District residents offer input into ag consultation

EMO—Stakeholders across the country have been asked for their input on a new agriculture policy framework. And on Monday, residents from Rainy River District did just that.
A public consultation was held at the Emo Legion to discuss the “Next Generation of Agriculture and Agri-Food Policy,” which was developed by invited stakeholders last year during the first round of consultations.
“It’s meant to develop and refine policy options to support a competitive and profitable agriculture and agri-food sector,” noted Ruth Hawkins, deputy director for the consultations, who facilitated the discussion in Emo along with two colleagues.
“The day is yours to respond to questions,” she explained. “Everybody gets a chance for input.”
Hawkins took notes of all comments, which will be consolidated and presented in a third round of consultations consisting of invitation-only working sessions to assess the feedback.
This information, in turn, will be provided to the federal, provincial, and territorial governments and the goal is to implement a new framework by early 2008.
“The information here is proposed—nothing is determined yet, so what you say could influence the policy,” Hawkins stressed.
The local consultation, made possible by the Rainy River Federation of Agriculture and MP Ken Boshcoff’s office, began with a lengthy discussion of a proposed vision for the Canadian industry:
“An industry that is innovative in seizing evolving market demands for food and non-food products and services within an environment that fosters prosperity and opportunity for the entire value chain, creating benefits for all Canadians.”
The following principles were considered when discussing the vision, which was deemed as inappropriate as a consensus:
•Promoting a competitive and profitable agriculture and agri-food sector that responds quickly to market opportunities, both in the domestic sphere and the global marketplace;
•Enabling industry to develop and adopt new technologies and best practices so Canada can be at the forefront of agri-products development;
•Fostering a business and regulatory climate that makes Canada a world leader in innovation and prosperity;
•Encouraging the sector to profit from market opportunities by meeting evolving consumer and citizen demands in areas such as food safety and quality, health and wellness, the environment, and renewable resources; and
•Advocating for greater market access and clearer trading rules internationally while acting in accordance with our international obligations to minimize our exposure to countervail action, and reaping the full benefits of Canada’s international trading rights.
“We’ve got to put the values of Canada in the vision,” stressed RRFA president Trish Neilson. “We shouldn’t seize the opportunities if they are not one of our values.
“I think it’s very poorly-written,” she added. “I don’t want innovation to be the first value I stand for as a Canadian. . . .
“I know it would be difficult, and might not highlight everyone’s values, but just some key ones that all Canadians would agree on.”
Another local producer felt the vision spoke more to agri-food than to agriculture.
“And what’s missing is the input of municipal leaders,” added Amos Brielmann. “It does not capture everyone who’s involved.”
Neilson also said she thought the vision should include a business model where the community feeds itself first and then exports the excess.
In addition, there was a lot discussion about food safety, geography, localism, sustainability, and education.
“Education is a huge part of it,” stressed district producer Kim Jo Bliss. “You might think people in southern Ontario don’t know where their food comes from, but people here don’t even know where their food comes from.”
“But who’s job is it to educate people?” asked Hawkins.
Some answered the government while others suggested the farmers. One individual proposed the government should pay the farmers to teach children in the schools.
“The regulations are made to foster corporations and not the local people,” argued Brielmann. “It’s a race to the bottom. It should not be focused all on competition and profit.”
Hawkins and her colleagues assured those on hand Monday that what they were hearing from district residents were recurring issues across the country.
“We’re hearing consistency in every consultation and should have an influence,” she added.
Six thematic papers also were reviewed Monday, with discussion on each one, including innovation and science, environment, food safety and quality, renewal, market development and trade, and business risk management.
“It was really valuable,” Neilson said after the consultation had wrapped up. “I thought it was well worth the time investment.”
She also said she thought people had really good ideas and that Hawkins did a good job facilitating the discussion.
“I was very pleased with how the consultation process went,” echoed Wanda Botsford, Boshcoff’s constituency officer. “We had an excellent cross-section of people from different organizations, and different roles within our agricultural community.
“I was really impressed with the quality of input,” Botsford added. “We have incredibly smart people within our agricultural community who have the ability to see how any policy will affect the agricultural and agri-food industry in the future.
Botsford also said she was impressed with how many people take so much time away from their own farms to help improve agriculture in this area.
She noted everyone participating in the consultation had a chance to speak of their concerns.
“But if they go home and have some further thoughts, they can contact us,” she explained, adding the district also will offer a written submission besides the notes taken by Hawkins.
“We will be collecting more comments, concerns, or potential solutions for agricultural and agri-food policy during the coming week,” Botsford said.
“It’s important for us to capture the input because we may be able to solve some of the issues in other ways locally, provincially, or federally.”
Those who have concerns or comments, whether they attended Monday’s consultation or not, can e-mail rrnextgen@hotmail.com or call Rick Neilson at 487-2387.
In addition, stakeholders can to make their views known online by visiting www.agr.gc.ca/nextgen up until March 5.
The discussion material and background information is available on this site or by calling 1-800-O-Canada.
(Fort Frances Times)