LETTER FROM ONTARIO
Portrait of an ideal candidate.
Where Canada’s hopefuls should stand on ag issues

Farm & Countryside Commentary by Elbert van Donkersgoed

Editor's NOTE

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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June 28, 2004: There’s an election on. Here’s what our candidates should know about Canadian agriculture.

On mad cow disease

Reject Paul Martin’s definition. In a recent interview he called one sick cow an outbreak. More than a year after the discovery of just one cow with BSE, our beef sector remains in turmoil. There is an outbreak all right, but not of sickness in the livestock sector. Ad hoc guidelines developed in response to an epidemic in the United Kingdom more than a decade ago have been implemented holus-bolus against Canadian beef in international markets. The impact on Canadian agriculture, not from the disease but from the guidelines, is an outbreak of epidemic proportions -- an outbreak of protectionism in the United States; an outbreak of decision-makers hiding behind bureaucratic rule-making. Farm entrepreneurs know how to adjust for and accommodate market risk, disease risk and weather risk, but adjusting to process risk is impossible. Farmers need your unequivocal encouragement to weather this period that baffles definition.

On the Candia Agricultural Stabilization Program

It’s a good program, but historically untested when it comes to delivering real support in hard times: few farmers will extol its virtues. It is the best stabilization program I’ve seen in my 30+ years of involvement in agriculture. It is based on individual farm need, not provincial averages, and it pays out just as soon as farm income dips below past average production margins. Its strength is in taking out the lows in farm income. However, this program has its warts: it will benefit most those farms that have specialized in just one commodity that experiences wide swings in market prices. It offers meager support for commodities with steady or slowly eroding prices. In almost every commodity there have been long-term price declines. In fact, many farmers will experience a decline in the value of their reference production margin.

On supply management

It is not good enough to say that you “support the goals of supply management” -– the carefully chosen words of Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada. Granting supply management powers to farmers is a far better approach to supporting agriculture than holding out the promise of subsidies as protection against conditions outside their control. Supply management gives farmers market clout, a real say in their destiny. “Farmers paid a fair share of the consumer food dollar” has become a foundation of the Christian Farmers Federation’s vision for agriculture. It means enabling farmers themselves to negotiate a fair share with the few large processors and retails that now dominate our food chain. The notion of governments protecting farmers against conditions outside their control is a relic of past visions.
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For more information about the National Farm Products Council visit http://nfpc-cnpa.gc.ca/english/index.html.

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