Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 8/10/2016 (1337 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Last week’s announcement that governments are getting serious on carbon pricing is just one example of how rapidly and dramatically the economic, environmental and social climate for farmers is changing.
Agriculture generates 40 per cent of Manitoba’s greenhouse gas emissions, making it the largest single contributor. So it stands to reason the sector is going to be part of the solution while ensuring it remains competitive at producing food and fibre.
But when you set policy plays such as this one against the backdrop of ongoing federal and provincial consultations for the next round of farm policy, you have to wonder whether it’s time to reframe those discussions.
At least that’s the position taken by three agricultural economists with the independent consulting and research company Agri-Food Economic Systems. Longtime policy analysts Al Mussell, Doug Hedley and Bob Seguin have produced a paper challenging Canada’s agri-food sector to start thinking outside the traditional box when renewing the Growing Forward national farm policy in 2018.
They suggest the existing policy framework isn’t keeping up and warn the sector is at risk of falling behind a multitude of emerging trends rather than staying abreast. They cite climate change as an example.
Nationally, "agriculture produces about 25 per cent of methane in Canada and about 70 per cent of N2O (nitrous oxide) emissions, so the industry cannot blithely talk about beneficial management practices and environmental farm plans when federal and provincial governments are already underway on greenhouse gas and climate change adaptation approaches, along with carbon tax or cap-and-trade initiatives," they wrote in a policy paper released last month.
The industry’s operating environment is volatile on many fronts. Financially, it appears the boom times are over for the foreseeable future; farm incomes are down, and farm debt is up.
Britain’s vote to leave the European Union and the outcome of the U.S. presidential race could have major implications for trade.
Canada’s supply-managed sectors, particularly dairy, are under siege, facing increased competition due to trade concessions as well as changes in milk-processing technology that were not anticipated when the rules setting border protections were first written. Canada’s food processors have seen a loss of $7 billion in net trade balance over the past decade.
The paper says the existing framework is too "producer-centric" and focused on programs rather than strategy. "Programs have defined policy, instead of policy analysis and strategy defining the type and nature of programs needed for the sector," the paper says.
It also questions whether one-size-fits-all program payments to farmers are doing what’s necessary for either small or large farmers. Payments to small farms may be too small to support them or assist their transition to profitability, while big farms periodically receive large payments that strike the public as corporate welfare. At the same time, public interest in how food is produced, the links between food and health and how farming affects the environment is growing.
"These present big, difficult and longer-term challenges to which sound agri-food policy can contribute," they say. "In the face of these developing issues, more of the same types of programming will eventually break down."
The biggest enemy the process faces is inertia, the tendency to talk about the future but base policy on the past.
These analysts call for a value-chain approach, noting the food-processing sector faces many of the same challenges as primary agriculture.
And they call for a renewed commitment by governments to public-good research, saying the current approach of requiring matching industry investment has narrowed the research focus to short-term immediate fixes.
Perhaps the most important message emerging from this paper is its call to broaden the discussion to include more than industry stakeholders and to include the perspectives of multiple ministries spanning the links between farming, food and health, climate change and environment.
"Much of the dialogue occurs behind closed doors, and consultations include a significant element of what amounts to government communications activity," they write.
For something this important, that just doesn’t cut it.
Laura Rance is editorial director for Farm Business Communications. She can be reached at email@example.com or 204-792-4382.
Laura Rance is editorial director at Farm Business Communications.
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