Canada’s agriculture ministers agreed on food policy development and improved support programs for farmers, but the results of their annual meeting were overshadowed by debate on the Canadian Wheat Board’s fate.
The meeting in St. Andrews, N.B. featured a green light for further development of a National Food Strategy (NFS) under the aegis of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture and a promise that replacement programs for the current Growing Forward would be ready by the 2013 deadline.
And there was plenty of talk during the closing news conference about increasing trade in Canadian farm and food products and boosting innovation through research.
Then the CWB issue came up. Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz stuck to his guns on giving farmers marketing freedom, saying British Columbia, Alber ta and Saskatchewan supported the federal plan to end the board’s monopoly next summer. The three provinces account for 90 per cent of western grain production, he added.
Manitoba Agriculture Minister Stan Struthers demanded farmers be allowed to vote on the issue.
On cue, several commodity organizations issued a steady stream of statements at the end of the news conference supporting the federal stance or repeating the positions of the three provinces.
The National Cattle Feeders’ Association, Grain Growers of Canada, the Western Barley Growers Association all issued statements supporting the end of the CWB monopoly. The B.C., Alber ta and Saskatchewan ministers put out a joint statement.
However, Ritz did say he would consider the CWB’s demand for regulated access to the grain-handling systems of the large grain companies. The Conservative government doesn’t like regulated solutions to market problems. The grain companies support a shipper initiative for regulated service agreements with CN and CP to ensure they get adequate movement of their products.
Ritz also said that he will be going to the Treasury Board and Finance Department for additional financial support for western farmers swamped by flooding this year. “We are within days or weeks of an announcement. This year we’ve had three or four events and more land is at risk, which adds to the complexity of what we face. For some Manitoba producers, flooding has become a multi-year event.”
As for the National Food Strategy, the ministers were impressed by the work done by CFA and agreed to have officials work in collaboration, Ritz said. “We have to ascertain what we need next and we want to see some goalposts erected.” While there’s strong world demand for Canadian products, NFS developers also need to focus on bolstering interprovincial trade.
Ritz said a lot of issues remain to be decided for the next Growing Forward but the governments are committed to work on meeting the deadline. Officials have their instructions and the possibility of five provincial elections this fall shouldn’t complicate the process.
The AgriDisaster and AgriRecovery components of the program will undergo extensive work because of the weather challenges in several parts of the country this spring.
Manitoba wasn’t the only province to hit a bump in the road at the meeting. Ontario’s bid for support for inclusion of its provincial risk management program (RMP) in Growing Forward came up empty. The RMP has wide support among Ontario farm groups and provincial parties.
– GERRY RITZ