than a year ago I predicted that, without corrective action, we would
see a worsening of the farm crisis. Since then over 22,000 more farmers
have given up farming.
During the past decade, Canadian farmers' net income, adjusted for inflation,
has fallen more than 50 per cent. In Saskatchewan the drop is 90 per cent;
net farm income last year was 10 per cent of the 1989 figure.
The countryside is being depopulated, railway tracks ripped up, grain elevators
torn down and rural communities devastated. The federal minister of agriculture
stated recently that any farmer with sales under $75,000 should "make
a decision". This means that many more farmers, more than half of
those remaining in fact, are being told to leave the industry.
This is a disaster that would turn rural Canada into a desolate zone of
giant industrial farms.
Canada's agriculture policy can only be described as bankrupt. The Liberals
have unilaterally dismantled the country's agriculture research and support
systems, disarming farmers and placing them at a substantial disadvantage
in world markets. To blunt the outcry, the government is handing out, on
a limited, ad hoc basis, cheques to farmers. They amount to a fraction
of the amounts it has cut from farm programs.
[The Liberals have cut the federal agricultural budget by almost 50 per
cent, dumping the costs directly onto farm families. For example, the 1995
abolition of the historic Crow's Nest Pass agreement, once guaranteed to
farmers "in perpetuity", has tripled freight costs, an annual
increase of about $15,000 per average western grain farm.]
At the same time, the government is stamping its feet at the agricultural
policies of the Europeans and Americans, demanding, without effect, that
they "stop subsidizing".
Instead of whining about our competitors, Canada should simply restore
its farm support with the pledge to our competitors and trade partners
that our support will be phased out at such time as, and in lock step with,
reciprocal reductions on their part. This action will put Canadian farmers
back on a level playing field and, at the same time, give the Canadian
government the negotiating strength to actually achieve results on the
The shopworn excuse that the Canadian treasury is incapable of competing
with that of Europe and the U.S. is inaccurate. Historically, Canada maintained
a world class agriculture system, including its long-term freight commitments,
without ruining the country's finances.
On the health and food safety front, there is a growing worldwide consumer
reaction to genetically modified (GM) food. Europe will no longer import
GM grains for human consumption; other customers are balking. Yet Canada
continues to pour hundreds of millions into promotion of genetically modified
organisms (GMOs), to the detriment of all other agriculture policy.
With the introduction and promotion of Monsanto's "Round-up ready
canola," about two-thirds of prairie canola acreage is transgenetic.
Cross pollination with conventional canola has contaminated the entire
canola crop, resulting in the loss of the European market for all our canola
and a subsequent drop in Canadian canola prices. With virtually all its
eggs in the GM basket, Canada has become the world's third largest producer
of GM crops, a product fewer and fewer wish to purchase. This reckless
promotion of an unproven technology is hurting Canada's farmers.
By contrast, Brazil, for example, has refused to allow the commercial release
of GM seeds. It is now advertising its food exports as GMO-free and is
beating us in world markets.
[GM foods are not, as the government argues, cheaper, safer or more nutritious.
Seventy-five per cent of GM seeds are designed for a single trait -- pesticide
tolerance -- to enable larger sales of herbicides and pesticides by the
companies producing the transgenetic seeds. And a growing legion of
consumers are saying no thanks.]
Ignoring the customer is a costly business, yet Canada's government is
now planning to allow the introduction of GM wheat. This will extend the
consumer resistance, and resulting market devastation, into our world-famous
Farm organizations across North America, including the Canadian Wheat Board,
have asked that GM wheat not be released commercially until all our customers
indicate they are prepared to purchase it. Yet the government appears set
to force it on the industry.
Due to a number of factors -- sustainability, growing consumer health consciousness,
BSE (mad cow disease) and increasing problems of industrial farming --
the fastest growing agricultural sector in the western world (20 to 40
per cent annually) is that of organic production and consumption. Organic
farming, which means the production of food without poisonous chemicals,
herbicides, pesticides, artificial fertilizers or genetic modification,
has the advantage of being far less damaging to the environment, the soil
and the consumer's health. (There has been no mad cow disease in animals
Input costs to the organic farmer are lower and the production receives
substantially higher returns.
A recent comprehensive survey of organic farmers in Ontario revealed that
less than 15 per cent saw profit margins as a concern; their products are
giving them an adequate return from the market. Yet, despite rapidly growing
worldwide demand, there is virtually no research or promotion being done
in Canada in the field. There is not even a degree-granting course in organic
agriculture in the entire country.
[It is quite clear that organic farming is the way of the future and Canada,
with its international reputation as a clean country, is ideally positioned
to exploit this opportunity in markets in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere.
The demand for Canadian organic agricultural products currently far outstrips
the supply, yet our government has completely missed the boat. Its agriculture
support and promotion are linked exclusively to the outmoded chemical and
biotech food industries which are rapidly declining in consumer confidence.]
A quick, thorough reorientation and updating of agriculture policy, based
on consumer demand and long-term sustainability, is required. This means
there must be a moratorium on the release of new GMOs; a backing away from
GM canola, soybeans, corn, and potatoes; an introduction of transition
programs to organic production; a sponsoring of research oriented to the
problems of non-chemical agriculture; and an energetic promotion of Canada's
chemical-free and non-GM food products to waiting markets.
These steps, combined with a restoration of our basic agricultural support
infrastructure, would go a long way to putting Canada's agriculture sector
back on its feet.
Editor's Note: This is an unedited version of an article that was first
published in the March 27 issue of the National
Post under the headline, "Bankrupting
the farm". It is interesting that the NP chose to delete the content
that, in this version, has been placed in square brackets. Your comments