2002: An American farm journalist sent me a note the other
day: "What I'd be most interested to hear from you is your
view of marketing boards. We hear a lot in the States about how
it's bad to have a Wheat Board -- a government monopoly. Would I
be correct in thinking that, for whatever problems associated with
the Wheat Board (and dairy and poultry boards) that the Canadian
government and people have decided that it should come down on the
side of farmers, instead of leaving them to market their crops individually
and taking their chances?"
I've been a fan of supply management for a very long time. A 1972
policy statement adopted by the Christian Farmers Federation says:
"Supply management programs in agriculture are an effective
tool against injustice, misuse of power, opportunism, unfair competition
and low returns to family farmers."
Granting supply management powers to farmers is a far better approach
to supporting agriculture than allotting massive subsidies. Americans
should remember that if Canada were to give up managing the supply
of milk, eggs and poultry for our own markets, we would not give
up producing milk, eggs and poultry. We would just join them in
the drive for efficiency to live
with lower prices.
If we drop supply management our competitiveness will drive North
American prices still lower. They will pump their government for
still bigger subsides. We too would be forced to seek new safety
nets. The supply management approach is a far superior approach
to the common good -- farmers are paid a fair price by those who
consume the food they produce.
There are two other reasons to support supply management in agriculture:
it is both necessary and inevitable in the food system.
Supply management is inevitable as the food system is restructured
as value chains. The strength of value chains lies in their ability
to manage the supply of raw materials and products from field to
table. A private supplymanagement system is emerging. The question
arises: How are these value chains different from the price fixing
that is so abhorrent to the publicgood? By comparison, the public
good is better served by opting for a publicly accountable and transparent
supply management system at the farm level.
Supply management is necessary because agriculture constantly pressures
creation to produce more than enough -- more than economic demand.
The routine production of surpluses is a waste of environmental
resources -- an unacceptable pattern in a society committed toward
environmental stewardship. Each year the unfettered marketplace
reduces creation to subsidizing our living standards.
I value markets. When they don't deliver for the public good its
time to intervene .