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
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
about stabilization: governments helped when prices or production
collapsed and farmers paid back when prices or production
"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.
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
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