With Donald Trump in the White House and a general public increasingly disconnected from food production, new threats have emerged for Canadian agriculture.
Of course, there are still plenty of old threats to worry about. Markets are ever changing and just as susceptible as ever to disruptions, oversupply and trade barriers.
And we still live and die by the weather. Some say weather is a bigger threat than ever due to climate change, but crop yields continue to trend upward. The weather threats that we face don’t seem much different than during past decades. If anything, our annual crop production has become more stable.
Interest rates and the value of the Canadian dollar are steadily under the microscope, as they should be. It’s been so long since high interest rates were a business threat that perhaps this concern could now be placed in the new category. Many of those farming today aren’t old enough to have any first-hand experience with interest rates in the stratosphere.
Carbon pricing is certainly a new threat. While unhelpful, wrong-headed and frustrating, taxing carbon is unlikely to be a game changer for most segments of agriculture. Yes, it will increase farming costs, but probably not by as much as the numbers bandied about by some vocal opponents.
Truthfully, it will be difficult to know just how much the carbon tax is actually costing individual farms. It will be integrated within the price of inputs such as fertilizer, much like the cost of Tier 4 emissions control has been integrated into the price of tractors, combines and sprayers.
Even more difficult is quantifying the threat imposed by Trump as U.S. president. Dealing with North Korea would be problematic for an intelligent and strategic American president, and that doesn’t de-scribe The Donald.
Maybe Trump’s schoolyard bully routine is the best way to handle North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, but it’s scary. The world can only watch and hold its breath.
Meanwhile, America has internal problems with ugly racial tensions that threaten to boil over. Like it or not, anything that ends up affecting the American economy has ripple effects up here.
For agriculture, trade is the big reason to worry about Trump. While speculation has concentrated on what the North American Free Trade Agreement renegotiation might mean to Canada’s supply managed industries, other sectors need to remain vigilant. In Trump’s world, America wins only if someone else loses.
The most insidious threat facing agriculture is public opinion. This manifests itself on a multitude of fronts. For instance, the general public has only a vague notion of what constitutes a genetically modified crop, but the anti-GMO movement continues to gain momentum.
Glyphosate, one of the safest crop protection products, is under attack based on all sorts of hair-brained reasons.
Did you know that the Pest Management Regulatory Agency is proposing cancellation of all food and feed crop uses of lambda-cyhalothrin, the active ingredient within insecticides such as Matador and Silencer?
As if we didn’t have enough to worry about already, the list continues to grow.
Kevin Hursh is an agricultural journalist, consultant and farmer. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.