An action list for the federal government

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To Canada’s many farmers who are now weighing options for next year’s growing season, it’s clear that swift action is needed to solidify those agricultural policies that remain incomplete and correct those that are unworkable or ineffective. Farmers received promising news on the new Growing Forward suite of programs, slated to begin April 1, 2009, and are eager to learn more. However, they’ve recently heard that their federal and provincial governments are still in negotiations on these new programs. How can they plan to participate if they don’t know exactly what the programs will offer, or how to apply in time for this spring?

During the election, producers heard many encouraging promises from the Conservatives’ party platform and they are now looking for delivery on those commitments. As such, CFA and its farm leaders urge the government to work in partnership with us to act quickly on the following priorities:

Agri-Flex and Business Risk Management programs. A primary concern is the need to improve Business Risk Management (BRM) programs to ensure they are responsive and flexible enough to meet the needs of producers and commodities across the country, as proposed in CFA’s AgriFlex initiative. CFA was pleased to note the Conservatives’ election commitment to provide an agricultural flexibility program. The priority now is to finalize the details, funding and implementation for this vital aspect of BRM programming. CFA wants to work with the government to finalize these details and to follow through on previous outstanding issues such as expanding production insurance, particularly for livestock and horticultural producers.

Excise tax reduction. The promise of a two-cent reduction in diesel excise tax was well-received by the farm community. Farmers need to know when this will take effect.

International trade. While we are encouraged by speculation that certain elements of the WTO Doha Round may be salvaged, we must not lose sight of the potential to be gained through bilateral and regional trade deals. An ongoing commitment to Canada’s balanced trade position is essential for all international trade negotiations.

Climate change. One of the most prominent issues on farmers’ minds is climate change. They wonder how their new government will recognize their important role in mitigating the effects of greenhouse gases, and want assurance that they won’t face an unfair economic burden as a result of new policies. The Conservative platform stated that a cap-and-trade system would be put in place so that producers could be paid for their carbon offset activities. Producers are anxious to know more.

Food safety. Back in the mid-90s, farm groups proactively began developing HACCP-based, auditable on-farm food safety programs, and this tradition continues to grow. Today’s added market and consumer demands require that the new government commit to long-term investment in these successful farmer-led programs.

“Product of Canada” labelling. The new “Product of Canada” food labelling guidelines, which are to come into force on Dec. 31, 2008, will have a significant impact on the agri-food industry. With the implementation date just around the corner and few associated details released, farm leaders have asked the government to meet with us and processors to discuss the timing and communications needs of this initiative to ensure that processors are in a position to fully use and adopt this new label. CFA leaders also need to discuss the need for a well-funded communications campaign to increase consumers’ understanding of what the labels actually mean. CFA and many of the processors we have talked to still believe that the creation of a national industry advisory committee is critical to ensure the effectiveness of the new Product of Canada initiative.

On these and other pressing issues, farmers are ready to work. The importance of collaborating with duly elected farm organizations cannot be overstated. If these new policies and programs are to be successful, farmers need to be at the table for an open, two-way consultation process – one that will give producers a real chance to help shape the programs they’ll be using. And farm groups offer another key advantage: they will work to increase participation in programs they know will help their members.

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