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Red tape causes farmers to see red

Whether it’s being asked to fill in a seeding survey during planting season or enduring bureaucratic paper chase to get permission to clean out a ditch, farmers say the regulatory burden is worsening

The blizzard of rules, regulations and forms is getting steadily worse, and farmers are fed up to the gills with red tape, according to a new survey.

In fact, filling out paperwork was the No. 1 beef of 79 per cent of farmers it recently surveyed, says the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

“Overregulation, confusing paperwork, and bad customer service are crippling agriculture businesses and stifling innovation,” said Marilyn Braun-Pollon, the organization’s vice-president for agribusiness.

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz insists his government has “made significant reductions to the amount of red tape that farmers face.

“Farmers don’t make their money by filling out forms,” said Ritz. “We will continue our work with industry to reduce red tape so that farmers can focus on producing quality products and boosting their bottom lines.”

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture is keeping an eye on this effort, specifically a government pledge to act on 90 proposals for reducing paperwork for businesses.

The proposals “target some of the main issues farmers have been asking for, to free up their businesses to allow for more investment and growth,” said federation president Ron Bonnett.

“These changes will no doubt strengthen Canadian agriculture’s position in the marketplace.”

There are plenty of areas where a little common sense would help, said Braun-Pollon.

“For farmers, red tape takes many forms — it can be contradictory information from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, a dumb rule from Fisheries and Oceans saying you can’t clean out a man-made ditch, or a Statistics Canada survey filled with questions that don’t apply to their business,” she said.

“It all adds up to a lot of wasted time and money.”

Survey comments reveal farmers’ frustration with regulators that often don’t understand the challenges of running a farm. For example, a number of respondents complained about Statistics Canada conducting surveys during spring seeding — one of the busiest times of the year for farmers.

“Farmers feel really disrespected by government agencies that don’t understand there are two really busy times of year — seeding and harvesting,” said Braun-Pollon. “Asking business owners to meet compliance deadlines during these two peak seasons is the equivalent of the Canada Revenue Agency trying to do a retail audit on Boxing Day.”

Twenty-eight per cent of farmers surveyed said that if they had known the regulatory burden they would face, they might not have gone into farming.

But government isn’t always to blame for red tape, said the executive director of Grain Growers of Canada.

“Some of it is due to retailers and other buyers who want suppliers to meet particular criteria,” said Richard Phillips.

Farmers wanting to sell to the highest-paying markets often have to offer proof they are following specific practices, he said.

“You have to do the paperwork to get access to them.”

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