Thursday, April 06, 2006

Old MacDonald HAD a Farm

Farmers are much in the news of late, both provincially and nationally. They claim they need help.

That would be financial in nature - like the kind governments manage to scrape-up if an automaker or pulp and paper corporation starts making noises about "closing down".

Now the farmers, or a significant chunk of them, are telling the governments that they too might have to shut down or, at least, sell out.

The problem, for many of them, goes back to the 'mad cow' thing that resulted in the US refusing to buy Canadian beef for a year. You will recall that the government bailed out the beef industry during that trying time. The interesting part was that the 'beef industry' was, by-and-large, the meat packers and not the farmers.

How, you might ask, did that come to pass? Well, the government subsidies were paid per head of cattle owned. And who owned the cattle at the time of the bail-out? The meat packers.

Those meat packers had been running a 'help the farmers' campaign of their own. Taking cattle off the farmers' hands at well-below market price - I've heard as low as $0.10/pound - and then paying the farmers a stipend to feed and pasture them. What looked like the least of a lot of evils, became a windfall for the packers when the government got mobilized. Most of the western meatpackers, by the way, are American-owned - and that had to look good down south.

The only thing the farmers came out of that sorry mess with, was a lot of bank debt. Since then the meatpackers successfully lobbied to have US borders reopened to their cattle - another little 'bonus'. The farmers, well they're all over the map. Some have been able to weather the storm. Others have diversified into other operations and many are hanging on by the skin of their teeth hoping for a good summer and decent commodity prices. Some of them, unfortunately, can't hold on that long.

Old Macdonald might well have HAD the farm, literally and metaphorically. Here come the Agro-corps!

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