Where Your Money Goes Matters

By Douglas Campbell, published in the Charlottetown guardian, May 7, 2020

The National Farmers Union (NFU) and most Islanders were relieved when the federal and provincial governments took quick action to address COVID-19. The measures put in place helped curb the spread of the virus and saved many lives here in PEI and in other provinces and territories. The government spokespersons showed caring in addressing sincere messages to the people who are grieving the deaths of family members and friends.We are impressed by the speed and apparent efficiency with which the decision-makers set up emergency funds.

They started with the most obvious vulnerable people, the ones who lost current jobs or their seasonal employment due to lock downs. The governments were also swift to recognize and respond to the many categories of the less noticed people, those who always fall through the cracks for whatever reason.

As politicians’ attention turned to emergency funds for business, people began to watch more carefully. Many people remember the shocking payouts to big business during the 2008 recession, while ordinary people went bankrupt. However in this pandemic scene, all seemed to be going well as specific small and medium business sectors were offered some support to keep their doors open and/or to tide them over until the COVID-19 virus would weaken and disappear.

However, a lot of red flags went up when the PEI Minister of Agriculture announced a $4.7 million relief fund which seems to be destined for the Irvings. Early in the pandemic, the corporation declared that they had a surplus of potatoes. The news media reported that Cavendish Farms advised the P.E.I. potato producers under contract to supply the company with potatoes to “sell to other markets if they can”. And this was said in the midst of closing borders. It was at best unreasonable, maybe even cruel. The tune seems to have changed when the corporation found that they could get public money. Now it appears that the processor plans to take the potatoes from the growers and produce marketable french fries.

When the NFU asked questions about the $4.7 million, the Deputy Minister of Agriculture advised us that the assistance is not going directly to individual farmers but to the “industry”, namely Cavendish Farms. He insisted that farmers will be assisted indirectly because the Irving enterprise will be “able” to pay farmers for their potatoes that otherwise might have been dumped. The Irvings share of the public money will be paid for transporting and storing the processed product.

In our conversations with the authorities we hear a lot of big talk about the “glut” in the market and the damaged “supply chain”. In the time of a pandemic it gives us yet another indication of the weakness and wrongheadedness of the industrial model of food production and processing. Gluts and faulty supply chains are inevitable when any disaster can cause interdependent systems such as transportation and even consumer demands to break down. And to be realistic: there will be other crises in the future. The fragility and lack of resilience of the so-called robust industrial model is evident in times of disaster.  This is clear when huge operations control farming and the land, and when highly centralized processing is the norm.  There is a supply chain problem when the virus hits Cargills, the giants who control beef in Canada. There is a beef shortage in stores. As well when the Olymel plant in Quebec has to shut down, Atlantic producers may have to put down their hogs. Pork could become a luxury food.

And so it is with Cavendish Farms, restaurants and fast food places are closed because of the virus. The french fry market shrinks. There is a temporary”glut”. The processing company will likely have extra transportation and storage costs. That is some of the risk of doing this kind of industrial business. That’s part of their responsibility. Why should tax payers’ money go toward the ordinary operational expenses of Cavendish Farms? The Irving billionaire behind Cavendish Farms might have to absorb a few percentage points decrease in profits during this time of crisis. This is their risk.

In reality, farmers typically carry most of the risk. The NFU would be happier if the PEI Government would bring growers more directly into a discussion of the best way to spend $4.7 million potato money. The processor has the unbridled freedom to decide whose potatoes to receive, or not. The processor also has the long-standing, unscrutinized privilege of judging a certain percentage of each delivery “unfit” for processing. Farmers need to be able to claim a good portion of the public emergency fund to cover their actual losses.

The National Farmers Union expects the Department of Agriculture to provide protection for farmers. The NFU urges the Minister to be transparent about all negotiations relating to the dispersal of nearly five million dollars. All Islanders expect this.

Douglas Campbell lives on his farm in Southwest Lot 16 and is District Director of the National Farmers Union

AgriInsurance Discount and Forage Program Deadline (April 30)

The Prince Edward Island Agricultural Insurance Corporation is pleased to announce that the provincial government through the Department of Agriculture and Land will be offering all producers a 10% discount on producers AgriInsurance premiums for the 2020 and 2021 growing seasons as announced April 23rd, 2020. You can find more information here.
Growers are reminded that the application deadline for the Forage Program is April 30th, 2020. The program offers drought coverage for pasture, hay, silage, forage seed, and green manure crops as well quality coverage for hay, silage, and forage seed.  Producers wishing to participate are asked to contact their Insurance Agent as soon as possible, call 902-836-0439, or email AICInsurance@gov.pe.ca and you will be directed to one of our agents.
The application deadline to sign up for Production Insurance is May 31st 2020. Again, please contact your Crop Insurance Agent, or contact AICInsurance@gov.pe.ca and we will be sure to help you out. We wish all producers a safe planting season!

