept agricultural stabilization program still lives.  So in many ways if I go I feel I am co-opting the obvious.  That is that I agree with an agricultural policy that has absolutely no teeth and resembles something to me that had being written on the back of a napkin.

I cannot tell you how strongly I feel about this.  Three years ago I was asked several times to stand up at farm rallies and defend farmer’s interests and rail against an agricultural policy, which was tearing farm country apart.  It’s been quite a journey the last three years but on the agricultural policy front things got worse.  So now that we find ourselves coming out on the other side of the ethanol gold rush, it’s almost like nothing has happened.  I certainly don’t want to take any credit for that.

I don’t write about agricultural policy as much as I used to.  It is almost like Canadian farmers are hardened to it.  However, key to changing that is for a once in a generation type politician to come along who actually has a vision of what they want to see in Canadian farm country.  I know I want something different, very different, something I can take home for a long time. I’ve stood in front of the Parliament buildings and told everybody about it.  If I get asked to do it again, I’d do it in a heartbeat because what we have now in our Canadian agricultural policy world is woefully unprepared to handle what may be coming in the near future.