More blockades to protest farm crisis

Dust Bowl and Depression are the words they're using down on the farm, while in the capitals the politicians continue to debate how to respond to the growing demands for help.

The cries aren't diminishing. Today in Saskatchewan, farmers plan to block traffic for the second time this week to protest against the farm income crisis.

Saskatchewan's Roy Romanow vows a fight to ensure the troubled farming industry tops the agenda at next week's premiers summit.

Romanow said he has already raised this issue with other Prairie premiers as well as conference host Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard and leaders from Atlantic Canada, where many producers are dealing with drought.

He wants premiers to press Ottawa to:

  • Establish and primarily fund a farm income protection program.
  • Fight export subsidies at the next round of World Trade Organization negotiations beginning late this year.
  • Fix the unpopular Agriculture Income Disaster Assistance program.
  • Upgrade highways across the country that are taking a beating as more agriculture products are hauled by truck instead of train.

    Saskatchewan producers and their confreres in Manitoba are demanding government help with bad weather, low prices and government subsidies to competitors.

    Monday, convoys of trucks and tractors clogged highways in the two provinces for up to two hours. A protest July 16 saw 200 frustrated farmers bring traffic to a crawl on a stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway between Moosomin, Sask., and Kirkella, Man.

    Today's protest is meant to keep the issue at the forefront as Canada's premiers prepare for their meeting next week.

    Saskatchewan Premier Roy Romanow, for one, wants Ottawa to match the $10 billion subsidy the U.S. recently announced for its agricultural producers.

    In the U.S., the drought that has gripped many parts of the nation is withering crops in the fields. Its ferocity is being compared to the one in 1929 that caused the infamous Dust Bowl. Worst hit are the East Coast and Mid-Atlantic states.

    "This is a very serious problem," said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman. "Drought is an insidious slow-moving cancer. We must do a better job of dealing with both prevention as well as providing emergency benefits."

    Experts say the drought is unlikely to push commodity prices up because there is such a glut of grain on international markets. Instead, low grain prices, coupled with the reduced yield, are likely to hit farm incomes hard.

    Already in Canada, figures show farm families have faced a drastic drop in income.

    In Manitoba the average farm family made less than $7,000 from farming last year, down from the 1997 record high of $17,000. The dive is blamed on lower prices for grain and hogs.

    Farm income is projected to drop even further next year because of flood problems last spring.

    Agriculture Canada has warned that nationally, net farm income will be cut by almost half this year, dropping to $1.78 billion from an annual average of $3.33 billion between 1994 and 1998.