There is little debate about the fact that farming is a unique and volatile industry which requires special attention from our governments. The question of who should be speaking on behalf of farmers is a far more contentious issue.
Currently, general farm organizations like Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) speak on behalf of all of Manitoba’s farmers on the provincial level, while the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) is responsible for communicating with the federal government. With one strong unified voice, general farm organizations press government to deal with the issues that affect all farmers in Manitoba and across the provinces.
Concerns do exist about the ability of general farm organizations to represent all farmers equally. Farming, as you know, is not a uniform industry. Different regions and different commodities have their own unique concerns, which at times, can be at odds with the concerns of other farmers. No one will deny that the livestock producer wants grain prices to be low so that input costs are reduced and the grain producer desires higher grain prices so that income increases.
What is a general farm organization to do about this problem? It is our responsibility to strike a balance between the concerns of all producers and ensure that all sectors of agriculture are strong and healthy. It is a tough job at times to be sure. Remember too that while each commodity has unique issues, the different agricultural areas are highly integrated and dependent of each other for survival. The livestock producer cannot feed animals without the production of feed, and the grain farmer depends on the livestock producer as a buyer of his product.
There are also many issues in which all farmers share common concerns. All farmers are facing rising energy costs, and a reduction of available credit used to help pay for production. Food labelling and food safety will continue to be major concerns for producers, consumers and legislators alike. The changing environmental situation will be both a cause for concern and an area of opportunity for all producers as no other industry has as direct an influence on the environment as agriculture.
The current global economic conditions are going to spell hard times for many sectors of our national economy and the economies of our international trading partners. There are going to be many non-agricultural industries calling out for help.
Industries which employ more voters, generate more money, and have more influence in the legislature and on Parliament Hill. What these industries do not have is the same social importance as the farming community. It is farmers who are charged with the responsibility to feed people at home and around the world.
We cannot allow the voices of farmers to be lost among those also calling out for help in the difficult times ahead. The volume at which farmers’ voices are heard will depend on the number of you calling out in unison. As we grow louder, general farm organizations will continue to be of increasing importance to all of the farmers which they represent.
As farmers, we need a voice of unity that spans from fields to barns to government offices. So please get involved, stand up for farm organizations and strengthen the voice that represents you.
– Yvonne Rideout is general manager of Keystone