By Tim Kalinowski
The Alberta Federation of Agriculture would like to see more discussion from all political parties, without overblown rhetoric, about the serious issues facing Alberta farmers as election day draws nearer.
“I hope they talk about real, substantive issues related to agriculture, and don’t get going off on tangents and starting blaming this guy and that and get on their political high horse,” says AFA president Lynn Jacobson. “We don’t want them saying just because it is the other guy’s idea it’s no good. Let’s be reasonable even though it is an election— but maybe that is too much to ask. We don’t need talking points, we need substantial policies that look toward the future.”
Jacobson says there are issues of today, like the deficit in rural infrastructure, his members would like to see addressed, and, he adds, there are also policies government needs to put in place now to safeguard agriculture’s bright future in Alberta.
“There is a younger age group coming up now under the age of 35,” states Jacobson. “We want to make sure they have the opportunities we (older farmers) did to make a living in this industry.
“And we need to think about agriculture in the future as not just the large, consolidated units,” he adds. “I think we have to look more and more at local food and small farms, and have the ability as urban populations increase to play in that market. Local food is now a billion dollar industry in Alberta, and there is not a lot of help out there to support it. I think it is an industry which needs to be encouraged.”
Jacobson hopes all parties demonstrate forward thinking which goes beyond the particular dogma of one ideology or another. Case in point, says Jacobson, the unequal application of the Alberta carbon tax.
“Guys this year have come out against the carbon tax because it didn’t apply to propane, and there was a lot of propane used for grain drying this year,” explains Jacobson. “It’s a bad thing really because if you had natural gas, it didn’t really matter much in terms of the carbon tax. When you had a smaller building where you were using propane it did. We have tried (as farm advocates) talk to the government about that one.
“We told them: ‘If you are going to have carbon tax, can you exempt for special circumstances like this?’ We asked in special instances like grain drying they cut the carbon tax because we are not paying on natural gas even though we are doing the same job.”
At the same time, says Jacobson, he would rather continue to see a made-in-Alberta solution, tax or not, to carbon pollution rather than having one foisted on Alberta farmers by the federal government.
“I’m leery going down that road,” he admits. “There are some drawbacks. I think if we have to do a carbon tax we are better off doing our own here in Alberta, and controlling that money.
“I think controlling your own destiny on the carbon tax, and putting investments into greener energy, is the way to go.”
Jacobson says one issue which the AFA is extremely concerned about which hasn’t made it on any of the major parties’ agendas yet this election cycle is proposed requirements for farmers to have Class 1 licences to operate their dump trucks in fields.
“We’re not against requiring Class 1 licences, but they are expensive and they are hard to get,” states Jacobson. “They cost about $10,000 to do that. We’re asking if there isn’t another way?
“To have some sort of Farm Class that is just from field to combine to bin? In other words, something which runs between your field and your bins, and not on the roads or anything else?”
“When you talk to guys they all say that’s the critical need from field to bin because that is when they hire and have temporary help. Most guys when they are shipping for sale hire contractors with Class 1 licences already; so that part isn’t really the problem.”
Jacobson is hoping for commitments from all parties in this election cycle for combine to bin exemptions on grain transport.
“That has to happen, and the NDP seems willing to go down that road a bit,” says Jacobson. “I don’t know where the UCP stands on that. It is something farmers should be asking all local candidates.”
But the single, largest issue which needs to be addressed as far as provincial agriculture is concerned, states Jacobson, is the rural infrastructure deficit.
Jacobson says he would also add the orphan wells issue to that rural infrastructure deficit equation.
“I think any new government needs to urgently address these issues,” he says. “The problem is getting worse all the time.”