“I personally cannot remember a time over the last decade that our issues have been the government’s issues.”
– Ross Ravelli
Grain Growers of Canada members revelled in their lobbying successes and plotted strategy for ongoing battles at their recent annual meeting here.
“I personally cannot remember a time over the last decade that our issues have been the government’s issues,” outgoing GGC president and Dawson Creek, B. C., farmer Ross Ravelli told members here Dec. 1. “These are exciting times to be sure – exciting, but also demanding for an organization such as ours.”
As farm lobbies go, the GGC, created in 2000 as a national umbrella organization for grain grower associations, is a mere upstart compared to the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, a general farm organization founded in 1935, or even the National Farmers Union, formed in 1969 from provincial farm unions that had run for years before that.
But it shares the Conservative government’s agenda for freer trade, deregulation, open markets and ending single desk selling through the Canadian Wheat Board. Several Conservative MPs, including Ted Menzies, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance, were directors of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association, one of the GGC’s founding associations.
Ravelli said he was hoping the CWB elector election results would further the organization’s goal to end the CWB’s single desk. However, four of five pro-single desk candidates were elected in results announced later.
Ravelli noted the GGC did succeed on two other fronts in 2008 – getting federal legislation passed to support biofuels and amendments to the Canada Transportation Act. The latter brings in improved measures to settle disputes between shippers and the railways. It also puts railway service for all traffic, under a microscope.
The biofuel act sets mandates for domestic production of ethanol and biodiesel, which will create additional markets for crop farmers. It also encourages farmer investment in biofuel.
“That wouldn’t have happened without growers saying ‘look this is an important industry, we should be able to take part in the industry, not just as commodity sellers,’” Ravelli said in an interview. “Growers and their organizations should take pride in getting this bill through.”
Both issues had wide support from other farm groups, including the CFA.
Another sign of the GGC’s influence was the elimination of KVD (kernel visual distinguishability). Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz scrapped it Aug. 1 despite an industry consensus backed by the Western Grain Elevator Association, Canadian Wheat Board and the Canada Grains Council, that said the change be phased in by 2010.
Closing the gap between private sector and public research on cereal crops will be a GGC priority in 2009, Ravelli said. The association wants cereal crops to be more like canola. “I don’t mean very expensive, but have more choices in our toolboxes to use as farmers,” Ravelli said noting 90 per cent of the canola grown now is herbicide tolerant and almost all of it is genetically modified.
The number of canola varieties, yields and acres have increased dramatically in recent years compared to wheat, he said in an interview. “The question is how do we get it (wheat) to be like canola and give farmers options?”
Trade liberalization is one policy area the GGC has been less successful in influencing government. As a member of the Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance (CAFTA), GGC wants export subsidies scrapped, a reduction in domestic farm support and increased market access. The Canadian government supports all that too, but its so-called “balanced approach” calls for supply managed commodities – chicken, turkey, eggs and dairy – to remain protected from imports.
“It’s just a one-way conversation most of the time (with federal officials),” Ravelli said. “They’re just nodding and saying ‘yea,’ we’re taking the balanced approach,’ and are holding their cards so tight it’s painful.”
There’s a proposal to allow countries to place four per cent of its tariff lines under the ‘sensitive’ category, which would let Canada continue protecting supply management, Ravelli said. But he added Canada and Japan want an extra two per cent. If Canada gets to protect 50 per cent more tariff lines than other countries, Canadian grain exporters might be penalized through less access to markets in other countries, he said.
Other than the names, there haven’t been many changes to Canadian safety net programs, Ravelli said. The Canadian Canola Growers Association is studying what the next generation of programs should look like.
“The provinces and federal government are already in the process of working on the next generation of business risk management programs,” Ravelli said. “Now is the time for farmers to have a say in what these new programs will look like.” [email protected]