A Rimbey-area dairy producer has been named president of the National Farmers Union.
Jan Slomp was acclaimed to the position at the NFU’s national convention in Ottawa on the weekend. He returned home late Monday, and by Tuesday morning was beginning to realize how big a commitment it may be to head up the direct-membership family farm organization.
“The phone is ringing off the hook.”
Slomp pointed out, however, that the NFU has plenty of expertise amongst its executive and members. Others will step forward as and when needed.
“Thank goodness I don’t have to do it all.”
Slomp’s involvement in the NFU dates back nearly 25 years, and began shortly after he immigrated to Canada from Holland. He’s served the association in a number of positions, including as district director, board member and most recently, regional co-ordinator.
The NFU, he said, has evolved in recent years. After decades of focusing almost exclusively on prairie farm issues like grain marketing and transportation, and seed legislation, it’s also become the voice of small-scale direct-marketing producers across Canada.
Plus, said Slomp, increasing competition for agricultural land by the energy sector has become another issue for the association.
“It’s a broader range of activities that the organization is working on,” he said.
A couple recent developments have become hot topics for the NFU, said Slomp.
One is federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz’s pledge to sign on to the latest International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants convention (UPOV 91). That would strengthen plant breeders’ rights over the varieties they develop.
“That’s not very good news for farmers in Canada,” said Slomp, arguing that UPOV 91 would further undermine farmers’ ability to plant seed obtained from their previous year’s crop — something they used to be able to do with common varieties developed by government breeders.
“If we think back 30 years, it was all public varieties at our research stations in every region, and they did a very good job.”
Increasingly, said Slomp, private companies are doing this work and claiming intellectual property rights over the new varieties. Farmers must then buy the seed from them at a huge mark-up.
The pending Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the European Union is another concern for the NFU.
Slomp said the deal opens up Canada’s borders to more European cheese, which will hurt domestic cheese producers as well as the dairy industry here. Proponents of the agreement point to increased export quotas for Canadian beef and pork, but Slomp questions the value of this concession.
“If you look at the beef export quotas before signing onto the CETA agreement, they were never filled more than 50 per cent,” he said, explaining that EU restrictions over the use of growth hormones and other Canadian production practices have discouraged production for the European market.
Similarly, Canadian pork is subject to export restrictions with respect to feed additives.
“I think we have a hypothetical increase of (beef and pork) exports but we have a real increase in the import of cheese.”
Slomp thinks it’s important to have a producer organization like the NFU to fight such fights. And he doesn’t trust the big corporations that are thriving in an increasingly deregulated agricultural industry to do what’s in the best public interest.
Slomp has a herd of about 130 cattle, 60 of which he milks. He also grows some feed crops.