Farmers feed us; will we support them?

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Peter Gauthier

Hungry Canadians have access to high quality, relatively low-priced food. The food available to the consumer is varied, generally safe and easily available for most locations in Canada; we give thanks daily to the farmers and food processors who make this possible, but there are some problems on the horizon that need the public’s attention.

Peter Gauthier

Hungry Canadians have access to high quality, relatively low-priced food. The food available to the consumer is varied, generally safe and easily available for most locations in Canada; we give thanks daily to the farmers and food processors who make this possible, but there are some problems on the horizon that need the public’s attention.
First some numbers. There are approximately 280 farms in the MRC Pontiac and some 45,500 farm operators in Quebec. In Canada, one in eight workers is employed in the agriculture-food industry. On the international
scene, Canadian agricultural exports account for approximately half of
the value of primary
production; in 2013, these exports amounted to
$46 billion. Against this, Canada imported approximately $35 billion of agricultural products. Overall, the financial picture of the agricultural sector of the economy has shown steady increase and recovery from the 2008 – 2009 financial
crisis. However, there are some significant issues that must be addressed.
To start, there is the question of government subsidies given to farmers. Both the European Union and the United States provide heavy subsidies to their agricultural sectors; Canada doesn’t match these. Further, the Harper government’s attempts to reach trade agreements with
foreign countries will require Canada to give up its market supply systems in dairy and poultry farming. These sectors of the
farming community could suffer severely if subsidised EU products are imported into Canada.  In addition, current labelling laws
for beef in the United
States discriminate against Canadian beef producers.
Another issue facing farmers relates to
environmental regulations. Consider the following
situation: a farmer adds
fertilizer to his fields to increase crop yields. There is a sudden heavy rain that causes some of the fertilizer to be washed into a nearby stream; the farmer is fined several thousand dollars for environmental damage. The same heavy rain causes an overflow in the sewage treatment system of a city such as Gatineau. Several hundred tonnes of raw sewage is dumped into the nearby river, but the city is not penalized. We are all concerned about environmental pollution, but our current laws punish rural dwellers much more than urban dwellers for events such as this.
One more concern – the average age of a farm
operator is 50, and younger workers are finding work in industrial and service
operations more attractive than farm work. If current trends continue, Canada will have to depend on
foreign workers for most of its agricultural labour force.
We are thankful to our farmers for our daily bread and all the food needed to keep us healthy. However, our farmers are facing some long-term problems that threaten our food security. To combat these problems, our government must insist on equitable terms for
agricultural produce in all international trade deals, our environmental and health laws must not unduly favour the urban populations, and our communities must recognize the importance of farmers to our health and security.
Perhaps, in addressing these real farm issues, Canada can be more certain of a future where food is abundant, our farmers are assured of financial security, and our communities
genuinely include farmers.