Coronavirus: Another layer of Anxiety for Farmers

By Douglas Campbell

The National Farmers Union (NFU) adds its concerned voice about COVID-19 to that of many people in PEI, in Canada, and the whole world. We have never experienced a global health threat as serious as this one. Everyone is affected. Our health and our lives are at risk. For many of us our livelihoods are at risk. The fear and anxieties which accompany any major disaster are at a high level.

Just as in any widespread tragedy, not all people are affected to the same degree. Not all people have the same level of angst. Those who are usually on the lower economic and social rungs in our community live in a constant state of alarm and fear for their survival.

It has been encouraging to see the Federal Government step up and lessen the immediate suffering of those who have lost their jobs due to the shut-downs across the country. Many are relieved by the emergency funds governments have made available for the next few months. However, there will be long-term consequences which everyday people will feel for years to come. When you live on the margins, any setback can mean a permanent shift in our individual lives and those of our families. COVID-19 amplifies our on-going vulnerabilities, our fear and anxiety.

Not many people are talking about the specific effects of the pandemic on farmers. Nor are they asking why this is adding one more layer of worry to the ongoing stress on farmers.  We are a sector for which tension and mental stress is a permanent feature. It was suddenly fashionable early this year for government, their related organizations, and the media to bring to light that farmers’ stress and depression are widespread. Yet they all seem to be missing the story. They are not examining why more and more farmers have been seeking mental health treatment.

The “big picture” source of farmers’ unease is that they are trying to produce food within an impossible model. Farmers are merely cogs in the wheels of an industrial agricultural system. They create wealth for the few at the top and are barely surviving themselves, receiving low prices for their product. Most farmers regard land and water as a trust for generations to come. The industrialists and their mouthpieces in the farm community see land and water as resources to be exploited. They see these life sources merely as means to produce wealth in the short term at whatever cost.

A resulting source of anxiety is the concrete reality that family farms will disappear unless they are forced under the umbrella of the industrial sector, the processors and retailer. Farmers are often under pressure to use farm practices which they know are destructive. In PEI alone thousands of farm families have been pushed off the land. Those who remain feel that it’s just matter of time before a larger operation will buy them out; the level of impossible debt makes this inevitable. So, what happens to farmers who have given their lives to this way of life and the find that they can no longer continue?

So, what happens when we add to this the grief and fear of COVID-19 for ourselves and our families? Farmers also have to self- isolate to prevent the spread of the virus. It will soon be cultivation and planting time. Access to input suppliers is more difficult. Add to that the news that there is a glut in the french-fry market and in dairy. Farmers have to find new markets or they have to destroy product as some dairy farmers are required to do in Ontario and elsewhere.

Then there is the economic crisis. In earlier recessions when the market crashed, many investors turned to land grabbing. They saw land as a safe area for long-term investment. We may see a drive to buy up land while there is no one on watch.

The NFU urges people to listen to the health requirements so that we can stop the virus COVID-19: stay home; wash your hands many times during the day; keep a distance of 2 metres apart; and stay well,

As well, the National Farmers Union challenges all Islanders to think of ways to engage government and others. We need to stop the viral threat of the industrial model of agriculture to farmers and to the land. Let’s stop saying, “when we get back to normal…” The normal is pretty disastrous for farmers and the land. We can do better than the “normal”. Let’s find new ways together!

Douglas Campbell lives on his farm in Southwest Lot 16 and is District Director of the National Farmers Union

NFU District 1, Region 1 Newsletter March 12, 2019

Hello to all NFU Members in District 1, Region 1:

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It is time to connect with you all by means of this newsletter to let you know what the NFU has been doing in the past few months.   Late in 2019 a good number of NFU members from P. E. I. attended the 50th Anniversary Convention of the NFU which was held in Winnipeg – the place where the Founding Convention took place.  This anniversary convention was a time to look back at the past achievements of the organization over the last fifty years and to develop a vision for our  continued involvement in the agricultural scene well into the future.  We were particularly glad to have Urban and Mary Laughlin attend the Convention once again.   Urban was presented with a lovely plaque in recognition of his contribution to the NFU as well as recognition of the fact he had attended all fifty National Conventions as well as the Founding Convention.  He is the only person in Canada to hold this record.   Congratulations, Urban,  and many thanks to you and Mary for all the work you have done.  Thanks too to Reg Phelan for all the work he has done for many years on the National Board.  Thanks to Stella Shepard for all her support during Reg’s involvement.  Byron Petrie is our new National Board Member.

District Convention  –   CANCELLED! Due to COVID-19. Our District Convention this year will take place on Tuesday, March 31, 2020    at the Milton Community Hall.  Storm date will be the following Thursday.  Registration will begin at 9:30 a.m. with the meeting starting at 10:00 a.m.  Our guest speaker will be the National NFU Women’s President, Coral Sproule who will be speaking on climate change.  The Minister of Agriculture will also be invited to speak as well as a number of other individuals.  Resolutions will be considered and elections will take place for District officials.  Assistance for child care is available.  Watch for more convention details in another newsletter.  Continue reading