It can be painful to say that a politician is right, especially an American politician.
However, I have to say that U.S. agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack made some powerful points at the recent Commodity Classic in Florida when he said the once-mighty U.S. farm lobby has lost influence in Washington.
“Unfortunately, what’s happened in Washington is nobody is listening to all of you,” Vilsack told 6,000 farmers.
The problem is that funds for agriculture are below 2009 levels, while the U.S. Department of Agriculture is picking up more than its share of budget cuts. He told farmers to get on the phone and give their members of Congress pieces of their minds. Huge applause followed.
How any potential improvements in U.S. farm funding will affect Canada is not the point. The point is that Vilsack is encouraging farmers to get out there and yell with one voice on matters that are important to them all.
It’s hard to be heard when farmers make up less than one percent of the population, as farms get bigger and fewer people populate them. (Sound familiar?) That’s because federal support is not about the incredible proportion of gross domestic product generated by agriculture, and it’s not about the importance of growing food for a big and growing population.
It’s about votes.
And in that, Vilsack is right. (Ouch.)
The Canadian rural landscape is facing exactly the same issues, yet the farm voice is as fractured as it has ever been. Where are we going with that?
Enter Danny Penner, a southern Manitoba farmer who has served on associations and is a former Outstanding Young Farmer. Penner recently emailed as many producer organizations as he could think of, saying he is trying to create a “new producer-driven national farm organization that would work to solidify marketing systems for grains, oil-seeds, pulses and special crops.”
He gives several examples of issues that “highlight the need today for a broad and cohesive farmer voice in industry discussions.”
You bet. Particularly in addressing farm policy, a cohesive message backed by a large number of farmers is crucial. Whether Penner’s model works or another concept emerges, it is time to get together and fight the important battles.
Demographics are against you. The political system is against you. But it’s time. If you don’t believe me, ask Tom Vilsack.