By WILL VERBOVEN
Ahead of the Heard
Probably not a year goes by without our illustrious governments either helping, hindering or exasperating the agriculture industry in this country and province. The year 2010 will go down as a banner year in all accounts. After over 35 years in this business in various capacities from hopeful young ag student; to indebted Peace River rancher; to cynical farm writer; to wannabe retired curmudgeon, I like to believe that I have seen everything come and go in agricultural politics. But it seems each year brings new and ever more devious schemes and machinations by government ministers and their cunning bureaucrats. I thank them all, if it wasn’t for them and their never ending desire to fix farming and ranching, I would have very little to write about. As long as they keep giving it to me on a plate, I just can’t help exploiting their generosity. But I digress.
I will only touch on some of the more significant agriculture happenings in 2010. Firstly, full credit to both governments for providing much needed assistance to alleviate producer financial pressures from weather calamities, be it for too much moisture or too little. That’s the traditional role governments should play, if only it could be done in a more efficient and timely manner, but that may never be possible.
Governments should also be given full credit for playing a significant role in promoting Canadian food exports in markets around the world. That’s another traditional role for them, albeit a very difficult one in the face of stiff foreign competition and nefarious protectionist import policies by major markets in Europe, the USA and Asia.
In Alberta full credit also needs to be given to the newly minted cattle price insurance program for feeder and finished cattle and soon cow/calf and hogs. It shows all the signs of being actuarially sound and signs of long term success as long as it stays in the competent hands of the Agriculture Financial Services Corp (AFSC). The AFSC, in its quiet way, has become one of the stellar agencies in this country, consistently winning awards as one of the best managed companies in Canada. There is a message in that.
Now some of the more dubious government actions that show a political and bureaucratic penchant for trying to manipulate industry politics and marketing. Traceability rates high on the mischief list this year and it shows signs of getting worse. Although the concept is admirable, it simply got off on the wrong premise and the problems are coming home to roost. The federal government, in its presumptuous glory, simply announced that traceability would be in place on a certain date and somehow everything and everybody was to dutifully fall into line. The instigators of this idea and time-line need to first go back to step one and clearly identify who will pay for this exercise and that includes consumers and government busybodies. That would be a good start.
At the provincial level the blunder prize of the year again goes to the cattle checkoff fiasco that began the year before. I would suggest that in my many years, I have never seen a government create an issue that so divided and antagonized the cattle industry. The damage has so set back the political atmosphere of the industry from which it will never recover. Even the government no longer says it was done to help unify the industry. It even backtracked on its clear blunder by reinstating the national portion as nonrefundable. I would ask all cattle producers to contemplate – what was all this for anyway – was it really that important to put millions of dollars back into the pockets of big feedlot operators – what did that have to do with cattle industry unity?
Another 2010 issue that may see fruition in 2011 is the ongoing European Union/Canada free trade negotiations. The big concern with what goes on there has to do with the fate of the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) and supply management commodities. One almost expects the CWB to be disembowelled in the negotiations by the federal government as they have an ideological mental block when it comes to the board. They have the same block when it comes to supply management, but thankfully for those producers, they have the political clout of Quebec and Ontario to at least keep the feds in check. It remains the most baffling state of mind of both the Canadian and Alberta governments – why would you be willing to even think of sacrificing the most successful and most profitable sectors of Canadian agriculture just so you may (and that’s a real maybe) sell more other commodities to the EU? The EU negotiators have no intention of doing the same to their successful ag sectors. We will soon know.
Happy New Year!