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Agriculture

Red Deer MP Earl Dreeshen calls for government action on China’s suspension of pork exports from Canada.. including Red Deer’s Olymel

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From Earl Dreeshen 

Red Deer – Mountainview MP Earl Dreeshen rose in the House of Commons during Question Period to ask about the escalating trade issues between Canada and China.  It was earlier revealed the Red Deer Olymel plant has been unlisted for exporting pork to China.

Trudeau government’s incompetence on world stage is costing Canadian farmers and producers. Today we had no action and no answers in QP from the Minister of Ag. on China’s suspension of pork export permits for two Canadian plants – including one in Red Deer.

Dreeshen Questions Liberals on Pork Response

Trudeau government’s incompetence on world stage is costing Canadian farmers and producers. Today we had no action and no answers in QP from the Minister of Ag. on China’s suspension of pork export permits for two Canadian plants – including one in Red Deer.

Posted by Earl Dreeshen on Thursday, May 2, 2019

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Agriculture

‘It’s unsettling:’ Ranchers and feedlots worried about future impact of COVID-19

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CREMONA, Alta. — A cacophony of bellowing cattle makes it hard to hear the other hoof drop, but rancher Bruce Bird knows that it’s coming.

Bird runs a cow-calf operation and had to shout to be heard during annual branding last week on his ranch near Cremona, 80 kilometres northwest of Calgary.

Over a hundred calves were run through a chute and locked onto a table to have ear tags applied and a mark seared onto their sides.

The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t had a serious effect on Bird yet, but he’s anticipating it will be tougher when the calves are sold in the fall.

“Absolutely, we’re going to get hit eventually,” he said. “There’s usually a big ripple effect prolonged. It’s a long, long gradual time until it can rectify itself.”

“There’s some marketing issues, some commodity issues … that are really slow to hit us. But when it hits us, it hits us extra hard.”

A concern for Bird and neighbour Chelsey Reid, who farms with her husband, Scott, is a backlog of beef at feedlots.

The Cargill plant in High River, Alta., shut down for two weeks due to a COVID-19 outbreak there and is now operating at about 60 per cent capacity. The JBS plant in Brooks, Alta., reduced its operations to just one shift a day until recently. The two meat-packers process 70 per cent of Canada’s beef.

“There’s always what we call the fall run. That’s when there’s always a lot of beef on the market, but we always have the capacity for it, so it’s not that big of a problem,” Reid said.

“If people aren’t able to sell their calves this fall, that’s going to be a real problem.”

Reid said the uncertainty is the most unsettling part.

“Our farms are just sort of carrying on as they always have. Anything that’s going to be negative … is going to be happening come this fall and probably in 2021,” she said.

“A lot of us young farmers have a lot of payments that we’re tied into, so it definitely is worrisome. It’s a lot of money that we definitely rely on.”

Tom Thorlakson said there are animals at his family’s feedlot near Airdrie that were supposed to have been shipped to meat plants in mid-April.

“We have cattle that we wish were gone. We’re not buying anything,” said Thorlakson, vice-president of Thorlakson Feedyards.

There are 14,000 cattle at the feedlot and feed costs are running to about $1 million a month, he said.

“When are we ever going to know when the plants will be up to full capacity? It will be the ever-going threat we’re living with right now.”

Thorlakson said he’s heard the cattle backlog could exist until December. And although his family feedlot will be OK, it won’t be the same for others.

“It pushes it back to the rancher right? If a lot of the guys are not buying, the guys selling their calves will be getting a lot less money for them because there’ll be less demand,” he said.

“There’s going to be a lot of guys in hardship.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 1, 2020

— Follow @BillGraveland on Twitter

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

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Agriculture

Liberals’ COVID-19 response to agriculture a hard row to hoe for Bibeau

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OTTAWA — Farmers, growers and producers need to tap into current agricultural support programs to help with the fallout from COVID-19 before any more money can flow from the Liberal government, federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau says.

