Farmers caught up in international trade dispute are feeling the pinch


When news announcers talk about “geo-political uncertainty,” or “bi-lateral trade disputes,” it all seems quite remote from the lives of most people. For Canadian farmers, though, it often hits very close to home because the overwhelming majority of Canadian agricultural production is exported.

This is why when news that one of the Canada’s largest agriculture commodity companies has been blocked from shipping one of Canada’s largest export products to one of the largest countries in the world, which happens to be one of Canada’s largest export customers, Canadian farmers are understandably worried. This is exactly the situation we are now in since Richardson International was blocked from shipping canola to China earlier this week. Because this news affects kitchen tables as much as it does boardroom tables, RealAgriculture reached out to some farmers to see what they had to say.

Terry Youzwa is a farmer from Nipawin, Sask. He says that the Chinese have picked the perfect time to get maximum leverage. With the turmoil and uncertainty that is currently roiling the political waters in Canada this suspension is something that will get the federal government’s attention.

Youzwa wants people to know this news is not an abstract notion for farmers – it has real bottom line consequences. As he says, “farmers are caught in the crossfire and it hits us individually, directly, as futures fall and basis widens.”

Youzwa is very clear that he wants to see everyone working together to get this problem solved. “These are times when we need our federal government and national organizations to advance our interests, always,” he says.

Stan Jeeves is a farmer from Wolseley, Sask., and he wishes that Huawei’s CFO, Meng Wanzhou had caught her connecting flight in Seattle. This is just another way of him saying that, he too, feels that the entire issue is politically motivated. In his words, “You would think that the outboard inspection would have caught any pathogen harmful to China. It’s just an artificial trade barrier.”

His chief concern is that this uncertainty could be of particular harm to young farmers. Land continues to get more expensive and commodity prices continue to fall and this dustup makes conversations with bankers all the more difficult.

Rob Stone, a farmer from Davidson, Sask., says that Richardsons was very active in the market just last week buying canola to meet commitments.

Stone feels that this is just a temporary issue that can be solved easily, if the political will is there. But as he says, “The unsettling part is what happens in the future?”

Some people are talking about changing rotations but Stone says it is not that simple – his rotations are based on agronomic considerations. Even if he was able to change his rotation, most of his choices are dependant on exports to China. He feels we have become too dependant on one buyer, “The circle always goes back to China.”

Greg Porozni, a farmer from Mundare, Alta., has similar worries to the other famers contacted. As he says, “We’re all deeply concerned. Whenever we lose a market, the prices go down.”

As he says he is not in a position to change his seeding intentions. He has already bought and cleaned his seed for this year and even if he could change, none of the alternative choices are any better than canola.

While he feels that the whole issue is unfounded he does not want those negotiating on Canada’s behalf to get too aggressive. “We have to be controlled, diplomatic and strategic so that we continue to be a valued customer to the Chinese.”

Porozni says farmers are very supportive of the national value chain and that the Canola Council of Canada (CCC) should help out Richardson as much as it can, even if Richardson is no longer a member of that group.

He also points out that Cereals Canada and Pulse Canada should be monitoring the situation very carefully to make sure they are not blindsided by something else. Further, the Canada Grains Council is the overarching group in for these commodities and they should be working hard on this issue as well.

Read more:

Canola Council says pest found shouldn’t be a trade concern

Why would China target Richardsons?

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