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Time To Overhaul, Not Tinker With Farm Programs

It’s time to stop tinkering and undertake a major overhaul of farm support programs, according to the executive director of the George Morris Centre.

A discussion paper released after a recent meeting of agriculture ministers “seems to contemplate only modest changes if any to the status quo policy environment,” Bob Seguin wrote in a recent commentary. But evolving domestic and world markets are kicking up “prosperity opportunities” and government should rethink its programs and policies so farmers can take advantage of them, he stated.

In the past, the focus has been on ensuring effective delivery of farm supports, such as those available in Growing Forward. What’s needed now is “clear, transparent measures that reflect real results and success and failure in achieving the goals established” by governments and farm groups, stated Seguin, a former official with both Agriculture and Agri- Food Canada and Ontario’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

“This is especially true in a changing domestic and global marketplace, with tougher international competition at home and abroad. There are greater concerns for more effective innovation, productivity, sustainable production with greater expectations for improved nutrition/health benefits of the foods/beverages consumed.”

Governments have agreed to develop Growing Forward 2 before the current suite of programs expires in 2013. Seguin charges there has been little analysis of how Growing Forward’s has affected competitiveness, innovation and productivity.

“For example, there is little analysis and discussion on Canada’s true market performance, its real market opportunities and constraints, and the capacity of Canada’s competitors.

These are critical to the determination of an improved Growing Forward policy framework beyond 2013, and for the development of a nat ional farm and food strategy.”

Successful farm policy will require politicians and farm leaders to establish priorities and face up to the resulting choices, Seguin stated.

For example, Seguin argues governments need to decide if they keep primary production and food processing separate or encourage closer collaboration. In order to encourage production and innovation, farm policy should consider investment and the roles played by financial and research institutions, agribusinesses, and retail and food service organizations, he stated.

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