Bibeau said there are billions of dollars available via the risk-management programs that have long existed to help the industry during times of crisis, and if farmers don’t apply for those funds, it hurts her ability to make the case for more aid around the cabinet table.

“We are a government who is proud of taking decisions based on evidence. We’re not taking decisions only based on emotions,” she said.

On average over the last five years, Bibeau said, the government has put $1.6 billion into three different programs. Double that amount could go into them this year, she said.

That’s on top of the funds inside the $252-million aid package announced earlier this month, a mix of old and new money.

“They just cannot say it is not good enough,” she said.

Her message to farmers is blunt:

“Please go and get this money and then it will be much easier for me to identify the gaps and to get the money where it should be going.”

An example of how evidence turned into action: farmers had pointed out that the Canada Emergency Business Account, an interest-free loan program set up by the federal government, didn’t work for them because of the way they handle their payrolls.

This week, the government expanded the program, with Bibeau’s department pointing out Friday it now applies to double the number of farms.

But observers say Bibeau’s challenge goes beyond her request for evidence and into the more complicated realm of the politics of agriculture in Canada.

“Minister Bibeau has always been very generous with her time, and has never shied away from talking with us,” said Keith Currie, the vice-president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, which had asked the Liberals for a $2.6-billion aid program.

“But I don’t know if she has much of a voice at the cabinet table.”

Bibeau was first elected as an MP in 2015, taking over her partially rural Quebec riding of Compton-Stanstead from the NDP, though it had been a Bloc Quebecois stronghold for many years prior.

She was immediately handed a cabinet post — international development — and became the agriculture minister in the spring of 2019, the waning days of the Liberals’ majority mandate.

She is the first woman to ever hold the position.

The intersection between the politics of agriculture and its economic importance wasn’t unfamiliar to her when she took on the job.

Agri-tourism is an economic driver in her riding, and in her province, the supply-managed dairy industry is a political heavyweight.

One of the things that worries her most about the impact of the pandemic, she said, is the risk to Canada’s farm heritage.

“I don’t want to lose family farms. I care for our farmers. I care for our rural vitality,” Bibeau said.

“They are the heart of our region.”

Not all her cabinet colleagues hear that same heart beat.

In the 2019 election, the Liberals were shut out of many rural areas home to the largest parts of Canada’s agriculture industry.

The Liberal response to agriculture during the pandemic isn’t political payback, said Grace Skogstad, a political science professor at the University of Toronto who has extensively researched agricultural policy.

But the tension that exists between the Liberal government and the industry does reflect the rural-urban divide in politics today, she said.

“This is a sector that pretty much gets taken for granted by the urban consumer,” she said.

“Most of the people around a cabinet table are urban, they are representing urban ridings and it just may be very hard for them to understand how important this sector really is.”

Skogstad points out that Conservative governments, with their strong rural base, haven’t been immune to political challenges.

Dairy farmers in Quebec, for example, depend on supply management policies that aren’t in step with traditional conservative views on free markets.

But the Conservatives needed support there, and so they didn’t touch the program.

At the same time, in the Prairies, populist farmers hated the Canadian Wheat Board, which regulated marketing for grain.

Those farmers were also fervent conservative supporters, and so, when they were in government, the Conservatives dismantled the board.

Conservatives also generally dislike big aid programs, said Aaron Gairdner, who served as agriculture minister Gerry Ritz’s chief of staff in the last Conservative government.

So in the Stephen Harper years, when the farmers or ranchers were hurting, Ritz struggled with a similar problem to Bibeau’s, he said: convincing the prime minister to give farmers more money.

“From the Conservative lens you always emphasize, look, this is part of our core electoral base so it’s about winnability. If our base is going against us, we lose, so we can’t afford to be cheap for these guys,” he said.

“From the Liberal lens, it’s got to be more of ‘This is about the health of the Canadian economy, we can’t afford to have a major sector start going down,’ and this is a pretty important and big one, and I think from their lens they have to start there.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 24, 2020.

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press

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