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We can’t abandon farmers to economic insecurity

There’s been plenty of news headlines in the last year about the Canadian recession. We like this article - that focuses on how the recession in agriculture has been going on for much, much longer. - OFAC

We can’t abandon farmers to economic insecurity
Guelph Mercury, December 10 2009
By Lilian Schaer
It’s been about a year since we were plunged into financial crisis and economic uncertainty. In response, governments in many countries, including Canada, went to unprecedented lengths to protect jobs, stimulate growth and reassure nervous citizens.

Here at home, signs of recovery are emerging. We see the economic action plan at work in our communities and every one of us is now a proud part owner of an automaker. But there’s one sector that still desperately needs support – one that is just as important and just as significant as cars, roads or bridges. And that’s agriculture.

For the people who grow our food, the economic crisis isn’t one that just started a year ago. In some sectors, like horticulture, beef or pork, it’s been part of a longer downturn that has been affecting their businesses for several years.

When BSE (more widely known as mad cow disease) hit Canada in 2003 and borders were shut to our exports of beef, veal and sheep, farmers suffered heavy losses, followed by rising feed costs and a soaring Canadian currency. The pork industry has most recently been hit by a popular misnomer for the H1N1 influenza that impacted the global pork trade, but they, too, have long been affected by high feed costs and a high Canadian dollar.

In horticulture, prices for fruits and vegetables are dictated by the lowest cost product available on the world market. When Canadian farmers attempt to recover their increased production costs by raising prices, their product is no longer competitive and retailers turn to lower priced imports. And for all farmers, regardless of what they raise or grow, the cost of fuel, fertilizers, crop protection and other materials have risen at an alarming rate.

The solution to boosting long term sustainability that farm leaders are now proposing is cost of production insurance to protect farmers from escalating costs and decreased returns. The program would be based on farmer-paid premiums that trigger payments to farmers only when market prices fall below a pre-determined industry price. This would help ensure stable farm incomes and alleviate the seemingly never-ending need for government support programs.

Now some people will ask an obvious question – why should farmers get a support program to help stabilize their incomes? After all, there are many small and medium-sized businesses in Canada who face difficulties making ends meet and no one is lining up to promote an income insurance program for them.

True enough, but it’s far from as simple as that. There is the over-arching question of food security and food sovereignty to consider. Yes, perhaps others can produce our food more cheaply for us than we can produce it ourselves, but is that really what we want or need? We already spend less on food than almost any other developed nation in the world. As an independent country, we should put some priority on ensuring the safety of our entire food supply – not just the food we produce ourselves – and maintain some level of self-sufficiency when it comes to supplying our food needs.

And then there’s the issue of economic impact. Agriculture has long been second only to Ontario’s automotive sector in terms of contribution to the provincial economy and, some would argue, it has possibly moved to the number one spot within the last year. Horticulture alone accounts for 30,000 on-farm jobs; the pork sector for another 33,000. Just over 400 veal farmers and their families contribute approximately $450 million to the provincial economy. And that’s only a small segment of this huge sector.

But ultimately, agriculture is about food. And food is not only about health and nutrition, but also about culture, identity, family and friends. How many aspects of our daily lives — holidays, family events, business meetings or friendly get-togethers — are somehow focused on food? How many nations link their cultural identity directly to their culinary traditions? It doesn’t get much more fundamental than that, and as consumers and as Canadians we should support whatever it takes to protect that legacy for our future generations.

Posted by OFAC on December 24th, 2009 :: Filed under Farm life, Sustainability of the family farm
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One Response to “We can’t abandon farmers to economic insecurity”

  1. carla
    March 5th, 2010

    I believe that each province in Canada should have their own farmers to supply food products locally. Animals should be raised naturally ( without growth hormones, antibiotics ) and allowed to live in a stress free environment. Animals raised in cages or confined spaces ( allowed to live in their own filth) are stressed and this inhibits their immune systems. I do not want to eat meat which has come from a farm which treats their animals like that. Growth hormones affect our health( increase in size of humans and obesity), antibiotics affect our immune systems, and stress hormones ,that the animals are naturally producing due to their environment ,well we are getting a good dose of that. We all know what stress does.
    The government should come up with a plan to help farmers achieve a heathy sustainable way of producing our food. In doing so the local farmers would do a better business and our health care costs would go down. Makes sense to me.

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