We need a partner, not a blank cheque

For other industries, it may be difficult to understand why a Canadian grain farmer’s livelihood depends on markets that are 5,000 kilometres from here.

The reality is that we grow more than we can eat, so over 90 percent of our agri-food exports (including wheat, barley, and oilseeds) are destined for customers that are an ocean away.

As you may have seen, the federal government made quite a few waves recently with its announcement of $1.75 billion in compensation to dairy producers due to the impact of our trade agreements with the Pacific region and the European Union. While we would never dismiss a considerate approach to addressing trade implications, the concern here is losing sight of Canadian agriculture’s other valuable sectors — ones that want to stand up for themselves but need a committed partner to do so.

In the 2017 federal budget, the government of Canada challenged the agricultural export market to reach a goal of $75 billion in exports by 2025. This is ambitious, but we grain farmers have always been a determined group, eager to rise to the challenge. However, we now face a world where surviving and thriving has become ever more difficult.

In the past two decades, the cost of trade has decreased through the reduction or elimination of tariffs in many key markets. However, from the trade disputes in Italy and India to the much-publicized shutdown of canola, beef, and pork exports to China, farmers are still forced to bear the brunt of the cost of inaction.

While we are discouraged, we are not deterred, and through our national organizations we are prepared to advocate with a united voice for what we need to succeed.

The Grain Growers of Canada will continue to strongly advocate for the federal government to support all sectors where it comes to dealing with this problem.

Through the AgGrowth Coalition, we have also pushed for immediate action on improving and increasing the availability of business risk management programs. Ultimately, farmers need support from the government when adversely impacted by trade and political forces beyond our control.

This is a critical time for farmers and for our industry. The past year saw Canada’s farmers net income fall by 45 percent. This has become a worrying trend, and one that we need to reverse through the help of a willing partner.

We have got an election coming up, and Canadians have a choice to make. We do not yet know who will come out on top, but any party that wants to form government needs to lead and be a willing partner. This means having a plan and demonstrating a commitment to standing up for all sectors of Canadian agriculture.

We, as farmers, are ready to fulfil our end of the bargain.

Our livelihoods depend on it.

Jeff Nielsen is chair of Grain Growers of Canada and co-chair of the AgGrowth Coalition.

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