One Voice for Agriculture
To create one voice for Canadian agriculture would require a consensus of farmers regarding an overall mission for agriculture. That consensus in agriculture is missing – both nationally and globally. I believe that the time is now to reach that consensus and for farmers to unite and speak with one voice.
In order to speak with one voice, the great debate over supply management must be resolved. Supply management has provided Canadian farmers with a protected barrier for their products. This barrier has allowed a fair return to the farmer and a fair price for the consumer. But is this system good for all Canadian agriculture? I don’t think so. Quota values for supply-managed products have risen to a level that entry into it is unaffordable. Statistics Canada figures reveal that the number of farmers is decreasing. High quota values are one of the barriers preventing individuals from pursuing agricultural careers. Without huge financial assistance from a retiring farmer, a young person couldn’t possibly cash flow the purchase of necessary land, quota, buildings, equipment, and livestock for a supply-managed commodity farm.
The WTO trade negotiations are reaching a crisis level because all participating countries want freer access to global markets. If Canada insists on protecting supply-management, other countries aren’t going to allow more access to their markets. The basic global message being sent to Canadian agriculture is that it’s difficult to suck and blow at the same time. Canadian farmers are trained and talented professionals. I believe that if all players in the agricultural global marketplace are playing by the same rules, Canadians could compete head-to-head with their international counterparts.
Success to the one-voice agricultural movement requires support from the Canadian consumer. The Canadian consumer wants to support Canadian agriculture – as long as the price is fair and the product is safe. Canadian farmers have demonstrated that can be done. Branding of Canadian products is essential so that consumers can clearly identify Canadian products. Clear governmental requirements must be established so that confusion over the source of the product is clear.
The agricultural one-voice vision would include Canadian-owned value-added processors. Entrance into these businesses would be streamlined and assisted by government, financial institutions and/or business development bodies, encouraging business operation both in Canada and abroad.
The Canadian public education system would have to be enhanced in order that the one-voice for agriculture would include more Canadian students. According to Andrea Mandel-Campbell’s book, “Why Mexicans Don’t Drink Molson”, the Schulich Executive Education Centre in Toronto has a highly regarded MBA program but thus far most of the program’s graduates have been non-Canadian. There is a prerequisite for each enrolling student to have two languages. One would think that since Canada requires students to learn its two official languages, this prerequisite would not be an obstacle but that is not the case.
Currently in Ontario there are over 500 agricultural organizations. Imagine the strength of a single message coming from all 500+ organizations. Multiplying that times the 13 provinces and territories makes one Goliath voice. Then arm that voice with a clear message. Now that’s a force to be reckoned with.