Friday, July 12, 2024
Chris Judd

The seven bank accounts of a farmer: #6 politics

We often hear “if the government would just keep their nose out of it” but what we must realize is “if the different levels of government were just more informed.”
I was privileged to represent our farmers (English, French, dairy, beef, QFA, UPA, etc.) at local, regional, provincial, and federal boards, and I soon found that a farmer’s largest challenge was to keep consumers, neighbours and all levels of politicians informed about every aspect of farming. Farm marketing boards (milk, beef, sheep, grain, honey, fish, fruits, maple syrup, organic foods, egg, fowl, apple, blueberry) all need to be informed and advised by their producers. Every food or product that a farmer produces has a COP (cost to produce it).
Whether a farmer rents, leases, or owns land, buildings, machinery, or animals, they all cost money. Fuel, repairs, labour, fertilizer, and taxes are all straightforward expenses. With all the environment laws, food safety and quality controls, bookkeeping has become a large challenge and expense that grandpa didn’t have. Many farms today carry a debt load (short, medium and long term) of a million dollars or more. A one per cent raise in interest is a ten thousand dollar raise in interest cost alone.
Some of my friends spend time vacationing south of our cold Canadian winter and return telling me that most foods are much cheaper in the USA. Most people, politicians too, don’t realize that the recently-proposed U.S. farm bill for supporting U.S. agriculture is $1.5 trillion USD. About 20 years ago, while I was on the Quebec milk board, I calculated that if our dairy farm (then about 90 milking cows), was in the U.S., we would receive one million dollars yearly in subsidies and tax breaks. That same year in Canada, our dairy farms received zero in milk subsidies. In many European countries, farmers receive monetary incentives for keeping the countryside clean and fresh. Some of Canada’s farm products (milk, eggs, and chicken) are marketed under a quota system that places the cost of surplus product in the hands of the farmers that produce it. Before the quota system was designed and implemented by groups of farmers and government officials working together, surplus butter and eggs that could neither be sold nor given to poor countries was loaded on ships and dumped in the ocean.
A COP formula is applied to control prices and only the most efficient farm will work at a profit. This gives all farmers a strong incentive to produce as economical as possible, but also plan for tomorrow. By the farmers implementing this quota system, the government promised to no longer allow other countries to dump their surplus dairy, egg, and chicken products into the Canadian market. Canadian farmers have kept up their side of the bargain. Other countries that had used a quota system have eliminated quotas, hoping that increased open markets would lower consumer prices. Within only months of opening up the markets, prices in the stores rebounded to even higher prices than before quotas controlled production. Farm prices dropped substantially but retail store profits boomed and many smaller farms quit.
One of our biggest challenges to keep food costs reasonable is to keep good farmland for farming. Even though only one per cent of Canada’s land is suitable (enough topsoil, warm enough climate, not on the side of a mountain, drainable, field size that is economical enough to farm, and not too close to housing where smell, dust, noise, and distance restrictions prevent normal farming operation). There is constant pressure from cities, towns, and developers to use nice flat stoneless, well-drained farmland to build houses, roads, and parking lots on.
Some of the most frustrating challenges to informing politicians are:

  1. Just when we get the majority of groups informed about the important challenges to keeping our food safe and affordable, the political party gets defeated, politicians retire, or staff retire and we have to start to get a new group of politicians and staff informed.
  2. Too many wannabe politicians care more about getting elected than they do about doing the right thing.
  3. Most large companies have very large lobbying budgets and lawyers who are a gigantic challenge for a group of farmers to lobby against.
  4. Many of those who farmers are trying to lobby and inform are quite well-off and are not as affected by increased food prices, housing prices, or fuel prices as most of our consumers are.

Passing on our history about who pioneered and built this country and the hardships of our ancestors is also our responsibility to not only inform our next generation, but also remind our politicians how it came to be.
Remember that our politicians want and need to know what decisions to maintain soil, water, and air quality are necessary for the future of our world’s population. Keeping them informed is everyone’s responsibility.

Chris Judd is a farmer in Clarendon on land that has been in his family for generations.

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