by SUSAN MANN
Government policies have been focused on controlling surpluses in Canadian agricultural production but with worldwide food demand increasing those surpluses will soon disappear, says Lorne Small, president of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario.
Small says the world food situation has changed in the last five to 10 years with demand for Canadian agricultural products at its highest level ever.
Increased demand is coming from an increasing middle class in the developing world, particularly those who can afford to buy a good diet featuring meat. “As we in this part of the world are reducing our meat consumption the developing world is doing the reverse,” he says.
Small explains that development will change the dynamics of agriculture to a “much more demand driven approach as opposed to trying to suppress supply.”
That’s one continuing development in agriculture Small says the federation is watching this year. Others include the provincial and federal governments’ budget deficits, particularly the impact of any cost-saving measures governments implement on agricultural program funding, the continuing financial crisis in Europe, the Americans inclination to implement trade barriers, and the development of Growing Forward 2 programs of agricultural policies.
Don McCabe, Ontario Federation of Agriculture vice-president, says this year the industry will be focused on continuing to rebuild its asset base that was severely constrained, particularly for red meats and grains and oilseeds.
In addition, the industry needs to continue getting the best programs it can for farmers. “We’ve got a Risk Management program provincially but we need to get one federally,” he says.
The agricultural industry must also continue keeping a serious eye “on where the impact of regulation is going to come on our industry and at the same time be able to proactively continue outreach to bring fresh ideas and concepts that will assist Ontario farmers to remain competitive,” McCabe says.
Small says it won’t be a year when any one matter will override everything. “A lot will depend on where the economy is going and what happens in the United States and Europe.”
Currently agriculture is “pretty blessed,” he notes. Except for the fruits and vegetable sector, the other commodities are in pretty reasonably shape.
Small’s wish for the industry this year is good weather and that grain prices stay as resilient as they are now. “When the grain sector is making money many of the other sectors, including livestock producers, are making money.”
McCabe’s first wish for the industry is that everyone has a “healthy and prosperous opportunity before them. We deal in a dangerous business” and he hopes everyone can get through the year with their health intact.
He also wishes for normal weather in 2012 if that’s possible. “We’ve come through a stressful 2011 weather wise,” McCabe notes.
Ann Slater, Ontario coordinator for the National Farmers Union, says her wish for the industry this year is for it to start turning around the trend of disappearing rural infrastructure, such as processing facilities and small abattoirs. “We need to be keep small abattoirs and processing facilities in Ontario.”
Her other wishes include that the Canadian government negotiate trade agreements in an open and public way “so we can have a public debate about them” and if the government signs agreements they need to benefit family farmers first and not corporations.
Similar to Small, Slater says the development of Growing Forward 2 programs will be a continuing focus for the agricultural industry this year. The NFU will continue pushing for agricultural programs and policies to be directed to family farms and that they support “the base of farmers as opposed to supporting others parts of the whole agribusiness system.”
Slater says the government is continuing with its a global trade-focused approach to agriculture rather than the sustainability of family farms as the base of food and farm policies. But the NFU would rather see programs that support the economic, social and environmental sustainability of the food and farm system.
Another continuing development for the industry this year includes the implications on farmers of trade agreements that are currently being negotiated, such as European Union one and Canada’s possible inclusion in the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks. BF