By Henry Stevens
There is general agreement in the farm community that a number of our commodities are in serious financial difficulty and face an uncertain future. There is also general agreement on why family farms in those sectors are facing such difficulties. Where there is less agreement is “how do we solve those problems and turn these sectors around?”
Perth County pork and beef producers are to be commended for offering some leadership regarding solving these problems. They recently organized an information meeting, called Farmers Matter in Stratford to bring attention to the situation and explore possible solutions. Several of the most frequently mentioned obstacles to profitability were: an uneven playing field with our competitors; safety nets that do not work for most farmers; fluctuating exchange rates; a regulatory burden that stifles small business and flawed labeling legislation.
How do we overcome those issues? Thirty to 40 years ago we had political champions such as Bill Stewart and Eugene Whelan to fight for farmers. Today, we lack such champions. If it is true, as MP Wayne Easter bluntly stated in Stratford, that our farmers do not matter but should, then I believe that solutions will not be found only through government lobbying by producers or their organizations.
So what do we do? I believe that our best chance of succeeding is to tap into the goodwill that consumers in general have for farmers. We are consistently named as the number two or three most respected profession in numerous public opinion polls. We must build on that goodwill and convince the consumer to, in effect, speak for us through their shopping choices and demands. Consumers must tell the government of the day that they want the highest quality, and the demonstrated safety of Canadian grown food. It must be clearly labeled as such so that consumers have the confidence to know they are buying exactly what the label says.
How do we effectively build goodwill with consumers? We must tell our story. As producers and producer organizations, we need to promote our products. We cannot leave it up to the processors and retailers. We need to put the face of a friendly, local farmer, and his family, on all of our advertisements, including billboards, and on public transit such as subways and buses. If we can do that, I am confident the consumer will identify us as the providers of the safe, healthy, abundant food they want for their families and will pressure retailers and government to provide more. Consumer demand will lead to more investment in local, rural infrastructure, which in turn will provide new local jobs and help rebuild our local communities.
I believe it is time to try something different. My hope is that you agree.
Henry Stevens is the President 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, Ontario and is archived on the CFFO website: www.christianfarmers.org. CFFO is supported by 4,200 family farmers across Ontario.