Helpless politicians watch American farms vanish

The recent – and quite justified – revelry over U.S. House Democrats’ success at completing their yearlong drive toward health care reform masks a more fundamental truth: today’s Congress, ostensibly a legislative body, is almost completely unable to enact legislation. Health care reform – the most substantive work of domestic policy to leave Washington since the 1960s, for what that’s worth – is the exception that proves the rule, a relatively bold but unquestionably watered-down and politically battered work of compromise that treats health insurers, among the most obvious villains in the American public drama, with kid gloves. Other legislative priorities in recent decades have, without fail, confined their ambitions either to deregulation or to marginal, incrementalist change. We shouldn’t be surprised at this: caught between the rock of a shallow, easily manipulated public discourse, and the hard place of well-heeled business interests happily wielding their wildly outsized influence, congressional representatives’ incentive structure tilts strongly toward maintaining the status quo. And in no area of domestic policy is this dysfunction more clear than agriculture.

On one hand, American farmers are routinely thrown around – by Republicans and Democrats – as a political football. Allusions to the romance of the vanishing family farm are a guaranteed vote-getter, especially for the presidential candidates doomed to spend upwards of eight months stumping around corn-filled Iowa. (Analysts regularly concede that Iowa’s predominance in the nomination process is almost entirely responsible for the enormous subsidies Washington lavishes on the ethanol industry.) Republican arguments for repeal of the estate tax – or “death tax,” in their preferred terminology – usually revolve around the specter of inherited family farms being taxed out of existence (which, as it happens, is a nearly complete fiction). By all appearances, family farmers ought to enjoy a privileged place in American policymaking – plenty of observers, including the creators of the abysmal 2003 Chris Rock vehicle “Head of State,” point to the apparent chokehold of Big Agriculture over the legislature as a case study in American’s broken political system.

But appearances can be deceiving. Real-life agricultural policy, behind Congress’ closed doors, is hardly accountable to the needs of farmers – or, well, anyone. In the 1990s, when the business-oriented Republican Party controlled the Capitol, deregulation sent commodity prices – and consequently family farms – into freefall. Congress’ attempts to solve the problem, which in the usual way amounted to huge, indiscriminate subsidies, naturally went almost entirely into the pockets of big corporations – which was hardly a problem for Republican lawmakers, lavished as they were with colossal amounts of money from the titans of agribusiness. When Democrats took over Congress in the tsunami of 2006, farmers had no reason to be more optimistic; the urban-oriented Democratic Party has few strongholds in rural America and even less interest in rural issues, a dichotomy that crestfallen Republicans used to their advantage in trying to cling to agricultural donations and votes. Today, the Democratic Congress and President Obama’s USDA gladly ignore the concerns of farm lobbyists and their Republican allies; actual family farmers, absent political leverage, are twisting in the wind. Irrespective of any observer’s level of sympathy for the agriculture industry – which can be, variously, the heart of American business, a doomed economic anachronism, or a nefarious shadow-force fueling the obesity epidemic – it’s hard to imagine that a Congress like today’s could ever make substantive agricultural policy.

Worse, American farmers can’t expect their political fortunes to change anytime soon. For better or worse, the perception exists that their influence in Washington overstates their worth; and even if Republicans make a return to power in 2010 and 2012, the fact is that the political importance of rural votes is shrinking by the day. Absent a sudden uprising of altruism in Congress – for which no sane person will hold their breath – agriculture will have to find its own way without significant backing from Washington, D.C.

This segment was written by guest blogger Markus Kolic.  Having grown up in rural Ontario, Markus understands the importance  agriculture plays in both society and politics. As a recent graduate of Harvard University, Markus has opted to stay in the Boston area where he now lives with his fiance Kelsey and works as an internet content professional for Energy Inside.

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College Royal, another huge success

This past weekend marked the 86th edition of College Royal at the University of Guelph. More than 30 000 visitors attended the annual event which was celebrating the theme Dream Big, Dream Royal this year.

College Royal couldn’t be North America’s largest student-run university open house without the countless volunteers that put it on each year. It is estimated that over 3000 volunteers help make the annual 12 day event a success. From the almost 90 College Royal executive and 9 officers, to the professors and other University students, thousands of volunteer hours are dedicated into showcasing the University and all it has to offer to the public.

I was one of the 90 who made up the executive this year – it was an incredible experience. Seeing from September so many people come together to put something on so big, volunteering their time and still finding time for school was something I was proud to be part of.  I hope for all of you that had the opportunity to come out, you enjoyed your time, and if you didn’t, follow the link here to find out what you can look forward to next year.

Below is a picture of Elizabeth Schouten and I showing a duck in the duck show. Yes, she made me dress in a tutu for the event.

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GOLD!

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GOLD CANADA GOLD!

Stepping outside of my usual topic of agriculture, as a proud Canadian I would be hard pressed not to mention this on the day of another historic moment in Canadian hockey and sport.

