Not The Time To Neglect Agriculture

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The 34th North American European Union Agricultural Conference, a major forum for discussion on solutions to the world economic crisis affecting farmers, was hosted by the Canadian Federation of Agriculture at Niagara Falls, Ontario this fall. The primary focus of the conference was to expand discussions on collaborative and co-operative approaches to the world’s food production.

The NA-EU Ag Conference was initiated many years ago by the American Farm Bureau (AFB). At the time, the AFB unilaterally declared that they represented all North American farmers; a point that Canadian and Mexican producers quickly rejected. Following the inclusion of the CFA, the National Agricultural Council of Mexico also agreed to attend.

This year, there were representatives from 73 farm organizations from 19 different countries. It is worthy of note that two organizations (COPA and COGECA) represent more than 15 million people working on EU farm holdings and more than 40,000 co-operatives. In light of the importance of this meeting, it was certainly disheartening and disappointing that our own federal minister of agriculture chose not to attend.

We are at a key moment in world agriculture. It is widely agreed that agricultural production needs to grow by at least 70 per cent to meet the world’s needs by 2050. If agriculture is expected to address the challenges we face in feeding a growing planet, society needs to be a supportive stakeholder.

The world economy is just coming out of the deepest recession since the Second World War, 60 years ago. Credit has become scarce, investments and asset prices are falling, there are dramatic drops in international trade and farm commodity prices are volatile. Add to this consumer trends and the continuing demand for cheap food along with increased food safety and environmental concerns.

The shaky state of many governments’ finances seems to point toward additional cuts in support programs and further increases in taxes. Farm programs might be affected, but on the other hand there are strong arguments not to touch them. It is interesting to note that many industrialized countries have become aware that removal of market regulations and moving farm support to direct payments has not been enough to assure stability of farm economies in times of market volatility like we have seen. The EU is currently working on a policy instrument in the form of risk management. With market volatility expected to become even more so with the effects of climate change, risk management strategies will become even more critical in the future.

The “food price” scares of just months ago and continuing food shortages around the world are hopefully a wake-up call for countries not to neglect agriculture.

Greg Marshall is president of the Agricultural Producers of Saskatchewan. He farms near Semans, Sask.

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