High Prices: Draining the Swamp of Political Discord in Canadian Agriculture

     As cities go, Guelph Ontario is not my kind of town.  I lived there for about 7 years, my one and only sojourn living away from the farm during my university years.  It just so happens Guelph is the center of the universe now with regard to Ontario agriculture.  So I find myself traveling to Guelph every time the Grain farmers of Ontario have their annual meeting.  That happened yesterday, so I fired up an available vehicle and trundle down the 401.

The Grain Farmers of Ontario is a relative new organization that is the creation of 3 producer organizations that I grew up with.  At one time in Ontario corn, wheat and soybeans had their separate organizations with the wheat board having marketing power.  It was a bit of a rocky road bringing them all together but now after several years together the organization is coming into its own.  Ontario farmers are well taken care of with the hard-working people under one roof.

As you might surmise I’ve been to many of these meetings over the years.  After the meeting was over Thursday, I retreated over to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food headquarters to visit with colleagues.  I do that from time to time when I am in Guelph, it was great to see them; we sat around and had coffee.  With the times being what they are, our conversation turned to politics.  We were all looking forward to the Obama speech Thursday night.

Certainly, politics was the top of mind as I left that meeting.  However, I couldn’t get over the lack of politics I witnessed at the Grain Farmers of Ontario gathering.  It was only 6 years ago when farm meetings across Ontario were full of the bluster of politics as farmers were lining up demanding business risk management programs from our federal and provincial governments.  At the time there was a huge void created by government in the risk management file, prices were very poor and farmers were on the move everywhere.  You will remember well the winter of 2006 when I mounted led several farm protests across the province including leading the big Ottawa rally on April 5, 2006.  However, yesterday there was no mention of politics and hardly a whimper of business risk management at the Grain Farmers of Ontario annual meeting.  Of course, I think I know why.

High prices have the tendency to drain the swamp of political discord in Canadian agriculture.  I remarked yesterday at the GFO meeting to another farmer who was at the microphone in Ottawa on that April day, it wasn’t too long ago farm protest filled the streets.  He remarked back that his son was now farming, he had these high prices and low interest rates and if it continued for another 5 to 10 years he wouldn’t think any different.  We both laughed that we will not be back in Ottawa again.  He retorted back that it may happen but it would not be us at the microphone.  It would be a different generation.  As I turned away, I thought oh so true.

That day will surely come again as agricultural prices I don’t have to remind you are cyclical and they will go down hard someday.  When that happens we will need a political environment friendly to farm issues.  Interestingly enough last week was crucial in the creation of that environment.  The election to minority status of separatist PQ leader Pauline Marois in Québec is a large part of that equation.  Québec farmers are mostly separatist with their politics and are the most powerful movers and shakers in this country.  Any time the separatists are in control in Québec, Canadian agricultural policy gets a boost.  The election last week was a signal to Canadian agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz; Québec farmers will take no prisoners.

Of course our American friends to the south are also getting ready for the November election.  Canadians have been swept up in the political rhetoric coming out of both the Republican National Convention and the Democratic National Convention.  Will the American renewable fuel standard be changed to free corn from the clutches of ethanol?  You didn’t hear a whiff of that at either political convention.  What you did hear was how America is a great place, even though there seems to be two solitudes between left and right that have such a different vision.  You can bet American agriculture will see changes after the November election.

Our politics on both sides of the border are always important to the direction of our agricultural policy.  High prices can make that a quiet political front and that’s what I witnessed last week in Guelph.  However, it never stays that way.  The Québec election will surely change that in Canada, who knows what will happen in the United States.  Agricultural prices may surely even out the playing field.