For Allison and Mike Ammeter, being a farmer goes far beyond actual farm work.
“Farming is a whole lot more than putting seed in the ground and harvesting it,” said Allison Ammeter, who farms alongside her husband near Sylvan Lake.
“A lot of it is looking at the really big picture — provincially, nationally, and globally.”
That’s not something that came naturally, at least for Mike.
“When I first got introduced to policy development, it was like, ‘I’m growing grain here. Why are we talking about policy?’” said Mike, who was on the board at Alberta Barley and now sits on the Alberta Canola board.
“Sometimes you get a little myopic and just focus on what you’re doing, but the politics around food is really huge.
“And policy is a little like a black hole. It just goes on forever.”
Alberta has at least 20 agricultural commissions and marketing boards covering pretty much every commodity a farmer can produce — everything from grains and livestock to milk and eggs. The 13 commissions are funded through a refundable checkoff, while the seven marketing boards (which represent supply-managed commodities) have a non-refundable service charge.
These dollars fund research, market development, agronomy, stakeholder communications, and policy development — a key role of the commissions.
“The commissions specifically are there to serve the farmers and to be that networking interface between the farmers and so many other organizations around us, including the government,” said Allison, a director for Alberta Pulse Growers.
“We work with governments to ensure that their regulations are what work for farmers.”
A good example of that is the recent work on the Transportation Modernization Act, she added. Although it’s a provincial commission, Alberta Pulse Growers is part of Pulse Canada, a national body representing all pulse producers. Pulse Canada was at the table during the talks about rail transport, and farmers like Allison were “heavily involved” in that.
“With this transportation bill, we weren’t just involved in the sense that we talked to members of parliament and senators. We were actually writing portions of the bill and suggesting wording to make it work,” said Allison.
“We sat on a number of roundtables where the ministers were gathering information. We had the chance to say, ‘This is what would work for farmers.’
“As members of commissions, we can have that kind of an impact. It truly amazes me.”
On a provincial level, the commissions have worked together on major policy issues such as the carbon tax and the new workplace health and safety regulations and employment standards.
“Some of the problems are local, but we’re working in a global market,” said Mike. “We need an even playing field.”
Because of that, the commissions are also at the table during trade and market access discussions. When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau went to India last spring, “what most of the Canadian public saw was all of the different outfits he had on,” said Allison. But representatives from Pulse Canada were also there with government officials to speak with high-level Indian officials about reducing tariffs on pulses.
“We’ve made sure our government is extremely well informed on what’s going on every time there’s a market access issue,” she said. “We’ve got the networks to make sure the problems are getting solved.”
That’s what lobbying is really all about, she added. When people think of ‘lobbying,’ they think of people “knocking on the door and asking for what they want.”
“We do do some of that, but we’re doing a lot of informing and networking and presenting all the facts so that they can make a really informed decision,” said Allison.
“It’s just not possible for them to know everything about every industry. We need to step up and say, ‘Here’s what you need to know.’”
Farmers can support commission efforts in a number of ways — volunteering at events, taking part in research trials, becoming a delegate for their region, or yes, even standing for election as a director. (Many elections are held in fall or winter. Alberta Canola, which has four director spots coming up for election, has a list of Alberta farm groups and links to their websites.)
“There are a lot of channels for you to make the difference you want to see,” said Allison. “As farmers, when we step up, we’re not stepping up so that our name gets engraved on a plaque somewhere. That ain’t going to happen.
“We are stepping up because we can serve farmers and serve agriculture. We can make a difference.”