The Saskatchewan New Democrats held a leadership forum in Yorkton last week.
Now in and of itself their forum wasn’t exactly enlightening in terms of agriculture policy for the NDP moving forward regardless of which of the four candidates emerge victorious.
That should not be seen as particularly surprising, considering the provincial government regardless of its political stripe having limited impact of how farms manage to attain profitability.
The three main factors in determining farm returns are weather conditions, supply/demand pressures, and government policy, primarily those established at the federal level in an international context.
The details of the American Farm Bill has greater impact on farmers here than anything decided in the Regina Legislature.
When looking at the Saskatchewan budget agriculture spending is a sliver thin wedge of the spending pie, far behind the big three expenses of health, education and debt payment.
When you factor in the money the province must put into cost-shared farm support programs, there simply is not a lot of wiggle room in terms of farm program spending in Regina.
That did not stop questions on agriculture being asked of the NDP leadership hopefuls.
One question asked was what the NDP would do to help farmers against the squeeze on the bottom line being caused by higher inputs?
Considering grain and oilseed prices have been higher in recent years than ever, that a question of price squeeze even came up speaks to how difficult farming can be.
The simple answer the candidates should have used was ‘very little’.
Saskatchewan government policy is not going to boost prices higher, and affecting inputs from oil prices to four-wheel drive tractor prices is unlikely to work either.
The more important question is how is it that in a time of high prices some farmers still struggle.
We should be in a time where the poor operators have been weeded out of the sector.
The farm economy has been through a roller coaster of high and low prices in my 25 years of writing this column, and through the lows many farmers cashed in and moved away from the farm.
So with high prices farmers should be better off now than in most any time the last quarter-of-a-century.
But there is obviously still hurt out there.
So another discussion point of the forum seemed at odds with concerns over thin farm margins.
There was discussion about the impact of farmland being purchased by those living outside the province, and in some instances outside of Canada.
There was concern Saskatchewan producers could become little more than tenant producers for out-of-province owners.
That said with margins on annual production slim for some producers, the end pay-out for retirement comes from sale of the production unit. When the decision to divest of a farm operation, limiting potential buyers by prohibiting out-of-province’ buyers would seem to hurt the returns a producer might realize.
One might expect farmers to welcome offers from any buyer to realize better returns, something they have struggled for each year producing a crop.
Calvin Daniels is Assistant Editor with Yorkton This Week.