There is an old saying, “There is no time like the present.” Agriculture lives that out on a daily basis.
These are interesting times for Canadian agriculture. The sheer diversity of agriculture in this country is astounding. As the House of Commons Agriculture and Agri-Food Committee holds hearings on the developing Agricultural Policy Framework (APF), we hear constantly of the incredible diversity of opportunities and needs inherent in Canadian agriculture. What will the new APF look like? With no defined fiscal commitment and with new pillars being added to the APF, can this government create programs that will work for producers across the spectrum?
A critical challenge for Canadian agriculture is to communicate accurately with a Canadian public that is increasingly disconnected from their food production and increasingly susceptible to misinformation about agriculture and food. Canadian agriculture is a world leader both in producing healthy food and in technological development. Producers have a great story for the public—we are growing, eating, and drinking the best food in the world. Our food safety system is a model for other countries. Public education needs to be an ongoing priority of Canadian agriculture.
Another present issue permeating our APF study is the issue of labour. Temporary workers, research scientists, agrologists, machinery operators, technicians—agriculture needs access to a much larger pool of labour if it is going to achieve its potential. Because so many of these positions are specialized and require unique qualifications, the solutions need to be specific to agriculture as well.
The success of agriculture in Canada depends on trade. The vast majority of agriculture in Canada must export. Agriculture always plays a major role in international trade negotiations. Balancing Canadian agriculture interests will be a challenge. Varying expectations, strong positions held by various agricultural interests, and the notion that any good trade deal will result in markets both being opened and closed keep our negotiators on their toes.
The recent step towards approval of the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) was critical for Canadian export trade. The future of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is unknown but a successful conclusion of it will open opportunities in a vast, and growing, consumer market. High-quality Canadian farm products are in ever-increasing demand in countries whose food habits are changing as their economies develop. We have the opportunity to meet those expectations.
There are at present some other serious challenges. A record crop in Western Canada is not in the bin, and there will be issues around quality. A single case of Bovine Tuberculosis (TB) and its aftermath has created a difficult situation for producers in southeastern Alberta that will need to be dealt with immediately. Ranchers deserve greater clarity and a quick resolution.
Carbon taxes offer nothing positive for farmers. Some farm groups have apparently surrendered and the best they are hoping for is some sort of exemption (or even more unlikely, credit for past improvements). Farm leadership should be taking a strong stand on an issue that will decimate rural communities. So far there is no interest from the government in acknowledging improved farm practices, increased carbon sequestration, and reduced chemical use; never mind an acknowledgement that producers are already paying thousands of dollars more for machinery with vastly improved emission standards. Rural leaders need to step up and scream that the burden cannot fall on those who are most vulnerable to carbon taxes—rural families and agriculture. Agriculture is contributing to a better world; let’s see it as part of the solution and not a problem.
Rail transportation is an annual issue in Western Canada. Shippers and producers are rarely pleased with the way the system works. Changes in 2013 made a positive difference, and producers were expecting that last week the Transportation minister would present an overarching vision for transportation. That did not happen and left many issues such as the interswitching and the revenue cap without a conclusion. A future commitment to some sort of reciprocal shippers protection is a start, but the proof will be in the details. There was “no time like the present” to deal with the rail issues, but farmers are once again left frustrated and will have to wait for direction until some future date.
Producers make agriculture work. The role of government should be to smooth the path to success. Allowing producers to produce, giving them the freedom to market, creating efficient and transparent regulatory structures where necessary and then getting out of the way—that’s the role of government. Canadian producers are the best in the world; let’s let them do their work.