By Tom Collins
ST. ISIDORE — The new chair of the 28,000-member Grain Farmers of Ontario (GFO) says the governments’ business risk management plan review is the number one concern for grain farmers.
The federal and provincial governments are evaluating the business risk management plan, with the review wrapping up in July. Markus Haerle, who was elected GFO chair on Feb. 13, says “it was not a program that worked for the grains and oilseeds sectors.” For example, Agri-Invest, a program that lets producers set aside money for a rainy day, saw the government-matching contributions drop from $15,000 to $10,000.
Haerle, 49, arrived in Canada from Germany with his parents when he was 12. Along with his wife Roxane, sons Matthew and Christopher and daughters Kassandra and Sabrina, they farm 2,000 acres and have 19,500 laying hens at St. Isidore, in Prescott-Russell.
Farmers Forum interviewed Haerle, who speaks German, French and English. Here is an edited version.
What is the top issue facing grain farmers?
“The business risk management review is still one of the top priorities. We are involved in different avenues to get this process more workable toward strategies that are actually going to work for farmers. Timelines are set out and we know that bureaucracy usually works in its own specific way. You can’t forget the Ontario government’s election that is coming up too. Now they’re probably going to shut down the ministry as time goes on. Usually it’s what, six to eight weeks before the election?”
Plus if there’s a new party elected, there’s going to be some time for them to get caught up.
“Right. That’s why we are working hard to get some proposals brought forward.”
What is the GFO hoping to achieve with the risk management plan?
“Putting more stability into a program. Having a program available that would be more insurance based, which could be private insurance. It could be some dollars coming from the governments, provincial and federal, or it could be dollars that might be used in different ways. The structure is not developed yet but we know what doesn’t work. And we need to collect those items that do not work and make them workable for the farmer.”
The GFO has said the province’s position on neonics goes against science. Has this affected the relationship at all between the GFO and the province?
“The relationship, yes, it was kind of awkward through the court process that was initiated by grain farmers. The relationship has been rebuilt and is on stronger footing (now). We work with government on different portfolios and there seems to be good communication, good ways of working together in a way so the past doesn’t have any impact moving forward.”
How do you deal with the province when you’re not on the same page on science with these issues?
“I’m not even going to comment on that because I don’t want to point the finger at anybody. There are certain things that are from the past that we should not keep alive and it’s not going to change anything moving forward anyways.”
Is the neonic fight dead?
“It is in a certain way. The regulation is not workable for the farmer. There are alternative products becoming available. We have not seen the complete impact of not having access to neonics. As it was always said on the onset before the regulations were put in place, the danger will be whenever the pests are going to rebound from us not controlling them. The populations are going to increase and what effect is this going to have? Are the new products going to control the pests or keep the levels low enough so we don’t have any yield impacts? That’s still out for science to prove. We’re only three years into the process.”
We hear more and more of countries banning pesticides and glyphosate. What does the GFO see as the next target against farming and how does the GFO stop it before it happens here?
“Water quality is certainly one of them up on the priority list for everybody on this earth. Water quality becomes that one target that we need to make sure we keep it as clean as possible because we do need it for daily life and crop production. By saying that, through the Great Lakes protection (regarding phosphorous runoff), we do need to be at the table and part of solution. But we cannot be the whole solution either. The cities have their part to play in this too. The finger is always pointed towards an industry that cannot defend itself. By using best management practices, by using tillage practices that are reducing the risk to the environment, Canadian and Ontario farmers already do a big part of reducing the impact on the environment itself.”
Is there a concern that farmers are going to take the brunt of the blame?
“That’s what we do not want to happen. By being at the table where this conversation happens, with governments and with different groups, that’s where we do need to be involved in explaining our side. Blaming one industry is very easy to do, but there’s a lot of hurt that is going to happen with that.”
Where does the GFO stand on NAFTA?
“NAFTA is certainly very important for the grains and oilseeds industry. There are a lot of crops going back and forth, a lot of end products going back and forth. So our stand is that NAFTA is one of the treaties that needs to be protected, that we strongly believe the negotiations are an important part. A review of a trade deal was maybe needed, but an elimination of the deal is certainly going to hurt all of the ag industries in general, and the grains and oilseeds is one of them too. The same thing with the access to the TPP. That’s a positive for the grain and oilseeds industry because it gives us access to those markets. And often enough, through those trade deals, it’s difficult to judge through to the end result what the main impacts are. We always hope they do the best for everybody and that’s what basically we have to bank our dollars on.”