It’s a good time to be a farmer and the future for agriculture looks even brighter, says Keystone Agricultural Producers’ president Doug Chorney.
“I think the level of optimism in agriculture today is really unprecedented,” he said in his state-of-the-industry address kicking off the general farm organization’s 29th annual meeting in Winnipeg Jan. 23.
“I think the world appetite for food, feed and fibre is strong. We have excellent fundamentals showing, not only that there is a demand for what we produce, but a growing demand. Manitoba is poised to become an economic powerhouse in the next number of years because of its capability. I’m quite excited about that.”
However, Chorney quickly added Manitoba’s hog producers continue to struggle and those difficult times have spilled over on to grain farmers supplying them feed. KAP is pushing for changes that will see farmers still get paid when grain buyers default.
And KAP’s own future seems far from secure due to a flawed membership fee collection process.
KAP has long lobbied for improvements for collecting membership fees and Chorney said he hopes the Manitoba government will introduce legislation to do just that this spring.
“We need to be well funded to be efficient and deliver service to our members and everybody needs to be participating in supporting the organization,” he said.
Currently too many farmers get KAP’s benefits without paying for them, Chorney said.
Under the current legislation companies that buy agricultural products are required to collect 0.75 per cent of the product’s value and remit it to KAP up to a maximum of $210 a year. Some companies flatly refuse to collect the money, while others says if the checkoff wasn’t capped it would be easier to collect, Chorney said. KAP prefers the cap on fees to keep membership affordable, he added.
There are many options to improve the system.
“I just would like it to be easier for every farmer who benefits from KAP to be able to contribute to the funding of KAP,” Chorney said.
KAP still wants farmers to be able to opt out, but not at the end of the year after farmers have received many of the benefits, he said.
To encourage membership KAP continues to enhance members’ benefits, including a new cell plan with Rogers. According to Chorney, farmers, in many cases, can earn back their KAP membership in a few months with savings from the new plan.
The meeting’s theme — “Times Are a Changin’” — appeared to borne out by the 13 resolutions submitted before the meeting. None dealt with perennial issues around grain marketing or transportation.
Robert Carlson, president of the World Farmers Organization and former president of the National Farmers Union in the United States echoed Chorney’s optimism. With the world’s population expected to be nine billion by 2050 food will continue to be in great demand. Every 5.5 days the world adds as many new mouths to feed as Manitoba’s population, he said.
But while the demand for food is rising, farmers’ share of the food dollar is falling, Carlson said. Farmers need to ensure their place in the chain and protect their interests, he said.
While North American farmers will help feed the world, increasing food production in developing countries is necessary too, Carlson said. Meanwhile, all farmers will have to contend with climate change and the challenges of erratic weather.
There’s already discussion about establishing food reserves in case of a production emergency, he later told reporters. The trick will be not to damage markets when releasing stocks.
Good times bring challenges, including increasing rent and land prices and higher input costs, Chorney said.
And how long will the good times last? The future is unpredictable, but history says there will be downturns, Chorney said later in an interview.
That was the message some “older” young farmers gave “young” farmers from Assiniboine Community College and the University of Manitoba during a bull pit session, he said.
“It’s easy to be overly optimistic when you have not had the experience of negative times,” Chorney said.
“It’s good to be optimistic, but you need to be realistic.”
About 75 people packed the room for the bull pit session, which included Manitoba Agriculture Minister Ron Kostyshyn. The students and the minister were very engaged, Chorney said.
“These young farmers are excited about what’s happening to the industry,” Chorney said. “They want to be farmers but they don’t know how they can ever get into farming with the financial hurdles that you’ve got to go through.”
The Manitoba government has made changes to some of its lending programs to assist young farmers, Chorney said, but more can be done.