“The federal and provincial governments all need to be working together towards the same ends.”
– Greg Marshall
The three Prairie general farm organizations have accomplished something rare among farm groups – common ground on farm policies.
Manitoba’s Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) hosted the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan (APAS) and Alberta’s Wild Rose Agricultural Producers (WRAP) April 17 in Winnipeg. Their presidents identified two major priorities – proposed amendments to the Canada Grain Act and assistance to livestock producers.
They also agree on policies dealing with grain transportation, farm inputs and farm gate returns.
Whether C-13, the bill to amend the Canada Grain Act continues through Parliament or dies, KAP, APAS and WRAP agree it or its replacement must be revamped.
“It can’t be reintroduced unless there are changes in our mind,” APAS president Greg Marshall said. “Inward inspection and weighing and security are priorities in our province.”
If C-13 becomes law mandatory CGC inward grain inspection at port terminals will end, although it would be available upon request through private inspection companies. Grain companies also won’t have to post security to cover what they owe farmers for the grain they’ve delivered. It would be up to farmers to devise their own protection plan.
WRAP president Humphrey Banack said removing inward inspection is a step backwards. The service protects farmers by ensuring the quality of Canadian grain exports.
“We need that to protect our market share across the world,” he said.
However, farmers are open to changes that make grain inspection more efficient and less costly to farmers, added KAP president Ian Wishart.
C-13 would also change the Canadian Grain Commission’s mandate. Now the CGC’s stated mission is to work in the interest of farmers; under C-13 the mandate would include serving the interests of the grain industry.
“As long as they can maintain that in a level of balance and not lose some focus on the producers’ interests, particularly in terms of protection on delivery, I think we can live with that,” Wishart said.
KAP, APAS and WRAP agree Canada needs a national support program for beleaguered livestock producers, based on consultation with farmers and provincial governments.
Tilted playing field
Alberta and Saskatchewan have provincial support programs providing aid directly to cattle and hog producers, while Manitoba doesn’t. That puts Manitoba farmers at a competitive disadvantage. Meantime, if that aid triggers countervailing duties on Canadian animals or meat exported to the United States they’ll hurt Manitoba farmers even though they didn’t receive support.
“This is proof-positive that collaborative efforts are the approach we need to take against these problems,” Marshall said. “The federal and provincial governments all need to be working together towards the same ends.”
KAP, APAS and WRAP also want Ottawa to review railway costs. They suspect farmers are overpaying the railways for grain shipping. Legislation caps the revenue the railways can collect for shipping grain, but the cap is adjusted annually to reflect increases in operating costs. However, the formula doesn’t take into account increased railway efficiency.
The three organizations will continue to co-operate in publicizing the farmer’s share of what consumers spend on food. Food prices jumped last year, as did grain prices. Grain prices have fallen from their record highs a year ago, but retail prices for food such as bread, have increased.
“The farmer’s share (of the food prices) may be the same (as last year) but the farmer’s margin is falling back,” Banack said because of higher input costs.
That’s why the three groups want the Competition Act reviewed. Wishart said under current legislation the Competition Bureau has failed to address farmer concerns about the lack of competition among fertilizer and pesticide manufacturers.
“We can’t be competitive in a world marketplace as western Canadian producers without competitive inputs,” Wishart said.
“Once we’ve lost that competition it’s going to be virtually impossible to bring it back,” Banack added.
The presidents of KAP, APAS and WRAP will meet again to find common ground on farm issues in Regina in October. [email protected]