National | Letters

Letter to Ag Ministers – Towards the Next Policy Framework 

The following letter was sent to Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Bibeau and all provincial Agriculture ministers.

Dear Minister,

RE: Towards the Next Policy Framework 

As you and your Federal, Provincial and Territorial counterparts prepare for the annual conference of Agriculture Ministers, the National Farmers Union would like to reiterate the urgency of using your policy-making capacity to address the multiple crises converging on farmers and the food system. The climate crisis is deepening, with widespread, intense impacts on growing conditions globally, which has implications for Canadian farmers and for the food supply of all Canadians. The war in Ukraine continues to disrupt commodity supply chains, with severe humanitarian implications as well as economic challenges. Canadians’ cost of living is going up due to rising food, fuel, and housing prices. 

Farmers are facing serious financial challenges. Farm input costs have increased dramatically, further increasing the risks and stresses farmers face. The NFU has pointed to price-gouging by highly concentrated global corporations as a key driver of rising input prices. While the Bank of Canada has raised interest rates in an attempt to slow inflation, the government still allows corporations to continue making windfall profits at the expense of farmers and consumers. With farm debt over $130 billion and rising, higher interest rates will add even more to farmers’ expenses. 

We are also experiencing an extended crisis in farm succession: the average age of farmers continues to increase and is now at 56, with 60% of farmer operators over the age of 55. Less than 9% of farmers are 35 and under. As farm size increases and farmland prices go up – FCC’s annual land values survey showed an 8.1% increase in average farmland prices in 2021 – obtaining farmland is increasingly beyond the reach of young farmers. It is not a surprise that new Census of Agriculture numbers show the continuing loss of farms. In 2021 we were down to under 190,000 farms, a loss of over 57,000 in the past twenty years, with 3600  lost in the past five years alone. Medium-sized farms are disappearing; only very small and very large-sized farms are increasing on the Canadian landscape. 

While removing thousands of farmers from the land, the food and agriculture system is also creating very unbalanced wealth and power. It is notable that of the ten wealthiest Canadian families, six are directly involved in agriculture and food: Weston (retail grocery), McCain (food processing and farming), Saputo (dairy processing), Richardson (grain trading), Irving (food processing), and Pattison (retail grocery). 

At your 2021 conference in Guelph, Agriculture Ministers agreed upon a set of goals, guiding principles and priorities for the Next Policy Framework. There are many good ideas and values expressed in the Guelph Statement, including commitments to climate action, sustainability and resilience, increasing participation of underrepresented, equity-deserving groups, and increasing public trust in our food system. These need to be top priorities, and not sidelined or undermined as a result of pursuing other goals in ways that conflict with the need for a stable and liveable climate, social cohesion and justice. 

We do not want the principle of red tape reduction met at the expense of regulation that protects the public interest; we do not want the innovation and digitization priority to result in marginalization of farmers’ and farm workers’ knowledge, skills and responsibilities. Canada’s pursuit of international competitiveness must not accelerate a downward spiral in prices and quality standards that undermines farmers’ prosperity all around the world. 

The Guelph statement has something for everyone – yet as policy makers and leaders, you must make choices that may be difficult, but necessary in order to build a robust agriculture system in which farmers and farm workers make a fair living by sustainably producing through the crises we will continue to face in the coming years. 

NFU Policy Recommendations for the Next Policy Framework

Increase infrastructure capacity for local, regional and domestic agricultural production, processing, storage, transportation and distribution to allow Canada’s family farmers to serve the domestic Canadian market and retain a higher proportion of the consumer dollar within our national, regional and local economies.

Promote farmer-led innovation and knowledge-sharing to increase farmer autonomy, provide mentorship and inter-generational knowledge transfer. Farmers are problem solvers whose daily innovation, research and technology development can be amplified through an “internet of farmers” to share knowledge. 

Uphold our supply management system for dairy, chicken, turkey and eggs, and support it in ways that increase its farmer numbers and provide alternative production and processing opportunities. The NPF can assist marketing boards increase new entrant numbers in the supply managed sectors by promoting alternative production systems and on-farm processing.

Help farmers reduce emissions and adapt to climate change by establishing a Canadian Farm Resilience Administration (a new national institution designed to support farmers transition to low-emission production); ambitiously supporting farmers to achieve a 30% reduction in fertilizer-related emissions and a reduction in overall agricultural emissions; and helping Canada move toward a low-input, low-emission model of food production.

Build public trust in government by ensuring NPF investment leads to more farmers. If loss of farmers is not turned around, Canadians may become less willing to allocate tax dollars to an ever smaller minority of our population. NPF can increase young farmers’ access to land by developing land tenure alternatives that don’t involve massive debt, and providing support for adopting more resilient, higher profit, lower-input farming methods.

Build public trust in the food system by regulating for, and promoting the kinds of ecologically friendly farm practices that a growing proportion of consumers demand. Supporting farmers to transition to these methods will improve the public perception of agriculture policy.

Ensure Business Risk Programs are accessible, relevant and useful for farms of different sizes and production systems, with capped payouts to avoid incentivizing excessive expansion and risk-taking by the largest farms. BRMs should not be a mechanism that promotes unsustainable production methods, nor which exacerbates the loss of middle-sized farms.

Reverse decline in farm numbers by supporting intergenerational farm transfer, including non-family succession, to promote access to farming for new and young farmers and marginalized groups. Once land tenure is achieved, policy measures are needed to support their success with access to equipment, education and training that does not result in crippling debt and unmanageable risk. 

When we wrote to you a year ago, we urged you and your fellow Agriculture Ministers to plan to use the following indicators to evaluate the success of the Next Policy Framework. We believe that by implementing the policy directions outlined above Canada will see positive results by the conclusion of the NFP cycle in 2028.

  • Total number of farmers (up)
  • Average age of farmers (down)
  • Number of producers who are women, Indigenous, Black and People of Colour (up)
  • Farm debt (down)
  • Realized net farm income (up)
  • GHG emissions from fertilizer production, use and application (down)
  • Soil Organic Carbon (up)
  • Area of wetlands, grasslands, shelter belts and other wildlife habitat in agricultural landscapes (up)
  • Percentage of beef, pork and poultry killed at provincially licensed facilities (up)
  • Farmgate price of commodities (up)
  • Imports of high value food (excluding items that require tropical or subtropical climate) (down)
  • Sales of domestically produced food (up)

The NFU promotes food sovereignty, the holistic approach that puts people, food and nature in the centre of the policy picture, and makes democratic control of the food system its priority. Food sovereignty is about empowering farmers and eaters to define their own systems to produce healthy and culturally appropriate food for people through ecologically sound and sustainable methods that support community prosperity. It values food providers, builds knowledge and skills and works with nature. Numerous surveys and opinion polls indicate that non-farming Canadians generally share these values and support efforts to ensure farmers obtain fair returns from producing wholesome food and other agricultural products in an environmentally friendly way. 

We look forward to Ministers’ strong commitment to put needed policies in place to ensure Canada and  Canada’s farm families are provided with the tools, supports and public institutions needed to face the current and emerging crises with courage, confidence and solidarity. The NFU welcomes dialogue and will be pleased to provide additional detail about all of the priorities presented in this letter.



Katie Ward, President

National Farmers Union