Lots of room for government leadership as drought tightens grip on eastern Canada

Drought brings with it no end of problems.  For producers and consumers there is nothing good that can come of a drought.  This year’s record high temperatures across much of North America can now be seen as the precursor for our current drought.  For most of eastern Canada, what let farmers get their crops in early, may now cause potential bumper harvests to whither in parched fields. 


The implications are widespread when crops fail and it is at times like these that farmers rely on emergency programs.  With rumours of more cuts running through the department of agriculture, affected farmers are concerned that emergency programs will be under the knife. 


It is fair to say that the small, family-styled producers are the most vulnerable when the weather works against farmers.  Larger corporate-owned outfits have the economic clout to endure tougher times while small operators are usually less solvent.  That doesn’t mean the farmers who work the bigger corporate spreads don’t feel similar frustrations to their family-run cousins, it just helps soften the blow. 


What New Democrats are calling for is a signal from the Minister of Agriculture that some kind of help will be there for farmers who are suffering in this drought.  So far, the Minister has been silent on the issue at a time when a few assurances would go a long way.  That is not to say that most farms do not protect themselves, but in extraordinary times it is reassuring to know that your government is paying attention and also willing to help those operations that fall between the cracks.


While most farmers do have crop insurance, that alone will not bring produce to the market - which is exactly when the consumer starts to feel the heat.  For weeks the news has been filled with stories telling people to brace themselves for high food prices.  While it makes sense, it is also frustrating.  Consumers are stretched and high food prices will edge more household budgets to the tipping point.  But the rising costs won’t stop at food.


What is also becoming apparent is just how dependent we are on corn.  Spend a few minutes looking at the ingredients on most food items and you will be amazed, from feed for livestock, through multiple ingredients in processed food to the sugar in our soda pop, corn is a key component of our diet. But it doesn’t end there; diapers, shampoo, ethanol and styrofoam are just a few of the products that also have some corn in them, which shows us that corn is critical to more than our diets. When there are problems with corn production the shock waves will run in all directions, not just through the household food budget. 


What is clear is that the drought is reaching crisis levels in many parts of Canada, leaving farmers anxious and looking for action from the Conservative government. The longer the drought continues, the worse the effect will be on farming regions. This drought will have serious consequences and the minister must act now to develop a plan to help soften the blow for farmers and the government also needs to consider the squeeze that will hit consumers.  People are looking for help and leadership, but unfortunately the minister is simply nowhere to be found.