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Canadians believe in farmers’ efforts to produce sustainable food

New indications have arisen that suggest politicians and big business believe Canadians are behind farmers’ efforts to keep us fed in a sustainable manner.

Provincially and federally, farm-related announcements over the past week or so have directed huge sums to farmers.

The biggest was from federal Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Marie-Claude Bibeau, who announced more than $690 million for egg, chicken and turkey farmers over the next decade.

It’s a compensation payment for protected market access that was conceded by the federal government during trade negotiations with Europe and the Pacific Rim.

Canada wanted freer trade with these giants but had to give up something to get it, which meant removing certain restrictions imposed at the border to protect our supply-managed sectors. Historically, that’s prevented imported dairy and poultry products like cheese from being sold here at reasonable prices. 

It was an inevitable concession. Major countries we trade with, including the U.S., had long criticized Canada for keeping closed borders for such products, while simultaneously demanding greater access to their markets. It couldn’t last. 

But Canadian farmers have come to rely on these protected borders and said they should be compensated for lost markets. That resulted in Ottawa opening the vault in August of 2019 and announcing a $1.75-billion long-term program for dairy, then following up last week with compensation for poultry and egg producers.

That kind of money wouldn’t change hands if Ottawa didn’t think taxpayers were behind it.

The same goes for the pro-farm sentiment wafting through Queen’s Park, among the Conservative government that rural Ontario largely helped elect.

Agriculture was all over the recent provincial budget. To begin with, the province committed to increase rural broadband. The pandemic underlined how much we all rely on electronic communications and shone a spotlight on the woefully inadequacy of rural Internet here. Providers have claimed they can’t afford to service rural areas; it’s amazing this situation has been allowed to fester for a long as it has.

The pandemic also underlined that our food production system needs and deserves to be supported. It really did an amazing job of providing food during the pandemic, and while affordability is an issue, for the most part supply is not.

To help offset investments made to reduce the business operation disruptions owing to the pandemic, the province dedicated $25.5 million over three years to a program called the Agri-Food Prevention and Control Innovation Program.

It also committed more to seasonal workers, to agricultural and horticultural societies that produce annual fairs, and to trying to finally open up more interprovincial trade.

And here’s an interesting program: a Saskatoon-based company called Nutrien, the world’s largest potash producer and third-largest nitrogen fertilizer producer, is trying a new approach to try to get farmers to look at carbon credits as an opportunity rather than as a pain in the neck.

The program will see the company buy carbon credits from farmers who practice sustainable production that sequesters carbon in the ground, rather than releasing it into the atmosphere.

It’s a proactive measure to help farmers show society they’re sustainable, to help them with profitability and to help Nutrien demonstrate it’s taking responsibility for how its products are used. Potash production is expected to keep rising, as farmers everywhere strive to produce more food on the same amount of land, and fertilizer is a key ingredient in their quest.

All this points to support for sustainability, the kind everyone is pulling for. The term is omnipresent, consumers want it to be more than a marketing gimmick, and governments and business are getting behind it. 

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