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Outlook Improving, But Problems Remain, Politicos Tell CFA

The next few years appear positive for farmers with both crop and livestock prices on the rise, says Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz.

Farmers have rebounded from the BSE crisis in the beef industry, influenza outbreaks in the poultry sector, widespread bankruptcies among pork farmers and depressed grain prices, he told the annual meeting of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture. “When I go across the country, farmers are talking about innovation, investment and growth.”

A recent survey by Farm Credit Canada (FCC) seems to reinforce the minister’s impression. It found three-quarters of producers think they will be better off in the next five years.

Russia, Europe and Hong Kong are importing more Canadian beef and the European Union has agreed to accept livestock feed containing microscopic levels of genetically engineered crops, he said.

IMPROVE FARM SUPPORTS

A Liberal government would improve farm support programs, ensure full Internet, cellphone and mail service for rural Canadians and develop a National Food Policy, party leader Michael Ignatieff says.

Young Canadians won’t want to farm if “they regard rural Canada as a backwater,” he said. “You can’t have a world-class farm today if your don’t have full Internet and cell service and worry about the quality of medical care. You should have the same quality of service as urban Canadians.

“This is where federal leadership matters,” he added. A Liberal government would work with CFA and other farm groups to rebuild programs that are supposed to support farmers when world prices for their products collapse or bad weather ruins their harvest.

A National Food Strategy under development by the CFA would have a major influence on a Liberal food policy, he added. “We want ours to work from the farm gate up not Ottawa down. We want to hear what farmers are saying.”

BETTER CONNECTIONS NEEDED

He challenged the Harper government to better connect consumers with food produced in the country “and get more Canadian food on Canadian plates.”

He also said a Liberal government would offer a $3,000 tax credit for volunteer rural firefighters to acknowledge their important role in rural communities.

He took regular shots at the Harper government over its plans for corporate tax cuts and its flurry of spending announcements this week while the federal deficit hovers in the $56-billion range.

Ignatieff also said the fed-e ral government has to restore funding for basic agriculture research “to where we get back to being a global research leader.” Canada also needs farm support programs that are better suited to the differing types of agriculture across the country.

Ignatieff said he had met with CN president and CEO Claude Mongeau “to express the concern of western farmers about the cost and quality of Prairie grain transportation.”

RURAL INFRASTRUCTURE

NDP MP Carol Hughes, filling in for party leader Jack Layton, also identified the need for better rural infrastructure to encourage more young people into agriculture. “They’re not seeing farming as a viable way of life and that makes us more dependent on multinational corporations.

“We need a national policy for rural viability and that includes infrastructure investments such as high speed Internet and better postal and medical services, she said. “We need a new, engaged leadership from Ottawa.”

The Harper government has failed to develop a plan for an affordable food supply, she said. Farmers need better international trade deals and food labelling. The government should also adopt a policy of sustainable farming “to give family farmers a chance to farm.”

Greg Stewart, FCC president and CEO, said Canadian farmers have a good story they should start telling. “You need to educate people about what you’re doing to protect the environment and provide safe foods. Doing this would pay big dividends. It’s a real opportunity for the industry.”

Farmers should also talk up their economic importance, he said. “Agriculture and food processing account for about 10 per cent of the value of the Canadian economy and one in eight jobs. I doubt any industry exports as much as the agri-food sector.” It ships more than $30 billion worth of products to 213 countries annually.

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They’renotseeingfarmingasaviableway oflifeandthatmakesusmoredependent onmultinationalcorporations.”

– carol hughes

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