By Nathan Stevens
June 15, 2012
The federal and provincial governments are working on Growing Forward 2, the five-year policy framework for the agriculture and agri-food sector. Farmers, farm organizations and commodity groups across the country are focused on influencing the outcome of the framework. A realistic assessment of the world around us today points to this agreement featuring harder choices than those made in the original Growing Forward.
The first key consideration is the need to acknowledge that cuts are coming to agriculture. More than $300 million is targeted for Agriculture and Agri-food Canada. A portion can be handled through back office consolidation, but not all of it. This creates the need for hard choices on where our governments focus their agricultural dollars over the next five years.
Growing Forward 2 covers a number of key areas. Business Risk Management programming, which includes Agristability, Agri-Invest and Agri-Insurance, is a major pillar of the agreement. Government investment in science, innovation and productivity is another major focus area. Finally, there is programming like the Environmental Farm Plan which enables farmers to meet new societal demands through cost-shared programming. In an ideal world, we would want all three of these areas adequately funded such that farmers have strong safety net protection, their productivity is increasing, and farmers would be enabled to meet new societal demands quickly. However, we live in a world where compromises and tough decisions need to be made.
Finally, it is also important not to get caught in the trap of arguing that government can simply borrow a little more to cover the cost of maintaining the status quo. Taking such a stance on agriculture and other areas of public spending has the potential to lead to increased interest rates. An interest rate hike is a real detriment to nearly all farmers, hurting their net incomes and reducing their potential to be more productive, whereas cuts to various programs are detrimental to some farmers, but not the entire industry.
All stakeholders will need to consider what government’s priority should be for farm programming for 2013-2018. There just is not enough money for everything, so just like when budgeting for a household, deciding what is needed and what is wanted is going to be key for a successful policy framework for agriculture.
Nathan Stevens is the Interim Manager and Director of Policy Development for 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 and in Brantford and Woodstock. It is also found on the CFFO website:www.christianfarmers.org. CFFO is supported by 4,200 family farmers across Ontario.