The CFFO Commentary
Title: Keeping the Dialogue Strong on Agriculture and Food Issues
By Nathan Stevens
May 21, 2010
The Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario has always had the unique ability to discuss farming and food issues widely among groups of all different interests and background. By way of example, I recently had the opportunity to meet with the Roman Catholic Provincial Social Justice Committee and discuss issues of social justice within rural and agricultural communities.
Justice in international trade occupied part of the discussion. Food sovereignty and security topped the list of objectives, with sympathy expressed about the ability of nations to set their own food self-sufficiency goals and to take policy steps to ensure those goals are met. Current free-market thinking has resulted in formerly self-sufficient countries now at the mercy of trade with other countries. It was agreed that pursuing free market ideals is not a necessarily sufficient reason to compromise the food security of a nation.
The discussion then focused on safety nets and the issue of capping the size of payments to farms. The heart of the matter comes down to how to split a limited pot of government money. The CFFO argues that a lower cap distributes a fixed amount of government money in a manner that better supports the vast majority of farmers. Furthermore, access to the public purse should be accompanied by responsibility in the form of cross-compliance.
The issue of farm debt was discussed. Ontario’s farmers carry more debt for each dollar of income than most farmers in North America. Manageable debt, properly leveraged, is good debt as it allows farm operations to grow. However, there is the grave concern that the practice of interest-only loans in a time of extremely low interest-rates is setting up farmers for future financial ruin. If a sharp increase in interest rates were to occur, many of Ontario’s farmers would face serious financial difficulty. Easy credit in agriculture is a double-edged sword for farmers, as it gives them the ability to grow, but has the potential of future ruin.
The final point of discussion was on the tremendous strides farmers in Ontario have made in being caretakers of the environment in the last 20 years. For example, the Environmental Farm Plan program has been tremendously successful in dealing with on-farm environmental issues. Moving forward, Ontario’s farmers may need to take on longer-term projects that will require support from society in the form of environmental goods and service payments.
The Christian Farmers enjoyed meeting with another Christian group concerned with justice issues within the rural community and agriculture. Building bridges with the wider Christian community is one of the unique communication opportunities the CFFO brings to the farming community.
Nathan Stevens is the Research and Policy Advisor for the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario. The CFFO Commentary represents the opinions of the writer and does not necessarily represent CFFO policy. It can be heard weekly on CKNX Wingham and CFCO Chatham, Ontario and is archived on the CFFO website: www.christianfarmers.org/index.html. The CFFO is supported by 4,300 farm families across Ontario