The CFA advocates on behalf of farmers for increased marketplace power
By Laurent Pellerin, CFA President
One of the concerns faced by Canadian farmers is the continual battle against larger influences within the agri-food value chain. Whether it is dealing with a few very large producers of fertilizers, large multinational organizations purchasing grain, or large government agencies mandating constant changes to a farmer's operating environment, primary agriculture producers are constantly facing an erosion of their profit margins. The margins frequently fall well below the cost of production. The Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) strives to advocate on behalf of farmers to the federal government to create and enable policies regain their marketplace power.
The creation of co-operatives has been an organizational structure that has served farmers for many years in many different production systems. In Canada, there are 1300 agricultural co-operatives, employing 36,000 people, in businesses as varied as input supply and farm insurance to processing and marketing of bio-fuels. These co-ops generate over $19 billion per year in revenue and channel some $1.6 billion producer re-investment in the industry and rural communities. One of the main difficulties in establishing a farmer cooperative is in locating the appropriate capital necessary to fund expansions and develop products and production systems for new markets and opportunities.
The CFA has been working with the Canadian Cooperatives Association on a Cooperative Investment Plan, where a significant portion of a farmer's contribution to a cooperative could be offset with a tax deduction, thereby providing an incentive for continued funding of the institution. This would be structured as a tax-incentive for investing capital into co-operatives, and has proven to be very successful in Quebec. For a relatively low cost to the government, this program would see hundreds of millions of dollars invested into agricultural co-operatives across Canada.
One way in which government has partnered with farmers is in the legislation and support of collective marketing boards. These boards, such as those legislated for dairy and poultry products, have proven to be very resilient to global market upheavals and have consistently returned solid revenue streams to farmers. While such a model is not ideal for every commodity, the supply managed collective marketing system is a vital tool for products that might otherwise be highly volatile. One needs only look at the difficulties experienced within the dairy industry south of the border to gain an understanding of the value of such a farmer empowerment system here.
One of the greatest influences on the operating environment of a farmer, next to the weather and commodity markets, is dealing with the regulatory burden. Agriculture and Agri-food Canada, Health Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the Canadian Grain Commission, and numerous commodity-specific, regional, and provincial regulatory bodies affect the ability for a farmer to eke out a profit from his or her operation. By banding together in a powerful farm organization, an organization such as the CFA can provide a united voice for farmers and push back against intrusive government demands on farmers. To accomplish this, farmers much empower their local or commodity-specific farm organization to meet their needs and communicate them to the national audience. The CFA will argue the position of Canadian farmers directly to the responsible departments on your behalf. Individually, regulatory authorities can walk all over the small farmer, but when faced with a united group they are forced to listen.
The use of a membership-based volume-purchasing organzations, such as the Farmers of North America, have emerged in an attempt to help mitigate some of the input cost pressures facing farmers. This model has proven successful in the consumer sector, with the prominence of large membership-based club stores, and many farmers have indicated their appreciation for such an approach applied to input purchases. The uptake of the FNA service has been significant and growing every year, with members in every province except Newfoundland, and is a testament to farmers' desire to continually reduce their operating costs and become more efficient.
While FNA has proven effective for many farmers, it is limited in its ability to address consolidation within large fertilizer producers. The recent attempted merger of Agrium and CF Industries, and discussions of the possible sale of Potash Corp to large foreign interests, is yet another example of multinational consolidation designed to extract further gains from farmers. This challenge can be met with increased use of collective purchasing bodies, such as through cooperatives and companies like FNA, and also through the use of regulation. To that end, the CFA will continue to push the Competition Bureau of Canada investigate cartel-like behaviour within the fertilizer industry and demand the government act in the interests of farmers across the country.
Finally, the domestic consumer is one of Canadian agriculture's most important markets. While competing countries have invested heavily in promoting domestically-produced food and marketing it to their own consumers, Canada has played a much more relaxed position. Even though both the CFA and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada have released surveys showing that Canadian consumers prefer Canadian products, turning this desire into increased sales of Canadian products has been difficult. One of the reasons is that there is no cohesive marketing campaign supported by a proper labelling system for items that a grown and processed in Canada. While the 'Product of Canada' labelling guidelines had zero requirements for domestically-grown ingredients, the government's changes to a 98% requirement were simply unworkable for virtually all of the agri-food industry. However, the CFA, along with other partners, has been pushing for a change to guidelines that would see a reduction to 85%, allowing many products grown and processed in Canada would be able to proudly carry the label. Additionally, if the government sponsored a domestic branding and marketing campaign, the CFA believes many new and exciting opportunities would emerge for Canadian farmers and agri-food companies.
About the Canadian Federation of Agriculture
Founded in 1935 to provide Canada's farmers with a single voice in Ottawa, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture is the country's largest farmers' organization. Its members include provincial general farm organizations, national and inter-provincial commodity organizations, and cooperatives from every province. Through its members, CFA represents over 200,000 Canadian farmers and farm families.