by SUSAN MANN
Ontario farm leaders had a ton of advice on the areas Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Minister Jeff Leal should focus on when he meets with the country’s other agriculture ministers next month.
Leal and ministry staff met with 30 leaders from a variety of agricultural sectors in Guelph Tuesday to hear their thoughts on what the federal, provincial and territorial agriculture ministers need to discuss at their meeting July 20 to 22 in Calgary, Alberta.
One of the key topics of discussion at the Ontario farm leaders’ meeting was the upcoming negotiation for the next national agricultural policy framework, Growing Forward 3. The current framework, Growing Forward 2, expires in 2018.
Leal says leaders were also keen to see “ways to continue growing the processing sector here in the province of Ontario.”
For Growing Forward 3, Leal says Ontario wants to ensure that it provide investments in:
- Productivity improvements.
- Facilitating export development.
- Business opportunities that will replace imports into Ontario.
Ontario Pork was one of the groups talking about the need for adequate coverage levels in business risk management programs within the policy framework along with funding for non-business risk management programs and the importance of trade.
Export markets are vitally important to pork producers and the sector’s processors as 70 per cent of Canada’s pork production is exported, communications and consumer marketing manager Mary Jane Quinn says by email.
Quinn says the coverage levels within the policy framework’s business risk management programs need to be reviewed and strengthened “with a goal to raising the amount of total farm production protected by the programs.”
Beef Farmers of Ontario executive director Dave Stewart agrees the business risk management programs needs to be beefed up in the next policy framework “because they were cut drastically in Growing Forward 2.”
Stewart says at a meeting in Perth on June 27, concerned beef producers from all over eastern Ontario said the “number one thing they think young and expanding producers need is long term security around business risk management programs.”
Young people starting out on farms need safety net programs that are consistently going to be there for them, he says.
When governments put programs in place and then cut them back a few years later, that “doesn’t provide the stability and support that gives people and lenders confidence,” Stewart says.
Quinn says the budget for non-business risk management programs should be strengthened “to reflect the public’s increased expectations” in various areas, such as:
- Great Lakes water quality protection.
- Animal care and welfare.
- Climate change.
- Antimicrobial resistance.
“There is an opportunity for non-business risk management funding to better assist the pork sector to implement progressive standards that will help set Canadian pork apart from our competitors,” she says.
Tony Straathof, National Farmers Union – Ontario regional council member, says one difficulty the government faces in reassessing the Growing Forward business risk management programs is a lack of participation by new, beginning and smaller farmers in some programs, such as AgriStability and AgriInvest.
“It’s inaccurate to try and reassess programs if you don’t have all of the data,” he says.
Straathof explains “there could be better participation in the programs offered in Growing Forward 2 and the minister (Leal) is looking to address those challenges and maybe get a better uptake. He will be reviewing those challenges and talking about them at the meeting (for the country’s agriculture ministers).”
Another challenge is there’s a lack of consistency in programs, such as production insurance across all of the provinces. “The minister recognized there is a need for the country to have more consistency in the administration of the programs,” Straathof notes.
Production insurance is administered by the provinces “and there isn’t as much consistency across all the provinces that we, as farmers, would like,” he says.
In the area of trade, Straathof says Ontario farm leaders talked about the need for adequate border controls for supply-managed commodities and concerns about countries’ different approval systems for farmers’ inputs, such as pesticides.
“There’s a perceived advantage to some country’s approval systems compared to ours,” he notes.
Clarence Nywening, president of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, says “we’re concerned about our supply managed sectors being diminished because of international trade deals.”
At the same time, international trade is vital for many commodities and “governments should continue efforts to secure markets for Canadian agricultural commodities,” he says. “They should promote the sustainability and quality of Canadian agricultural practices and products abroad,” he notes.
Another concern the federation has is products can be imported into Canada from countries whose farmers use inputs, such as chemicals, that aren’t allowed for Canadian farmers to use in their production. That’s a big disadvantage to Canadian farmers, he says.
“Goods imported into the Canadian market should be required to meet the same production and processing standards as those produced in Canada,” he says.
Mark Brock, chair of Grain Farmers of Ontario, and Don McCabe, president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, couldn’t be reached for comment. BF