Agricultural policy

FTLComm - Tisdale - Thursday, December 1, 2005

The home in which I grew up and the little village that was my home for most of my youth encouraged debate and discussion about issues that affected us all and as long as I can remember, when ever my uncles, all of whom were farmers, were around the dinner table the ongoing problems of farming were lamented and discussed. From then until now, I have thought about things like the crow rate, two price wheat, subsidies, land bank and the price squeeze. One would think that in fifty years or so, the issues would change but that has not been the case, the issues have remained the same and just had different proposed solutions and other names to describe a situation that seems to be perpetually in trouble.

I vividly recalled the sad state of affairs in the so-called wet years of the early fifties when production in our part of the province (the southeast) was outstanding and the market value of wheat fell well below the production costs of the day to 32¢ a bushel. This year the land yielded amazing quantities of wheat and due to weather and market conditions those giant piles of feed wheat are worth 37¢ a bushel. But back in 1954 a gallon of gas would cost you 32¢ and today that much fuel is around $3.50.

Its time for a short history lesson:

To finish off this country Ontario and Quebec had formed the Dominion and been joined by the maritimes and then Manitoba. But the British colony of British Columbia was simply unable to join this country without some sort of transportation connection to the rest of it. This was a reasonable demand and the government set about creating the rail link to the coast and then even began building a second line. The problem was formidable because railways need to carry something to pay for their existence and both of the railways were sort of private operations although one of them simply couldn't make it and was nationalised. The solution was to put settlers on the vast empty land between Winnipeg and the Rocky mountains.

It was a reasonable idea. The land could produce crops and surely those crops would sustain the people who would settle the land. Recruiting took place and in the troubled times of the late nineteenth century Eastern Europe had lots of people who needed a new start and amazingly two million people showed up here in Saskatchewan with half of the province covered with a farm on nearly every 160 acre parcel of land. In the 1930s and since the folly of breaking up so much land and planting crops proved unsustainable and we have now less than a million people in this province with half of them living in cities and most of the rest living in smaller towns and communities.

So with a federal election many are proposing that we few Saskatchewan voters demand that our federal politicians need to formulate an appropriate agricultural policy to deal with our failed agricultural economy. That was what my uncles talked about when wheat hit 32¢ in 1954. The new prairie based government of John Diefenbaker began an aggressive policy to sort out the problems of Saskatchewan farmers and almost as soon as those policies began to kick in Ontario power brokers put an end to his leadership and to those policies.

I regret to inform you folks who call Saskatchewan your home, there is no way that Ontario and Quebec, which control the political stage in this country are going to put a single agricultural policy forward that would do what John A. MacDonald did with his national dream because B.C. is now a part of the country and as far as the rest of the country is concerned the prairies can just simply return to their natural empty state. That's not cruel indifference it is just political reality. There is no reason for Canada to maintain the agricultural infrastructure out here and we have seen the removal of its transportation system and nothing will reverse that policy of indifference unless another factor pops up like the need to keep B.C. in the Dominion.

So small agri-business owners of Saskatchewan find a way to hang on. Do what ever you can to keep yourselves in business until the country needs you and your productive capability once more. That time is not far away. Gasoline and energy prices for fossil fuels are not going to decline and we are only a few points away from bio-fuels being economically viable. Then we will once again have a reason to exist and we will need a prairie version of OPEC to govern the price of the most important product grown on farms. So hang on.


Timothy W. Shire


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Editor : Timothy W. Shire
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