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Wednesday, 12 February 2014 15:57

Agriculture groups need to collaborate

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Members of the Alberta Grazing Leaseholder’s Association (AGLA) probably feel like they are standing in a field as open as some of the land on which their herds roam.

The AGLA met at the Medicine Hat Lodge Feb. 6 to hold the annual meeting and discuss a variety of issues facing the group. While there were a few minor administrative issues, the common theme always came back to government — on whatever level — not hearing their concerns. For example, the AGLA membership feels the federal government has in the words of AGLA President Larry Sears “caved” to the pressures of environmental groups such as Ecojustice in regards to the emergency order with the Species at Risk Act (SARA) and the sage grouse — without any sort of discussion or serious consultation until after the fact.
This sage grouse protection order goes into effect Feb. 18.
There are also concerns with the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan which had its consultation deadline extended to Feb. 28.
The provincial government has also pushed through Bill C-36, the Land Stewardship Act, which they feel takes away property rights.
For example, landowners may ask for compensation for oilfield activity or grazing land which will be turned into conservation land, but the government is under no obligation to pay. The government is also not obligated to discuss with landowners water rights or anything relating to agricultural businesses.
Herein lies the problem — and this will come as surprising as statements like grass is green and the sky is blue — government is out of touch with ordinary people. Governments are more concerned with dealing with special interest groups. It’s whoever can scream the loudest is who is getting the most benefits, whether or not it is logical or reality-driven.
Take for example AGLA, a group of hardworking landowners who don’t have a lot of spare time to worry about the finite details about court proceedings and provincial legislation until it’s inevitably too late. There have been concerns about Bill C-36 for a while now, but many of these organizations don’t have the time and the finances to put towards battling this in court.
It used to be government officials would meet with these groups and hash out their differences. This doesn’t happen too much any more unless it’s something small on local levels.
AGLA administration has come to the correct realization that it’s the forum of public opinion where they have to get their message across.
Walsh’s James Hargrave, AGLA’s treasurer, pointed out the environmental groups have done a effective job in getting their message out, now landowners need to do the same.
The problem they will run into is how will they be able to ensure their voice is loud enough?
There are so many pointed associations. It’s hard to actually know if the reason government doesn’t effectively communicate with agriculture-related groups is because government doesn’t know who to communicate with (in order to get the most votes comes election time) or if they know there are so many fragmented and in some cases fringe groups out there, they don’t feel any concern or threat governmental policies will effect enough people to really hurt themselves at the polls.
Maybe it’s just a lack of respect coming from government in regards to what those in agriculture do or know.  Regardless, it’s too bad. 
It’s too bad there isn’t more organized collaboration with Canadian agriculture groups.
While in Canada, generally speaking, the groups are docile, in France, there are two main unions, the French Farmers Confederation or the Confédération Paysanne (CP) and FNSEA which have no qualms about causing unrest. In late November 2013, farm unions blocked the roads leading into Paris to protest rising costs and an eco-tax on freight transportation.
Canadian agriculture producers don’t have to go to that extreme, but the fact is, the French government took notice and decided to negotiate with these unions. Yes, France leans on agriculture more for their economy and have more clout as Canada is far more diversified, but Canadian farm-related groups could learn a lesson about collaboration and organization.
AGLA is looking into teaming up with some like-minded groups in Saskatchewan which share their concerns. That’s a good start, but they need to continue, if AGLAindividuals have the time.
It’s too bad agriculture and land stewardship now almost has to do as much with the courtrooms and the legislature floors as it does about looking after the open prairie and commodities.
The individuals on this land are the experts on how to look after it, not politicians sitting in Edmonton, Regina or Ottawa.
“We need to remind the public we are the stewards of the land,” Sears reminded the crowd. “We are the most important species of the land.”
Ryan Dahlman is managing editor with the Prairie Post. Contact him with your comments about this opinion piece by e-mailing: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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Ryan Dahlman

Managing Editor