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Senate urges action on ag inputs, rural affairs

The Canadian Senate’s standing committee on agriculture recommends the federal government step in to address the rising costs of farm inputs, and to raise rural affairs’ profile in national policy.

In separate reports released Tuesday — one on rural poverty, the other on the cost of farm inputs — the committee respectively called for the government to create a new federal department of rural affairs to implement many of its recommendations, and for changes to federal farm programs to help farmers deal with rising costs for inputs such as fertilizers.

Rural affairs

It’s no surprise to rural residents that Canada’s rural populations are shrinking, the Senate committee said, noting rural Canada’s share of the national population has dropped to below 20 per cent for the first time in Canada’s history in the most recent census.

Furthermore, the committee said in a release Tuesday, “most of the resource-based industries such as agriculture, forestry and fishing are in decline. Young people are leaving rural Canada for school or work in the cities and not returning. Meanwhile, those left behind — mostly seniors — watch as schools, churches and businesses close down around them.”

The committee held two years’ worth of meetings on rural poverty across the country in developing its report, titled Beyond Freefall: Halting Rural Poverty.

The committee said a new rural affairs department would drive the implementation of many of its 68 recommendations, which include:

  • compensation to farmers for providing environmental stewardship services, as has already been put into practice in the pilot Alternative Land Use Services (ALUS) program;
  • revising the Farm Families Options Program to “bring enhanced income stability to low-income farmers;”
  • a new early learning and childhood education program “sensitive to rural realities;” resources for co-operative vocational schools in rural Canada; student loan and grant funding “sensitive to rural needs;” more university and college programs in rural Canada; and
  • moving 10 per cent of the federal public service “out of the big cities and into the regions.”

Ag input prices

The Senate committee’s report on farm input prices noted fertilizer prices as among the “areas of significant concern for the committee,” reporting that some fertilizer products that have risen in price by as much as 240 per cent in four years.

Seed costs, the committee said, have risen by as much as 80 per cent, while diesel fuel prices in some regions are up more than 50 per cent over the previous year.

“As a grain producer I know that the only way a farmer can remain competitive and survive is by keeping the input costs down,” said committee deputy chair Len Gustafson, a Conservative senator from Saskatchewan.

“Canadians farmers have to compete in the international marketplace. If the farm sector in Canada is to survive, then the federal government will have to play a more forceful role in monitoring and containing farm input costs.”

Among the committee’s recommendations are:

  • revising federal farm programs to help cover rising costs;
  • examining the level of concentration in the fertilizer industry in Canada;
  • examining current support levels for publicly-funded research, particularly on the cost-efficient use of farm inputs;
  • having the federal finance department examine the level to which commodity traders in hedge and pension funds are distorting prices;
  • funding for a program to help Canadian agri-retailers upgrade their security measures and safeguard fertilizer and pesticides from criminal misuse;
  • having the federal agriculture department review how government regulatory measures may put the agri-food industry at a competitive disadvantage; and
  • providing the agri-food industry with forums to discuss regulatory needs of new input products, and facilitate approval for products already sold in other countries.

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