Farm subsides and fairness
When it comes to safety-net programs farmers favor caps that allows some for all not all for some

Farm & Countryside Commentary by Elbert van Donkersgoed

Editor's NOTE

This column was adapted from one of Elbert van Donkersgoed's weekly radio chats, called Corner Post, which are aired weekly on CFCO Radio in Chatham and CKNX Radio in Wingham, Ontario. Elbert is the Strategic Policy Advisor of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, which is working hard to create a more satisfying and sustainable model for farming in the province. If you'd like to receive a transcript of Elbert's Corner Post address each week, send an email to evd@christianfarmers.org with SUBSCRIBE as the message.

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Posted July 28, 2003: Whenever farm safety net programs change, the principle of maximums on payouts is revisited. The Christian Farmers Federation has a long history of supporting caps on payouts to any one person. With the transition from the old NISA program - the old Net Income Stabilization Accounts - to the proposed Canadian Agricultural Income Stabilization Program, we have revisited caps.

CFFO remains strongly committed to the principle of focusing government support on small and moderate-size family farms. The rationale is a simple issue of fairness. Some entrepreneurs should not be given access to large amounts of public money just because they are big producers of farm commodities. People matter more than production.

Agreeing on a specific dollar maximum is always harder than agreeing on the principle of caps. For the new Canadian Agricultural Income Stabilization Program, a maximum of $150,000 has received the most support in CFFO committees. That's considerable government money per person, per year.

But, it is a modest cap compared to the maximums pitched by some farm groups. There are voices promoting a million and two million per year. Is CFFO's sense of fairness representative of the farm community?

Back in June, at the Ontario Pork Congress, we checked to see if our views have resonance with the broader public. We asked visitors to our trade show booth about caps on program payments. 197 participated in our trivia challenge. To qualify for prizes, players needed to choose either "I agree" or "I disagree" for the following statement: "Because it is fundamentally unfair to give some farmers access to more dollars from public support programs than many others, government policy for agriculture must be focused on the moderate-sized family farm, and have caps on payouts."

Eighty-one percent agreed that payouts should have caps. Just seventeen percent disagreed and two percent circled both "I agree" and "I disagree"

Participants were also challenged to give a reason for their answer.

Many of those who disagreed with caps reasoned that fairness should mean equal support per unit of production. Some reasoned that large farms invest more and take more risks; therefore, they have greater need. Some took exception to subsidies going to those who are inefficient and emphasized: "The future is large production units."

About thirty percent of those who supported caps identified the family farm as the backbone of rural Ontario and want small farms to survive. Nineteen percent were critical of large corporations taking over farming. Seventeen percent emphasized fairness defined as support and opportunities for people.

Moderate caps have broad public support. Farm groups asking for access to millions per farmer are out of touch with the grassroots.



Corner Post can be heard weekly on CFCO Radio, Chatham and CKNX Radio, Wingham, Ontario. Corner Post is archived on the website of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario: www.christianfarmers.org. To be added to the electronic distribution list of Corner Post, send email to evd@christianfarmers.org with SUBSCRIBE as the message. To remove your name, send email with UNSUBSCRIBE as the message.