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Former CFA chief to lead FNA’s think tank

One of Canadian agriculture’s better-known spokesmen has been tapped to jump-start a new ag policy and research organization.

Saskatoon-based Farmers of North America (FNA) on Wednesday named Bob Friesen as the CEO for its Strategic Agriculture Institute (FNA-STAG).

Friesen served as president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) from 1999 to 2008, stepping down to run unsuccessfully for the Liberals in a west Winnipeg riding in the 2008 federal election.

He began working with FNA early last year in a government and member relations role, which FNA said is now “formalized” in this new position. FNA-STAG was incorporated as a not-for-profit body in March 2008, but has not been active until now, the group said.

“There is a lot we can do for the cause of farmer empowerment through this organization,” Friesen said in an FNA release. “Margin is being taken from farmers everywhere they turn, because the industry knows when a farmer works alone, he is a price-taker. We need to turn that model around.”

FNA brokers deals for lower-cost imports of ag inputs on behalf of its members in the West, Ontario and Quebec. Companies that supply farmers are normally used to charging what they think farmers will pay, Friesen said, but are “forced to lower their prices” when FNA enters the market for a given product.

“Farmers can change the marketplace when they work together,” he said. “It’s exciting to see it.”

One of Friesen’s first tasks with FNA-STAG will be to finalize a board of directors that includes representation from FNA members across Canada, the group said.

“Profitability”

FNA-STAG will focus on “improving profitability by working with other organizations on better policy and regulation, and undertaking research projects that are necessary in building new profitability opportunities,” FNA said.

Friesen will operate out of Ottawa, but FNA-STAG will also maintain a secretariat office at FNA’s Saskatoon head office, the group said.

FNA-STAG’s CEO is a former turkey and hog farmer from Wawanesa, Man., about 50 km southeast of Brandon.

Friesen served as a CFA director and as second vice-president before his nine-year stint as its president, except for a brief hiatus when he was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident in 2005.

Well known on the world stage during World Trade Organization talks on agriculture, Friesen was brought into party politics by then-Liberal leader Stephane Dion. He became the third Liberal “star” candidate in four years to be defeated by Winnipeg Conservative MLA Steven Fletcher.

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