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The CFFO Commentary: Fairness in Farming Is Never Far From the Surface in Most Discussions

By John Clement
August 12, 2011
The Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario places a lot of emphasis on values. And, arguably, one of the biggest and most constant values for most of our members comes down to “fairness.” It’s not always stated upfront when our members engage each other at committee meetings and seminars, but it’s a steady presupposition that drives a good deal of conversation.
Over the years, many CFFO conversations and position statements have emphasized the importance of fairness. These conversations have been lively affairs because everyone has their own particular take on what’s fair in a given situation. Here are three broad areas that have drawn a good deal of discussion over time:
·         Gaining Access to Opportunities. Most farmers want access to opportunities in farming and are willing to put in the effort to make it a reality. However, if a barrier stands in the way, particularly if it’s a matter of policy, great debate can take place over whether the barrier should be there in the first place or whether it needs to be modified. And being fair to those already in the industry and having made an investment becomes the other part of the conversation. Usually, beginning farmer initiatives and exemptions to marketing legislation are prime candidates for this fairness discussion.
·         Gaining an Advantage Over Others. Most farmers appreciate the help that public policies and programs can bring to farming. However, if public policies and programs are designed in such a way that some producers can gain a cash advantage over others, great debates can ensue. Nobody wants to see public monies being used to eventually subsidize farm expansions, but most people also want to see losses covered for farms, regardless of whether they are big or small. Prime candidates for this discussion are whether public programs should see cash payments capped per operation.
·         Gaining a Spot at the Table. Public policies can sometimes be put together in a hurry to address urgent needs. But in the process, some farmers can be left out of the process. Sometimes, there is little debate over where fairness lies, particularly when identifiable groups have been left out. However, sometimes farmers can be disadvantaged because of the choices they’ve made about how to manage their businesses. Prime candidates for this discussion are public programs that reward specialization while ignoring sound risk management diversification choices made by farmers.
There are a number of other target areas for fairness discussions in farming. For example, the Agricultural Odyssey Group Report, issued in 2002, states that in regards to world trade that “producers must accept that the current global business environment is not “fair” and move on to developing strategies that level the playing field and provide marketing and price discovery alternatives.” My best bet is that in conversations regarding everything from trade arrangements to livestock ear tags, the notion of “fairness” in farming will never be far from the surface.
John Clementis the General Manager of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario. The CFFO Commentary represents the opinions of the writer and does not necessarily represent CFFO policy. The CFFO Commentary is heard weekly on CFCO Chatham, CKNX Wingham, and UCB Canada radio stations in Chatham, Belleville, Bancroft, Brockville and Kingston. It is also archived on the CFFO website: www.christianfarmers.org. CFFO is supported by 4,200 family farmers across Ontario.

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