Grain farming is the forgotten sector

Grain farmers are concerned. The current federal government pays lip service and says that they have our back, but the simple truth is that they don’t walk the talk. These frustrations existed long before COVID-19 but now it’s even more challenging.

The Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association remains dedicated to the values of free trade, open markets, and the entrepreneurial spirit that opened up the Canadian prairie decades ago. Unfortunately, our federal government has forgotten the important role that agriculture plays in our food security.

As Canadians see empty grocery shelves, they have become more aware of the role that farmers play in our food supply chain. But did you know that agriculture contributes $111.9 billion to our gross domestic product and employs 2.3 million people? In spite of this, our 2018 average income was the same as it was in 2008.

As farmers head out to seed millions of acres of farmland this spring, these are some of the things on our minds:

Carbon tax — The federal government has imposed a carbon tax on grain farmers, but research shows that grain farmers are net-zero carbon emitters. We actually store carbon in our soil and the grain that we grow. We sell grain at world commodity prices, so we cannot add the carbon tax to our costs. With our farm net margins decreasing, the cost of the carbon tax comes out of our bottom line. The solution is to eliminate the agriculture carbon tax.

Environment — Grain farmers depend on the well-being of our land and we want it to be available for generations to come. We were early adopters of modern agricultural methods and the future looks even stronger with autonomous equipment and new seed varieties. The solution is to recognize the carbon sequestering and storage that grain farmers create.

International trade — During the past four years, grain farmers have lost about $4 billion due to non-tariff trade barriers and other enforcement issues. Government officials must understand that their slow pace impacts farmers’ income. Solutions would be to:

Prioritize Canada’s trade agreements with the World Trade Organizations and institute counteractions as necessary.

  • Develop new trading partners.
  • Use the current crisis to form private-public-partnerships by processing our grains and oilseed markets.

Business risk management programs — The existing BRM tools, especially AgriStability, have a low enrolment and don’t work well for farmers. These programs could be quickly modified to address our current and future concerns. Agriculture Canada officials should listen to farmers to redesign the program to be simpler and easier. Consider eliminating the reference margin limit and raising the conventional margin limit.

Crop insurance — All farmers need crop insurance, but we also want to help mitigate risk by reducing premiums on crop insurance. There is power in the open market and there is no need to separate provincial from private options; let us decide for ourselves. A solution would be to allow free enterprise insurance options.

Transportation — as we witnessed during the impact of the illegal blockades earlier this year, it doesn’t take much to disrupt the delivery of our grain. The outcome was the short-term loss of several international contracts. Solution: make the delivery of our grain an essential service.

Broadband — Urban dwellers rely on wi-fi and so do farmers. Our work grinds to a halt with the slow speeds that are generally available in rural areas. Solution: incentivize private suppliers to rapidly expand the rural broadband networks.

Canadian grain farmers need our federal government to walk the talk on these issues. Farmers are ready, willing and able to do our part, but our federal government has us on the outside looking in. Bring us to the table and work with us.

Gunter Jochum is president of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association.

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