Fixing AgriStability, paying farmers for carbon, & how to trade with China: catching up with the federal NDP ag critic

The federal government needs to step up and fix its business risk management programs for farmers. It should also consider paying farmers for soil management practices that sequester carbon, invest in rural internet, and partner with other countries that trade with China to gain leverage on international markets.

That’s according to federal New Democrat agriculture critic Alistair MacGregor, who joined RealAg Radio this week to share his views on some of the primary issues affecting farmers across Canada.

Representing the Vancouver Island riding of Cowichan-Malahat-Langford, MacGregor also serves as the NDP’s critic for rural economic development and is the only NDP member of the House of Commons agriculture committee.

It was a motion from MacGregor in late February — pre-COVID-19 lockdown — that initiated the ag committee’s current review of business risk management programs for farmers. The committee was getting set to publish a draft report with its recommendations when parliament was prorogued last month.

“There’s a real opportunity for federal leadership, especially as we’ve heard a litany of complaints about these programs for a lot longer than we’re talking about now. I’d like to see the feds step up to the plate with some fixes that are long overdue,” he says, noting the NDP supports moving the trigger for AgriStability payments back up to 85 per cent, as farm groups have called for.

In the longer term, he says farmers should get more credit for the work they’ve done with soil management and carbon sequestration

“I’d like to see us give recognition to farmers over the long term to reward their efforts and even encourage more of it to happen,” says MacGregor, noting he’s open to looking at paying farmers for sequestering carbon in the soil. “I think if we can get very accurate soil maps and have that measurable data that shows the kind of powerhouse sequestration effort farmers are putting into play, perhaps that’s a policy idea we can look at.”

On the rural economic development front, he says the number one issue he’s heard about from witness to the agriculture committee is connectivity to the internet — having reliable connections at suitable speeds.

“Having that connection to the internet is of critical importance to the technological aspects of agriculture,” he says, noting internet is also critical for offering mental health services in rural areas — another topic the ag committee studied in the previous session of parliament.

Finally, on trade, MacGregor says he’s “all for trade” but Canada needs to be prepared for non-tariff trade barriers. On China specifically, he acknowledges there’s no easy answer, but MacGregor says Canada should be creating partnerships with other countries that trade with China.

“I think ultimately Canada cannot do it alone. We’re going to have to find a multi-lateral approach. One where we have a real partnership with other like-minded countries,” he says. “I think that’s the only way we’re going to see real progress.”

Check out the interview above for more of the NDP ag critic’s thoughts on federal agriculture policies.

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