Federal Agricultural Minister Gerry Ritz visited Lethbridge recently to participate in a primary producer round table. I was one of 20 fortunate farmers to get invited to discuss a multitude of issues with Mr. Ritz. Each producer participant had a couple minutes to voice their opinion on any given subject that was of concern to them.
This is the first time I have met the Honourable Mr. Ritz. He appears very fast on his feet and intelligent, with a firm grasp of the subjects at hand. Not one subject stumped him. He could speak intelligently about all the topics and never needed to flip through prep notes or refer to his assistant. I do not agree with all of Mr. Ritz’s opinions, but I can say he is working very hard to improve agriculture in Canada so that there is long term sustainability. The issues brought up at the round table were:
—Country of origin labeling. With several feedlot owners at the meeting, there was a lot of concern about how the federal government would fight against U. S. protectionism. The widening basis is a significant threat to Canadian beef and there is real concern as to how we create a more stable livestock industry.
—Creation of the certified seed tax incentive. Based on the current collection of royalties from certified seed, cereal research is underfunded based on the low percentage of acres that are planted with certified seed. The CSTA’s certified seed tax incentive is a way to solve this. A farmer would receive a 155 per cent tax credit for purchasing certified seed. This would enable more seed sales, which will consequently create more money flowing into the cereal breeding system.
— Choice on how and where to market wheat and malting barley. This was by far the most popular topic. All of the grain farmers at the meeting pleaded with Mr. Ritz to return the choice of grain marketing back into the hands of the Western Canadian farmer. I cannot speak for Saskatchewan and Manitoba farmers but it was very clear to me that in Southern Alberta farmers want a dual marketing system that allows for freer movement of grain.
— The inadequate rail system in Canada. Some farmers asked the government to look at how grain is transported within Canada and the resulting costs to farmers in comparison to other countries. Freight rates in Canada are much higher than in the U. S., they said.
— Government stability programs must be bankable. Many farmers are struggling in this tough economic time and really rely on provincial and federal stability programs. The group commended Mr. Ritz for trying to create such a program. Other comments were that many of the support programs punish diversification and reward one-dimensional risk taking. The minister understood this reality and asked the room for suggestions on ways to make improvements.
—The need for own use allowances on certain animal drugs and crop protection products that are tested and proven in other countries. Several livestock producers and grain farmers said it makes no sense why some products are available in the U. S. and not in Canada. A great example brought up during discussion was some sheep medications.
Other topics discussed were consolidation of the beef industry, how to create a long-term sustainable sugar beet industry, the need for public plant breeding, pollination research needs, wildlife control as it pertains to sheep production, and the future possible introduction of transgenic wheat.
Even within Southern Alberta there are a lot issues to be dealt with. Now consider the whole country. Agriculture in Canada is very diverse and takes considerable investment of financial and human resources to remain viable.
I commend Rick Casson, MP for Lethbridge, for his great job of assembling a well-diversified group of participants. MP Casson should be proud of how his constituents challenged the Minister and represented the Southern Alberta area. Afterwards I reflected to a good friend that it was great to meet Gerry Ritz and get some of his candid feelings on the issues since he really encouraged the group to challenge him and give ideas on how things can be improved. I would like to personally thank Mr. Ritz for taking the time to come to Lethbridge and listen to the concerns and issues of Southern Alberta and give his feedback and thoughts.
Shaun Haney publishes the Haney Farms Quarterly and his blog, which can be found at www.realagriculture.com.Haney Farms is located in Picture Butte, Alta., and is involved in the grain, seed and beef business. You can contact Shaun at 1-877-738-4517 or [email protected]