Thankless work of farmers seldom politically acknowledged

D.C. Fraser is Glacier Farm-Media’s new Ottawa correspondent and will be writing a weekly column in this space.

These days I am becoming more thankful to those who do thankless work.

About one month ago, I settled in Ottawa. I claim “the West” as home to those here who ask. Most of my growing up was in Calgary and the bulk of my journalism career until now has been in Saskatchewan.

Now here I am in Ottawa, on the brink of a federal election, thinking about how thankful I am to those who do thankless work.

The sentiment comes out of spending more time with folks connected to the world of agriculture.

Countless hours of my life have been spent driving across the Prairies. Maybe this is why I stopped appreciating the meticulous efforts put in to keeping the endless fields of wheat, barley and canola growing.

In certain circles of Ottawa, you’ll be reminded of just how important such work is. There is no shortage of lobbyists or trade organizations to remind one of the value their production sector has to the Canadian economy.

Few other industries involve the hours and labour associated with agricultural work.

As I get to know some of the people who care deeply about the importance of such work, I am struck again at the little attention most of Canada pays to it.

There is little talk from any party on the campaign trail of agriculture or agri-food.

The Conservative party released its platform on Oct. 10, the press deadline for this issue of the paper.

The Liberal party dedicates a portion of its platform to rural success and agri-food, setting a goal of increasing exports and, among other things, expanding the mandate of Farm Credit Canada (details of what this would entail remain a mystery).

In the NDP platform, you can find, among other things, commitments to compensate farmers for losses from trade negotiations and give low-cost start-up loans to new farmers.

None of this strikes as being particularly ground shifting.

Considering roughly one in eight Canadian jobs is tied to the agriculture or agri-food industry, it seems there should be more attention paid to the sector by politicians.

The 2017 Barton Report identified the sector as being key to growth in Canada, and polls exist showing food security and agriculture should be issues of priority in the campaign.

There is no shortage of ideas available for political leaders to draw from. Recently, the Canadian Agri-Food and Trade Alliance penned an open letter to political parties, denouncing “the lack of serious discussion in this election about how to secure Canada’s long-term economic success by continuing to grow our exports.”

It calls on the next federal government to take significant steps in, among other things, preserving and enhancing “key export markets.”

In doing so, they joined other producer groups in asking for essentially the same thing: access to more diverse markets and the ability to be flexible with how and where they sell their products.

The notion of creating such stability within the global market is, by far, what gets brought up most in my early conversations with folks tied to the industry living and working in Ottawa.

Pages of ink have been spent in this publication detailing the impact that trade issues with China, India and Italy are having on the Canadian economy. Broadly, trade tensions and tariffs are in part responsible for weaker economic growth.

Excess global stockpiles, mixed with the lingering impacts of soft price conditions and high input costs, lead to challenging times for Canadian farmers.

Despite such challenges, agriculture and agri-food business in Canada remains poised to grow — even if none of this is being talked about in the midst of the federal election.

Thankless work.

D.C. Fraser is Glacier Farm Media’s Ottawa correspondent. Reach out to him by emailing dfraser@farmmedia.com.

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