Mary Robinson provided insights on recent obstacles overcome, and those still left to tackle
By Jackie Clark
Canadian Agriculture Day is today, Feb. 23, and it provides an opportunity to reflect on the triumphs and tribulations of the last year in the Canadian ag sector.
Recently, agriculture and Canada has had to adapt to trade restrictions with China, railway strikes and blockades, and ever-variable weather. In 2020, an even bigger challenge was upon the industry.
“Then we had COVID,” Mary Robinson, president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA), told Farms.com.
The pandemic brought labour challenges, market fluctuations, and social isolation to many Canadians, including farmers.
“We can look at COVID and recognize all of the horror and loss and disruption and heartbreak it has caused. At the same time, it’s given us a couple of silver linings. We’ve seen really great cohesion within agriculture, as far as commodities working together,” Robinson said.
Another win in the past year was some movement on Business Risk Management (BRM) programs, she added. Federal agriculture minister Marie-Claude Bibeau proposed several changes to improve AgriStability.
“The money we saw Minister Bibeau put on the table at the federal-provincial-territorial meeting in November of last year, the first new money we’ve seen introduced to BRM since 2013, that, to me, is really exciting,” she explained. “Obviously we are urging, as are our member organizations, urging all of the provinces to sign onto that and capture it, because that opportunity is huge.”
If “provinces sign onto it now, when hopefully it wont be too expensive for them, (the improvements) will just bring so much financial confidence to the sector, really allow the industry and producers to make some investments and know that government has their back in a much more meaningful way,” she said.
As we move forward, Robinson hopes the government will continue to see the value in agriculture and food processing
“Huge opportunity (exists) for our country in the export of processed or finished agricultural products and the opportunity for us to capture so much more value if only we could make our country more friendly to that kind of business and (provide) confidence to our primary producers,” Robinson explained.
Many Canadian farmers would also like to see some meaningful action around the carbon tax, Clean Fuel Standards, and offset protocols, she added.
“A lot of the activities that are carried out on farms are not avoidable, whether it’s drying grain so it doesn’t rot in the bin or heating a chicken barn so your fowl doesn’t perish,” Robinson explained. “The idea of the carbon tax is to have people curb their consumption where possible.”
For many farm activities, reducing fuel use significantly is not currently feasible.
“When we look at the up-front cost for primary producers, it’s enormous, and then when you look at what’s coming from all of our suppliers as well, equipment and fertilizer and all of our inputs, it’s staggering. So, the opportunity here obviously is the offset protocol,” Robinson said. “Hopefully we’re going to see something that’s finally going to recognize and reward the environmental service activities that farmers have been carrying on forever.”
Financial compensation for carbon stored by farming activities is key for producers “because the carbon pricing situation right now is just going to pose significant financial challenges to the sector,” she added.
The week of Canada’s Agriculture Day coincides with CFA’s annual general meeting.
“It’s a great time to reflect and set some goals,” Robinson said.
“Looking back two years ago, one of my main goals was to have greater collaboration within the industry,” she explained. “I’m so excited because I really do feel we’ve gotten a lot of that.”
Though the ag industry may still have challenges to overcome, Canadian farmers and agri-food community members have accomplished much in the last year.
“I’m thankful that we’ve made it through this storm as best as we have here in late February 2021 after almost a year of a pandemic, and I’m very excited about how we’re going to knock it out of the park, potentially, moving forward,” Robinson said.
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