By Stewart Skinner, (@modernfarmer)
I found watching the election progress on Twitter exciting on Monday night (you could argue I should get out more) and I got caught up a bit in the overwhelmingly negative reactions to the Conservative majority. I’m guessing that most of the pessimism stemmed from the younger, more liberal community that dominates the Twitter universe but in my case it comes from my personal opinion that the Conservatives will not be good for farmers here in Eastern Canada.
Before going into the negatives, there is one bright spot that Minister Ritz and his team deserves some kudos for: a commitment to increased trade. Given that Canada’s population is static at best, farmers will increasingly lean on trade to open up new markets and grow demand. This praise does come with a hitch; I’m not sure how many bi-lateral deals will be accessible if we refuse to at least explore the lowering of tariffs on supply managed goods and the Conservatives have heeded the powerful lobby and don’t seem too eager to put it on the table.
One thing that producers seemed to unite behind was the development of a Business Risk Management Program similar to the programs currently available to farmers in Quebec and Alberta. The Ontario government supports the program and has committed to fund the program however the Conservatives are saying they can’t fund the federal portion; citing trade risks and a general dislike for region-specific programs. I have a tough time stomaching this when they steadfastly support the biggest millstone around our trade negotiators necks’ (Supply Management) while trying to tell me that our insurance based program that is no different then other programs currently used by other export oriented industries isn’t trade friendly.
The second burr in my saddle is the Conservative ignorance towards the local food movement. They were the only party in the election that failed to include mention of local food systems in their agriculture platform and for farmers here in Eastern Canada, the local food movement has become a major source of income, especially for young and beginning farmers like me. There are some that will continue to belittle local food but Eastern Canadian farmers are in close proximity to large populations and have well developed processing industries, the two crucial components of a local food system. We need to have a policymakers that understand we are trying to do more then just grow the crop, we are selling the food too and this requires a well functioning value chain
Finally, I think that the Conservatives will forget that there is farming east of Manitoba. I have been an advocate of domestic equality for producers but to achieve this we have to figure out a way to develop strategies that meet the needs of our diverse businesses without harming each other. Farm structure here in Eastern Canada is fundamentally different then Western Canada. We have smaller, more intensive operations with a heavy focus on livestock and alternative crops (horticulture, fruit, grape, etc.). A one size fits all approach to public support of agriculture will not work yet the Conservatives have adamantly opposed the one program that had near unanimous support here in Ontario. To me, this does not bode well for Eastern Canada.
Here’s to hoping I’m wrong
Stewart Skinner was raised on a pig farm in Southwestern Ontario near the booming metropolis of Listowel. After completing a Bachelor of Commerce in Agricultural Business at the University of Guelph he worked as a Commodity Trader for a local co-operative. Following the completion of a Master’s of Science in Agriculture Economics Stewart returned home to the family operation. Today Stewart and his family run a 350 sow farrow-partial finish operation with a small (but growing) meat business. Stewart’s passion is the food side of farming and starting in 2011, he will be adding a market garden in hopes of growing the food business further.