This week’s guest commentary comes from Nathan Stevens of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario
Each country or group of countries has its own set of programs that govern how it supports agriculture. Canada has Growing Forward. The United States has the Farm Bill. The European Union has the Common Agriculture Policy. Each takes a slightly different approach, but over time different ideas tend to be incorporated in other areas. The recent changes made by the European Union to the Common Agriculture Policy may be an indicator of ideas that will eventually make their way to North America.
The European Union has decided that a form of cross-compliance is needed labelled “Greening”. Roughly thirty percent of each nation’s envelop of payments will fall into this category, while failure to meet these objectives will carry a penalty beyond that amount. The envisioned basic measures are maintaining permanent grasslands, maintaining cross diversification through a rotation, and most significantly maintaining an “ecological focus area” of at least five percent of arable land in the form of things like trees, hedges, fallow land or buffer strips.
There will also be “Greening equivalency” rules to allow for other practices to be considered. The concept here is to recognize that there are some practices that are already providing benefits and that they should be recognized for their efforts. This could range from organic practices to agri-environmental schemes.
When we look at what is happening at home, the landscape of rural Ontario has changed tremendously in the last ten years, and especially in the last five. BSE undermined the cow-calf industry in the province. Then years of elevated grains and oilseeds prices shifted farmers’ interests away from pasturing towards expanding their cash cropping lands. The overall result has been considerable land conversion over the last five years in some areas of the province. Farmers’ pursuit of profitable production is reshaping portions of rural Ontario.
Will the new initiatives in Europe herald changes for Ontario or Canada in the future? Farmers are beneficiaries of support through business risk management programs and improvement programming, as well as recipients of significant other perks, with few cross-compliance requirements. The future may require a greater contribution to environmental and social goals from farmers to receive the support they enjoy today. Time will tell if the different approach in Europe alters the way things are done here at home.