Frustration mounting over lack of movement at federal level to address farm income stresses

The Grain Farmers of Ontario (GFO) recently surprised many in the industry with its immediate withdrawal from the Grain Growers of Canada.

While the exit itself bears dissecting, the underlying — and growing — discontent with the federal agriculture department requires just as much discussion.

Markus Haerle is the chair of GFO and a grain and poultry farmer based in eastern Ontario. He articulates clearly that GFO took issue with the structure of how the Grain Growers of Canada (GGC) functions, and its limitations in tackling regional or commodity-specific issues.

The split comes at a time when Canadian farmers are facing incredible financial pressure. Tough harvests, mounting costs via a carbon tax, and depressed commodity markets due to trade disruption are taking a huge toll on farm incomes — it’s no wonder producer and industry groups are getting frustrated with the lack of movement on support at the federal level.

The organization has its own lobbyists and will continue to press Ottawa for the change it wants to see, according to Haerle. The group recently hosted a parliamentary reception in conjunction with the Western Canadian Wheat Growers, Quebec Grain Growers, and the Atlantic Grain Growers groups, where disruption to trade was high on the list of priorities the groups want addressed.

One of the contentious issues with the GGC, Haerle says, was the push for an ad hoc payment or other support for soybean growers impacted by the U.S./China trade war. Admittedly, Haerle says, the agriculture minister has not changed her tune on the issue — grain and oilseed farmers in Canada should not expect any sort of payout: not lentil growers, not canola growers, not soybean growers.

What’s more, the ag minister has flipped the narrative back to farm groups more than once that these issues should be or could be dealt with within existing business risk management programs.

Haerle says there’s some optimism that the minister’s ask about more input on how to most efficiently roll out money could mean some type of compensation does eventually happen, but, admittedly, it could also be stalling for time.

Farmers just want something, he says, adding that Canadian farmers are not asking for the equivalent of what U.S. soybean growers have received through the Market Facilitation Program (MFP). And yet, Canadian farmers in many ways are actually even worse off than their American counterparts, because of trade disruption in not just soybeans, but canola, durum wheat, and lentils.

MFP 2.3 payment has already gone out, there’s opinion that there will be an MFP 3.0 — there’s an exception of that with the $40 billion being pushed backed, so no matter how bad it my look to people, there’s probably going to be a 3.0.  Three years of direct compensation for U.S. counterpart, and nothing here in Canada.

Business risk management programs — largely funded by provincial budgets  — are not enough currently to cover for  “all the hurt” that has been added on to farms. BRM might be provincial, but trade is federal and Haerle says the government must step up, even for a finite amount of time, to make these programs actually address the severity of the situation.

Hear the entire conversation between Markus Haerle and Shaun Haney, below:

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