C.D. Howe Institute report off the mark

On Feb. 6, the C.D. Howe institute released a report entitled Reining in the Risks: Rethinking the Role of Crown Financial Corporations in Canada.

The report suggests Farm Credit Canada is over-stepping its mandate, but better demonstrates that the C.D. Howe Institute went well beyond its expertise.

Why does the institute not want farmers to have empowerment tools to contribute to their own prosperity?

People might rightfully question how much research and consultation went into the report, and how much of it was simply subjective assumptions. Did the institute talk to any farmers?

We know they consulted the banks and credit unions, and don’t get us wrong — we welcome any competition those institutions bring to the table. However, it could have been a constructive, unbiased report if C.D. Howe had asked farmer clients whether FCC is a positive or destructive tool in agriculture.

FCC has worked hard for years at developing proactive products that make sense for farmers. At a time when farmers found it hard to survive, FCC received accolades for being sensitive to their plight and for working hard with those farmers to make things work.

The tireless efforts of former president John Ryan, current president Greg Stewart and vice-presidents Lyndon Carlson and Remi Lemoine, to name a few, in finding financial solutions to agriculture challenges is well documented.

These guys don’t hide in penthouse offices. They talk to farmers on the ground, live their stress as partners during tough times and applaud and celebrate their successes during good times.

Agriculture is a unique industry, and it takes innovative minds to tailor financial programs and products to stimulate growth and profitability.

Furthermore, suggesting in the report that FCC is somehow culpable for the increase in land values doesn’t pass the laugh test.

When grains and oilseeds farmers make money, some of the profits will be capitalized in land values: that’s how the real world works.

Does that mean profits are bad or that an increase in property value is harmful? Why are farmers the only members of society who shouldn’t celebrate when their asset value goes up? Who is doing the thinking over there?

Here’s a suggestion to the institute for time better spent: research how a society can ensure that everyone can afford to eat, with farmers making a profit at the same time.

Farmers support a financial institution that is unapologetic about its role in empowering farmers through a well designed, farm specific suite of programs and products and filling a void by treading where others don’t dare go. Contrary to what the institute claims in its report, that is a complementary role.

Finally, the implication in the report that farmers are undisciplined in their borrowing practices is an insult to their intelligence and credibility.

It appears there are those who would love to relegate farmers to the “bib overall and pitchfork days” of lifestyle farming. But today’s farmers will have no part in it.

Today’s farmers are well trained business professionals, as good with balance sheets as they are operating their machinery.

They need a sound financial institution such as FCC, run by professionals who understand agriculture and the vagaries of climate, currency, export markets and input costs.

FCC has positioned itself as being one of the architects to build farm prosperity. C.D. Howe thinkers whine about farmers being empowered.

In her biography of the man who was a cabinet minister for 22 years, Susan Munroe writes: “C.D. Howe was forthright and forceful, more interested in getting things done than in policy.”

C.D. Howe would love FCC.

Bob Friesen is chief executive officer and Jonathan Warnock is research director with Farmers of North America Strategic Agriculture Institute.

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