LETTER FROM ONTARIO
2002 ag policy changes to have big impact in 2003

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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JANUARY 3, 2003: The year 2002 ushered in some big changes in farm policy. The consequences, both good and bad will reach into this New Year and for years to come.

Internationally, it's the U.S. Farm Bill with its billions in farm subsidies for the rest of this decade. Nationally there's the Agricultural Policy Framework, the new approach to farm safety nets. Provincially, it's the Nutrient Management Act and the extensive regulations that are now emerging.

"Generous," is the harsh reality of the U.S. Farm Bill. It is "generous" enough to impact farming and farm policy around the world. "Generous" enough to influence Canadian farm policy even though we can see the fatal flaws of the
latest U.S. approach to farm subsidies. The previous Farm Bill failed totally in its stated U.S. goal to wean agriculture from production subsidies. The 2002 Farm Bill is equally flawed for its stated goal to renew the competitiveness of U.S. production agriculture.

Most of the U.S. subsidy dollars will support the bulk production of major crops, corn and soybeans, for example. Cheap livestock feed will result. The U.S. livestock sector will continue to expand based on access to feedstuffs at prices well below cost of production. Massive subsides, NOT competitiveness, will keep U.S. farm products in the marketplace.

"Permanent" is a good way to think about Ottawa's proposed Agricultural Policy Framework. This is the most recent political attempt to overcome the need for ad hoc programs triggered almost annually by crises due to weather calamities or price disasters. There was a time when farm safety nets were
about stabilization: governments helped when prices or production collapsed and farmers paid back when prices or production improved.

"Business risk management" the new federal catch phrase, puzzles me. What does business risk have to do with the U.S. Farm Bill encouraging livestock production with feedstuffs valued well below their cost of production? Canadian agriculture faces more policy risk - that is U.S. policy risk --than business or production risk!

"Massive" is a good way to think about the regulations emerging under the Nutrient Management Act. The original concept of balancing on farm nutrients and crop needs has given way to an extensive set of farm practice standards. If farms adhere to all these standards, what more will be gained by completing the nutrient management paper trail?

When the Ontario Farm Environmental Coalition started Ontario agriculture on the road to nutrient management planning five years ago we did not expect to get a Farm Standards Act.

Major farm policy initiated in 2002 at the international, national and provincial level will shape Ontario farming for the rest of this decade.
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Elbert van Donkersgoed is the Strategic Policy Advisor of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, Canada. CFFO is supported by 4,500 family farmers across the province of Ontario.

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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.