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Public Support Enables Public Trust

on June 17 | in Ag News | by | with No Comments

Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario Commentary

By Marie Versteeg, CFFO Manager of Board & Committee Services

The recent political debate over supply management may seem unexpected to many. You might argue that it’s something of a niche issue, so it’s surprising that Maxime Bernier has made abolishing it a major plank in his Conservative leadership campaign platform.

What do debates like this one over supply management mean for agriculture? The present climate certainly has a lot of people in the ag industry sticking a wet finger in the air to find out which way the wind is blowing.

A recent opinion piece <http://www.realagriculture.com/2017/05/the-push-to-end-supply-management-signals-waning-public-support-of-farming/>  by Andrew Campbell for Real Agriculture suggests that we may be in danger of losing public support for agricultural subsidies.

The Ontario Federation of Agriculture has linked media scrutiny during the pig trial to noticeable chips and dents in agriculture’s social license <http://ofa.on.ca/media/news/agricultures-social%20license-a-complex-challenge> , our “privilege to operate with minimal restrictions by maintaining the public’s trust.”

Even the fact that the government’s Next Policy Framework <http://www.agr.gc.ca/eng/about-us/key-departmental-initiatives/developing-the-next-agricultural-policy-framework/calgary-statement-towards-the-next-policy-framework/?id=1468864509649>  lists “securing and growing public trust in the sector” as one of its six major objectives suggests that the limelight of public scrutiny is fixed on agriculture.

But the decline of public support for agriculture potentially creates a problem for urban communities as well as rural ones. Many are looking at the case of New Zealand. Despite having lost all government supports for agriculture about thirty years ago, their dairy industry now boasts a booming output. But on the flipside, the pressure to increase production just to stay in business has changed the rural landscape: a lot of undeveloped land in New Zealand has been repurposed for agricultural use, with the result that dissatisfied urban New Zealanders are now pushing for more regulation. As farmer and writer Clair Doan <http://clairdoan.com/author/dclairdoan/>  has observed, “When economic rule drives change, other factors such as social or environmental concerns become secondary.” In other words, if there isn’t public support for farmers to make a sustainable living, it’s that much harder for farmers to keep environmentally sustainable farms.

Recent information from Stats Canada’s Census of Agriculture <http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/170510/dq170510a-eng.htm?CMP=mstatcan>  suggests that Canada is also showing signs of economic pressures on farming. Though total farmland is down from 2011, the amount of cropland has risen, thanks to a shift in land use: “Farmers have converted land formerly used as pasture, summerfallow or other less productive land into productive area.” A trend like this might suggest to Canadian urbanites, as it did to New Zealanders, that farmers undervalue their important role in land stewardship. Healthy land stewardship is a visible way for farmers to continue to demonstrating care and maintain public trust. But sweep the rug of support out from under farmers, and they’ll fall headlong into the hole of economic drivers.

The problem is circular, and that’s what makes consistent public support for agriculture so vital. The CFFO seeks and supports policies that will lead to economic, social and environmental flourishing. With public support behind them, farmers can preserve their prized role as creation’s caretakers.

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