Agriculture minister Ritz’s time in charge blessed with favourable winds

When offering a state-of-the-agriculture-industry assessment, federal agriculture minister Gerry Ritz can’t help but sound like the cat that swallowed the canary, except for the feathers in his throat, of course.

At a House of Commons agriculture committee meeting last week, the minister recited a list of reasons why these are the best of times.

Commodity prices generally are high “and are expected to remain well above historic levels for the next decade.”

Farm net worth is up five percent and 30 percent over the past five years. Realized net farm income last year was up more than 50 percent and while he did not say it, nowhere more so than in his native Saskatchewan.

The Canadian Wheat Board monopoly is gone and despite critic predictions of grain industry chaos, traditional wheat board grain acreage is up, producer car use is strong, the ports of Thunder Bay, Halifax and Churchill report increased business and overall, agrifood exports are up six percent so far this year.

“The gloom and doom scenario painted by those who opposed marketing freedom has not materialized,” Ritz told MPs. “In fact, we are seeing quite the opposite.”

It all bodes well for the changes ministers have agreed to for the next Growing Froward five-year plan that will switch emphasis from farm income support to innovation while saving governments lots of money (although he didn’t talk about that).

From the usual chorus of industry critics, there is barely an audible peep during the good times for most.

And even for farmers who have not been having the best of times, including Ontario and Quebec producers hurt this year because of drought, the agriculture minister came bearing good news. Governments soon will announce an AgriRecovery package that could include compensation or money to bring in feed to animals or to transport the animals to where the feed is.

The announcement was met with praise from Ontario farm leader Mark Wales.

And for the always-wary supply management folks, Ritz even had some good news to report from Canada-European Union trade liberalization talks that have supply management critics hoping for a crack in the dairy product tariff wall.

Ritz was in Brussels in November to talk about some of the “sensitive” political issues including agriculture that continue to hold up a deal.

Leaders of supply management sectors were there and he said they left happy, content that the government will protect them.

“When we start these discussions, supply management is on the table with everything else but we make it very clear it is one of our defensive positions,” he said “The supply managed sectors were with us in Brussels last week and are quite buoyed by the actions of the government, that we continue to maintain our unequivocal support for our supply-managed sector here in Canada.”

So for the most part (hogs excluded), times are good, farmer criticism is muted despite continued anger and a lingering lawsuit by Canadian Wheat Board supporters, opposition MPs rarely lay a glove on him and Ritz is delivering the goods for the Conservative government agenda.

Agriculture ministers past who faced almost constant farmer anger, budget demands and government pushback must be wondering why things have become so much easier.

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