Hours from now will mark another classic showdown between the red and white and what we call our arch rivals, neighbours to the south, the stars and stripes, the United States of America. At 3pm EST, the Canadians and Americans will take to the ice in a battle for hockey supremacy and the gold medal in the final event at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games.

These Olympics didn’t start as the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) had intended. The COC’s Own the Podium program was heavily criticized as Canada started out slow in the medal count. However, in week two of the Olympics, Canadian athletes have risen to the occasion. Although we will not finish on top in the medal count, after Kevin Martin’s thrilling gold medal performance in curling last night, that pushed Canada’s medal count to 25 (a Canadian record), 13 of which are gold medals. With a gold medal today in hockey, that would give Canada the all time record for gold at the Olympic Winter Games.

I don’t know about you, but being on top of 13 possibly 14 events in world, I have to say that is ‘owning’ the podium.

But these Olympics have been more than just winning medals. They have made a nation come together and be proud to stand together – screaming, yelling, cheering – waving the flag and singing O Canada. The torch relay, which travelled to all corners of this great land, was the initial step in uniting a nation. Strangers hugged each other. Friends drank together. Families took time to be with each other. It doesn’t matter who you are, when it comes to the Olympics, we are all one. We cheer for the same team. Celebrating the highs and the lows together. Getting up on that table and shouting “I LOVE CANADA!” when we win gold. Or comforting each other when we come one one-hundredths of a second away from winning a medal.

A momentous applause needs to be given to our athletes. The dedication and perseverance they have given to training and preparing for these games can’t go unnoticed. They have done this country proud regardless of whether they won a medal or not. Representing Canada and competing for us is a huge task and they all won a gold medal in our hearts.

Our athletes have shown the true side of sport. From Alexandre Bilodeau winning Canada’s first gold on home soil, to Jon Montgomery walking through downtown Whistler amongst Canadian fans after receiving his gold medal, to Joannie Rochette who days before skating to a bronze medal suddenly lost her mom and still had the courage and determination to follow through with her Olympic dream.

It is these stories and many more that make every two years so special when the world unites and celebrates the Olympic Games.

Regardless of what country you are from, be proud of your athletes and soak in every moment you share while cheering your country to victory. I know that is what my family and I will be doing this afternoon. Celebrating a sport we love and cheering to the bitter end. Yelling at the television full well knowing the players can’t hear us, but they know we are cheering for them.

All I have left to say is: GO CANADA GO!

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Future agriculture leaders gather in Toronto

This past weekend I had the pleasure of joining over 85 female and male ambassadors from their respected agricultural societies at the Ontario Association of Agricultural Societies convention held at the Royal York hotel in Toronto.

I, along with the other young men and women, joined together taking part in a variety of seminars and listening to guest speakers; discovering new ideas along the way to help better your fair along with yourself.

For the ambassadors, it was a fantastic event, meeting new people and showcasing yourself as you represent not only your fair but your community as well.

It was also a lead into the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) where the ambassadors will once again be joining together this coming August to compete for the title of ambassador of the fairs and the ambassador of the CNE.

The photo below is courtesy of my chaperone, Sheree Bessey.

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Government helping to boost sheep and goat industry

While the pork industry continues to struggle, as part of Canada’s Economic Action Plan, the Canadian Government is investing up to $6 million into the sheep and goat industry – an industry worth over $100 million.

This funding will help to enhance traceability, improve on-farm food safety practices and eradicate disease; helping sheep and goat farmers produce a high-quality product to compete on the global market.

The funding is great news; however, the industry needs to be careful there is continued demand for their products. Because there is no supply management system in place within in the industry, there could be potential for the supply to outweigh the demand which could result in a market the pork industry is currently facing.

To read more about the funding, click here.

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My approach to blogging (or how I gain marks in Ag Communications class)

1)      I check my inbox for interesting ag news stories

2)      If nothing is present, I check out some ag related news sites

3)      If still nothing, I call my dad

4)      Usually he has something interesting to tell me, if not, google

5)      By this point I’ll have something

**Key to Success: blog about something that interests you**

6)      Come up with a title (I usually can’t start writing until I’ve got a solid title – no real reason why, that’s just me)

7)      Get some water. It is good to stay hydrated while writing

8)      I guess I forgot a step, but I would assume that it would be understood. Read over the article you are going to comment about – important

9)      I usually have an opinion about the article so I will incorporate that into the post along with a brief summary  and any experiences I have had that relates to the topic

10)  Find a picture or video hopefully related to your post and insert it

11)  Read over your post making sure you did a stellar job (and check for grammatical errors, no one wants to deal with those)

12)  If need be, send it to your mom to look over

13)  Hit ‘Publish’

14)  If you are really ambitious, go to your stat page and keep hitting refresh every few seconds to see if anyone is actually reading what you wrote. (You will get a warm fuzzy feeling running through you if your views per day goes from zero to one – speaking from personal experience here – in this case, your mom counts)

15)  Repeat when desired or in the case of this class, one post by every Wednesday and Sunday night

16)  If you enjoy it enough, keep at it once school is all over

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