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New MCPA head wants more emphasis on agriculture

“If you’re not willing to do something, you can’t complain.”

– JOE BOUCHARD, MCPA

If Joe Bouchard had his way, agriculture would qualify for a federal bailout package ahead of the auto industry.

Like many of his fellow producers, Bouchard believes the federal Conservative government gives agriculture, especially the cattle sector, mere lip service at a time of unprecedented upheaval.

Producers are still feeling the after-effects of BSE more than 5-1/2 years after it happened. Prices have never fully recovered and some major foreign markets remain closed to Canadian beef.

High feed prices, rising input costs and (until recently) a strong Canadian dollar have wreaked havoc on producers’ financial margins.

Cattle producers resoundingly agree business risk management programs intended to stabilize farmers’ incomes do not work for them.

Many feel unfairly burdened by government regulations, service fees and veterinary drug costs that are higher in Canada than south of the border.

On top of everything else, the new U. S. country-of-origin meat labelling rule threatens to shut Canadian live cattle out of the essential American market.

The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association has vigorously lobbied Ottawa for a national support program tailored to producers’ needs. The response, in CCA’s view, has been silence.

Producers now worry that a multimillion-dollar Alberta livestock and meat development strategy, launched in the absence of a national program, will trigger trade action from abroad and a lack of competitiveness here at home.

Here in Manitoba, producers this summer were buffeted by weather extremes and hay shortages resulting from flooding in the Interlake and drought in the southwest.

Small wonder Bouchard, a cow-calf producer from Fisher Branch, feels dissatisfied these days.

“It’s kind of frustrating out here when agriculture is so important in Western Canada and it doesn’t get much attention at all. And it should,” said Bouchard, the newly minted president of the Manitoba Cattle Producers Association.

That said, Bouchard, elected dur ing the MCPA’s recent annual meeting in Brandon, sees some positive signs for an industry that sometimes feels as if it’s caught in the spin cycle of a washing machine.

Industry morale received a boost recently when Ottawa took preliminary steps toward a World Trade Organization challenge of COOL.

Feed, fuel and the loonie are all lower now as the economic crisis offers a silver lining to input-and export-dependent farmers.

Cattle numbers are down throughout North America, suggesting future shortages and improved prices.

Despite the world financial meltdown, people still have to eat and international demand for beef will inevitably grow; Bouchard is sure.

But first, Canada’s beef industry has to correct some endemic problems, such as improving competitiveness, he said.

“If we could make our slaughter industry and our feedlots and our cattle industry more competitive by reducing regulations and fees and stuff, I think it would put us on a much better playing field. Because then we could use our strengths – our quality, our food safety, our clean environment.

“If we could be more competitive, I think it would solve a lot of problems.”

As MCPA president, Bouchard see his main job as keeping people focused on getting through the current rough patch and into more promising times ahead.

“There’ll be a large number of people who make it through this and be ready to take advantage when things do turn around.”

The youngest MCPA president in recent history, Bouchard, 29, says he was brought up to get involved instead of standing on the sidelines.

Bouchard works with his father Donald, from whom he bought the third-generation family farm this spring. His parents were always involved in the community and so is he. Now he’s willing to take that involvement one step higher.

“I’ve always been taught if you’re not willing to do something, you can’t complain.” [email protected]

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