Mandate of the new ag minister

When the PC government of the period responded to the pressure coming mostly from feedlot operators to abolish the non-refundable $1...

When the PC government of the period responded to the pressure coming mostly from feedlot operators to abolish the non-refundable $1 check-off on beef sales in 2009, it didn’t take a lot of time for many stakeholders to realize what a mistake the move was. A year later, the check-off was made non-refundable again, because many in ranchers and beef farmers came to the conclusion that without the centralized support that non-refundable dollars go to, selling their beef in the market and getting research done to help improve their industry practices would become only more and more difficult.

Now the provincial organization of the beef producers, ABP, has been campaigning to raise the amount of non-refundable check-off from its current level of $1 per head of cattle sold to $2.5. With many regional meetings already held to discuss the matter, ABP is preparing to adopt the raise as an organizational policy, and once its authoritative body puts the stamp on the decision at their December meeting, plans to approach the provincial government to legislate the increase.

This shows that the industry has come a long way in assessing the value of centralized support for stakeholders of the livestock business, because, as in many other sectors of the 21st century economy, free trade is anything but free.

From digital products to cereals, toys to fresh fruits, all traded merchandise has to meet certain standards, decided either directly by governments or by international organizations where national governments have substantial powers of veto in establishing the parameters by which global commerce is conducted. And that is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does show the need for governments to listen to voice of key sectors that pull their economies.

Canada’s new government has done something unprecedented and made public the mandate letters that each minister receives after being tasked by the prime minister with their portfolio.

The mandate letter to Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Lawrence MacAulay (http://pm.gc.ca/eng/minister-agriculture-and-agri-food-mandate-letter) signals some understanding on the part of the new government the importance of that communication and of the support the ag sector needs to thrive.

Some of the specific targets set by the prime minister in his mandate letter include “marketing support and assistance to help food processors develop new value-added products; investing in agricultural research to support discovery science and innovation in the sector; promoting Canadian agricultural interests during future trade negotiations; working with provinces, territories, and other willing partners, to help the sector adjust to climate change and better address water and soil conservation and development issues; supporting the minister of transport in undertaking a full review of the Canadian grain transportation system in the context of responding to the Canadian Transportation Act review” among others.

It remains to be seen in what format and at what pace the implementation of the steps aimed at those targets will or will not proceed. But with oil prices forecast to remain below $100/barrel level well into 2020, investment in and support for agriculture seem to be the most secure route to stop the provincial economy from falling into further decline.

One hopes that the provincial and federal governments will be able to see eye to eye on that score.

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