BLOG: NFU must do more to avoid fringe reputation

The National Farmers Union is a serious organization with serious ideas.

But ordinary farmers may not be listening.

This week the NFU held its 50th annual convention in Winnipeg with NFU members from Nova Scotia to British Columbia in attendance.

At the event, the NFU unveiled a 98-page discussion paper called Tackling the Farm Crisis and the Climate Crisis.

Dozens of NFU members contributed to the document and the NFU consulted with university and government experts, who shared information about their research on livestock, crop nutrients, soils and greenhouse gas emissions.

The paper argues, effectively, that climate change is a genuine threat to agriculture. It contains interesting and controversial comments, which leaders of other farm groups would never say in public, such as:

• “Our cropping and grazing methods must increase soil carbon levels, but we should not become confused by claims that we can somehow fix the climate crisis by pulling carbon out of the atmosphere and ‘sequestering’ it in soils. This is false solution for many reasons.”

• Canada should set aside five to 10 percent of marginal farmland to protect wetlands and forests.

The paper also contains a six-page discussion on the pros and cons of livestock production when it comes to climate change and soil health.

In short, there are few farm organizations in Canada that are willing to publish such a detailed and thoughtful paper on climate change.

However, a large percentage of Canadian farmers won’t hear these ideas, or listen to them, because the NFU is too cozy with fringe groups that oppose modern agriculture or have agendas that have nothing to do with farming.

As an example, about five organizations had booths at the NFU conference in Winnipeg. One of them was the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN).

Its official mission is to “research, monitor and raise awareness about issues relating to genetic engineering in food and farming,” but in reality CBAN is known as an anti-GMO group.

“There is no scientific basis to conclude that GM foods are safe,” its website says.

The NFU is a member of CBAN, even though the National Farmers Union has members, conventional farmers, who grow GM crops like canola, corn and soybeans.

The NFU does not oppose genetically modified crops, but few other farm groups would invite CBAN to its conference. That’s because the organization campaigns against the tools of modern agriculture — like GM crops and other biotechnology.

As another example of special interests hijacking the NFU agenda, one of the presenters at the Winnipeg conference spoke on the topic of migrant workers.

It was part of a session about emerging issues in agriculture, but there was little mention of temporary foreign workers in Canadian farming. The speaker spent 20 minutes on the dangers of racism and white supremacy and how financial inequality threatens Canada’s future. Every table in the room had a flyer, asking attendees to fight racism.

Fighting racism is an admirable enterprise, but it seemed to be a bit off topic.

If the NFU has decided it must be inclusive and all voices must be heard, that’s fine. Some of those voices should be heard.

But when you become a bullhorn for special interest groups, there are consequences.

As an NDP politician told me this fall, Manitoba’s NDP party has become irrelevant in rural parts of the province because the party is obsessed with identity politics. He said the NDP will never regain power in the province unless it decides to represent the interests of all Manitobans, including ‘average’ Manitobans.

In the middle of November, former U.S. President Barack Obama delivered a similar message to the Democratic Party. During a speech in Washington, D.C., he said the average American voter does not support the views of “certain left-leaning Twitter feeds or the activist wing of our party.”

The National Farmers Union may no longer represent the average Canadian farmer, which is unfortunate, because the organization has important things to say, and its voice is needed.

Contact robert.arnason@producer.com

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