Posted by Gilmour Poincaree on November 23, 2008

Published: Friday, November 21, 2008

by Joanne Paulson, The StarPhoenix

Grain prices may have soared earlier this year, but the 20-year average income of the Canadian
family farmer remains at zero, the president of the National Farmers Union (NFU) said Thursday.

Farmers have generated two-thirds of a trillion dollars in gross income during that time and have kept none of it, said Stewart Wells in an address to the NFU convention at the Hilton Garden Inn.

“Farmers have been brought up to that zero mark due to taxpayers’ transfers,” Wells said later in an interview.

While grain prices were quite high during the spring and summer, other commodities including beef, pork and potatoes have been tanking for some time. Meanwhile, input costs have risen faster than commodity prices and as commodities have dropped off, input costs have not.

These problems have narrowed the window of economic viability, he said. Once, farmers had three or four years to harvest a crop that would get them out of the hole. Today, they’re lucky if they have one or two years, said Wells.

“We need a systemic Canadian-made policy that will allow family farms to grow high-quality, safe food for Canadians.”

Farmers have worked too hard to grow safe food for it to go into corporate production plants where it can be contaminated with listeriosis, said Wells.

Farming problems are not cyclical, but systemic, and began with the free trade agreements that began to fall into place in the late 1980s, he said. Between 1945 and 1985, farm income was relatively stable.

“Now we’ve fallen completely out of that channel,” said Wells.

Family farmers are not surprised by the erosion of the global economy. They saw it coming with the first free trade agreements of the late 1980s, which allowed for more lax regulations and food safety processes for trading partners.

Wells says he is not opposed to all free trade, but he said the agreements must enhance local economies rather than replace them.


Wells also slammed the Harper government for what he says is an undemocratic approach to running – and trying to get rid of — the Canadian Wheat Board.

“Over the last three years, we’re seeing how thin this veneer of democracy really is,” said Wells.

In the upcoming CWB election, between 10,000 and 15,000 wheat board permit book holders will not be voting, Wells estimated. Under new election parameters, only permit book holders who delivered to the CWB in the last 15 months (or two crop years) were automatically placed on the voters list.

The changes were mandated by the Harper government and set out by Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz and by Chuck Strahl before him.

The CWB election is managed by official election co-ordinator Meyers Norris Penny, but should be taken over by Elections Canada in the future, said Wells.

Asked how the voters list problem will affect the election – which pits single-desk advocates against open market candidates in many cases – Wells said, “we’ll never know.”

Wheat board directors are elected in five of 10 districts per election, which are two years apart, to maintain board continuity. The same election rules applied two years ago, said CWB spokesperson Maureen Fitzhenry.

Fitzhenry said the permit book holders were eligible, but just weren’t automatically on the list. An oversight with unclear wording on the voters application form did cause some problems, but the oversight was fixed, she said.

Non-permit book holders were also eligible to vote if they could prove they had grown one of the major six grains in the last two years.

“We’re very committed to running the election in the most neutral, balanced way so the process has integrity,” said Fitzhenry.

© The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2008


PUBLISHED BY ‘The Saskatoon StarPhoenix’ (Canada)

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