As a canola farmer, I think the federal government's loan boost missed the mark

Today the federal government announced that help is on the way.  I'm appreciative of these efforts, but it may be too little, too late.

I'm appreciative of these efforts, but it may be too little, too late

The federal government has increased the cash advance under the Advance Payment Program from $400,000 to $1 million, extended the Agristability deadline and promised to send a trade mission to Japan and South Korea. (CBC)

Spring on the farm has always been the most exciting time of the year for me.  Spring represents another growing season, new life and new opportunities on the farm.

This year, those opportunities aren't looking as optimistic. As a grain farmer, I can't help but feel anxious, nervous and uncertain about what the future will bring.

Canada has been in an ongoing trade dispute with China over canola exports since March. On our 6,500-acre farm in Saskatchewan, almost half is devoted to canola.

The tense relationship with China has created a huge supply in the canola market, which in turn has caused the price to decrease, a huge impact to our farm's bottom line.

We've grown the food and have done our part. Now we need the government to do their part.- Lesley Kelly

Today the federal government announced that help is on the way. I'm appreciative of these efforts, but it may be too little, too late.

'Farmers are being used as political pawns'

Forty per cent of Canada's canola exports are sent to China. In 2018, the market was valued at $2.7 billion.

Most crops grown in Western Canada are currently struggling with one trade barrier or another. Saudi Arabia has stopped purchasing barley, Italy has shut out durum wheat, there is an ongoing dispute over pulse crops with India and Peru has issues with Canadian wheat.

As farmers, there are many risks to our bottom line that we can't control — weather, markets — but trade is one of the biggest unknowns right now and that shouldn't be the case.

Farmers are being used as political pawns and paying the price. China banned canola seed exports citing pests and quarantine concerns. Now other crops like peas and soybeans are facing unusual obstacles during inspections.

This is widely seen as a retaliation for Canada's arrest of Meng Wanzhou, daughter of the founder of telecom giant Huawei. The Liberal government has insisted it wants to find a scientific solution for the canola trade dispute, but that approach may be missing the mark and, in turn, creating longer delays and a longer time to a solution.   

We've grown the food and have done our part. Now we need the government to do their part by building and strengthening trade relationships, supporting international market access, negotiating free trade agreements and assisting in dispute settlements.

I know there is a lot of very complex work being done behind the scenes. There is no overnight solution.

'Bigger loans for smaller markets and lower prices'

Today, more than a month after China pulled the canola export licence from two Canadian companies, the federal government announced it is standing by canola farmers and help is on its way.

The help comes in the form of increasing the cash advance under the Advance Payment Program from $400,000 to $1 million, extending the Agristability deadline and sending a trade mission to Japan and South Korea.

Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Marie-Claude Bibeau and Minister of International Trade Diversification Jim Carr provide an update on the government's response to the canola trade dispute with China during a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

It's good to see the government doing something, but it missed the mark and should have been acting sooner. The increase to the cash advance is a short-term Band-Aid. It's essentially bigger loans for smaller markets and lower prices.

The role of the government is to maintain and strengthen working relationships with our trade partners. We need a Canadian ambassador to China before the situation worsens for other exports. We need a trade mission to China to start to mend our relationship.

A crop plan is like a puzzle

We are currently in our tractor, getting ready to plant canola seed that we purchased last year.  You might be wondering, "Why not just grow something else?"

Our canola seed cost more than $130,000. Growing our canola crop will take an investment of more than $300,000. These are big decisions that affect our whole farm and changing to a different game plan has impacts.

Developing our seeding and crop plans is like a puzzle. Many other factors go into these decisions: crop rotation, soil conditions, weather, fertilizer applications, markets and so much more. We grow certain crops in certain fields using certain crop production tools with both short- and long-term goals at play.

We are also looking at options of what to do come harvest to mitigate as much risk as we can if this trade dispute continues.

'Canola saved our farm'

On our farm, canola represents more than just a crop. Canola represents sustainability, vitality and innovation. I even named my blog High Heels and Canola Fields after the crop because of what it has done for our farm and family.

Canola changed our farm. It helped us be more environmentally sustainable by introducing minimum till practices, which reduce soil erosion and capture carbon from the atmosphere. It also helped us increase our crop rotation, lowering pest and disease pressures and allowing us to use fewer — and safer — crop production tools.

Canola saved our farm. Because of the investment in seed technology and genetics, canola was the crop that survived some of the harshest weather conditions and helped us bring in a profit when other crops didn't.

Lesley Kelly says canola has beena huge boon for her family's farm. (Supplied by Lesley Kelly)

Demand for canola has been high because of its constant innovation.

One canola variety we grow has a high oleic content. High-oleic canola oil is most commonly used in commercial food production and food service because it has a prolonged stability under high heat conditions. It also does not contain any transfat. I love to make salad dressings with it and drizzle it on grilled vegetables.

With challenges come new opportunities. China has been canola's top market. There is no better time to find new markets and new opportunities, but this will take time, perhaps years. China and Canada had a great working relationship that took years to develop. It could take months or years to get it back.

I need the government to do their part, step up, take action and help Canadian farmers — right now and for the future. Time is running out for our farm.

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Lesley Kelly farms in Saskatchewan and runs a successful blog called High Heels and Canola Fields. She co-founded the Do More Agriculture Foundation, is a motivational speaker, podcaster and a marketing professional. She has spoken on behalf of numerous farm and ag groups.