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Farm Income Gets Back Seat At Growing Forward Consultations

All the correct buzzwords went up on the overhead screen. Innovation. Adaptability. Sustainability. Compe t i t i vene s s . Ma rk e t growth. Everything considered necessary for Canadian agriculture to succeed in the coming decade.

But one term was noticeably absent from presentations at a government-sponsored public meeting held to discuss priorities for the new Growing Forward agricultural policy framework: farm income.

It was almost as if the meeting’s organizers did not want to talk about the need for farmers to earn money.

To be fair, the aim of the March 14 meeting in Winnipeg was to consider agricultural policy objectives, not government support program specifics.

But for farmers in attendance, income was the most important thing. It was what Doug Chorney, who farms near Selkirk, wrote down when asked on his attendance sheet about his goals for the agricultural sector: viability and profitability.

“I don’t think anybody there was saying, we can’t talk about the issue,” Chorney, Keystone Agricultural Producers president, said later. “But that’s got to be crucial to the planning for Growing Forward 2.”

Others were even more direct.

“If it’s not about farm income, it’ll fail,” said Ian Wishart, a Portage la Prairie farmer.

The meeting was the first of nine cross-Canada public consultations held this month to seek producer input for the next Growing Forward. The current five-year federal-provincial agreement expires March 31, 2013.

Handouts circulated at the meet ing named two main goals which emerged from a previous consultation round in 2010: competitiveness and market growth; adaptability and sustainability.

To achieve these outcomes, the industry needs two things driving the process: innovation and infrastructure, the documents said.

But what about money?

“None of these things comes for free,” said Wishart, a former KAP president. “As producers, we have to get some return on all of these things.”

Wishart said he got the impression from government officials’ opening remarks that agriculture will not get as much public funding as it once did and farmers must become more market oriented.

A slide shown on the overhead screen during small-group discussions asked: “How can government play its role in adaptability and sustainability without impeding adaptation to market signals (and) without displacing private market risk tools?”

Wishart said market orientation is all very well, but farmers need help to achieve it, given high input costs and volatile prices.

“Most of us are really happy to make it from the marketplace. Show us how we can do that,” he said.

“That doesn’t mean that we have to increase the amount of risk we as producers take on.”

Bill Uruski, Manitoba Turkey Producers chairman, said he wished the discussion had also included the health of rural communities because people living outside urban centres need more than just export markets and innovation.

“Without having the ability to transition farms from one generation to another, we could see a major depopulation of rural Canada, not only Manitoba, by virtue of totally neglecting the human element of these policies,” said Uruski, who farms at Fisher Branch.

Eric Fridfinnson, representing Manitoba Flax Growers, said the meeting didn’t deal with rural revitalization and business risk management programs because that wasn’t its purpose.

“We have to take them at their word that this is the first step in the consultations and today wasn’t the day to talk about (BRMs),” said Fridfinnson, an Arborg-area producer.

“(But) it’s going to have to be addressed as part of the package.”

Chorney said competitiveness and innovation are important but farmers cannot do the job alone.

Asked what government’s role should be, Chorney replied: “I guess that’s the whole Growing Forward discussion.” [email protected]

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Ifit’snotaboutfarm income,it’llfail.”

– IAN WISHART

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