Grain Farmers – The Federal Government’s Forgotten Sector

Op-Ed by The Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association

May 14, 2020

Grain farmers are concerned. The current federal government pays lip service and says that they have our back, but the simple truth is that they don’t walk the talk. These frustrations existed long before COVID-19 but now it’s even more challenging.

The Wheat Growers remain dedicated to the values of free trade, open markets, and the entrepreneurial spirit that opened up the Canadian prairie decades ago. Unfortunately, our federal government has forgotten the important role that agriculture plays in our food security.

As Canadians see empty grocery shelves, they have become more aware of the role that farmers actually play in our food supply chain. But did you know that agriculture contributes $111.9B to our GDP and employs 2.3M people? In spite of this, our 2018 average income was the same as it was in 2008.

As farmers head out to seed the millions of acres of farmland, these are some of the things on our minds:

Carbon Tax – The federal government has imposed the carbon tax on grain farmers, but the research shows that grain farmers are net-zero carbon emitters. We actually store carbon in our soil and the grain that we grow. Furthermore, we must pay the carbon tax on all of the goods arriving at our farm gate and when we ship our grain to market. We sell our grain at world commodity prices, so we cannot add the carbon tax to our costs. To make matters worse, our international competitors don’t have a carbon tax. With our farm net margins decreasing the cost of the carbon tax simple comes out of our bottom line. Solution – eliminate the agriculture carbon tax.

Environment – Grain farmers depend on the well-being of our land. For many of us it is land that has been passed down through generations. For the rest of us, we add land to our home quarter over the years. Regardless, we want the land to be available for generations to come. We were early adopters of modern agriculture methods such as no/low till planting, targeted seeding/fertilizer, GPS autosteer, year over year data gathering including drones. The future looks even stronger with autonomous equipment and new seed varieties. Solution – recognize the carbon sequestering and storage that grain farmers create.

International Trade – Over the past four years, grain farmers have lost approximately $4B due to non-tariff trade barriers and other enforcement issues. Some of these losses are directly due to this government’s actions, whereas others should have been resolved long ago. Government officials need to understand that their slow pace deeply impacts farmers income. Solution – 1) Prioritize Canada’s trade agreements with the WTO and counteractions as necessary. 2) Develop new trading partners. 3) Use the current crisis to form Private-Public-Partnerships by processing our grains and oilseed markets.

Business Risk Management Programs – The existing Business Risk Management tools – especially AgriStability – have a low enrollment and don’t work well for farmers. These programs could be easily and quickly modified to address our current and future concerns. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel here. Solution – AAFC officials meet and listen to farmers to redesign the program to be simpler and easier to both apply and use. Consider eliminating the Reference Margin Limit and raising the Conventional Margin Limit.

Crop Insurance – all farmers need crop insurance, but we also want to help “mitigate risk” by reducing premiums on crop insurance. There is power in the open-market and there is no need to separate provincial from private options – let us decide for ourselves. Solution – free enterprise insurance options.

Transportation – as we witnessed the impact of the illegal blockades earlier this year, it doesn’t take much to disrupt the delivery of our grain to our foreign markets. The outcome of this disruption was the short-term loss of several international contracts. Solution – make the delivery of our grain an essential service.

Broadband – Urban dwellers rely on WIFI and so do farmers. Our data collection, communications, equipment software and more all grind to a halt with the slow speeds that are available to us. Solution – incentivize private suppliers to rapidly expand the rural broadband networks.

Now with the recent COVID-19 support program announcements, the Federal Government has clearly shown that they are no friend of grain farmers. As the government shovels our money out the door, they have excluded any form of support for grain farmers. Malt barley, corn and wheat contracts being cancelled or delayed due to changing demands for processing and it only looks worse as we move to harvest and need contract fulfillment.

Canadian grain farmers need our federal government to walk the talk on these issues. Farmers are ready, willing and able to do our part, but our federal government has us on the outside looking in. Bring us to the table and work with us.

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