It’s difficult to know where to start when you talk with Rob Bonnett, president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA).
Bonnett always has a full plate, and the closing weeks of November are no different as his organization tends a hot stove stoked with issues ranging from trade to climate change and a coming federal election in 2019.
The long-serving leader of the farm lobby organization admits that heading a general farm organization can be challenging when addressing trade agreements such as the recently negotiated United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). But Bonnett, who’s served as CFA president since 2010, understands it’s his job to represent a diverse membership, including both supply managed and free trading sectors of agriculture.
Bonnett quips that he’s often said that “being president of a general farm organization is something like sitting on a rail fence and trying to avoid the slivers.”
When it comes to the USMCA, Bonnett believes a deal had to be struck to restore confidence in Canada’s trading relationship with the U.S. He does, however, understand the Canadian dairy sector’s disappointment with the pact. “Supply management thought they had a deal with the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. They recognized that there was a need to give up some market access to come up with a deal,” he notes, but the USMCA took concessions to a higher level.
Bonnet says CFA, with all the provinces and commodity boards sitting at the table, can be a delicate balancing act but he believes the industry is stronger when it communicates. “It’s better to have some of those discussions internally than just have divisive public opinions.
“Any federal government is going to have to take the same approach and CFA can have a continuing role in helping them find that,” he adds.
In this interview with RealAgriculture’s Shaun Haney, Bonnett also shares his assessment of Canada’s ongoing climate change policy tug-of-war. Carbon tax or cap and trade? Bonnett believes too much emphasis is being placed on the tool being used rather than focusing on the research and innovation that’s needed to effectively address the climate change issue. (Story continues after the interview.)
Bonnett is frustrated by politicians who look at the issue through a four-year lens rather than taking a long-term view of the challenge. He says agriculture is uniquely positioned to help Canada reduce its carbon footprint, but it will take thoughtful investment rather than public wrangling to make progress work.
When it comes to mitigating the impact of livestock production, for example, he believes there needs to be less talk of limiting meat production and more emphasis on research and innovation to help improve feed conversion for livestock.
As the sun sets on 2018, it’s also time to focus on a federal election in the new year. Bonnett tells Haney to expect some changes to CFA’s strategy when politicians hit the campaign trail. He believes it’s time to take the power and potential of agriculture to urban candidates who may not realize the contribution agriculture makes to the Canadian economy.
“We need to build that support so when we have a specific ask there is an understanding of why we need tools” to support the industry, he says.