A Personal Account of What Being a Farmer Advocate Means (PCN Spring 2014) MAY 5 2014 | Consumers and Producers | Pulse Crop News
This article appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of Pulse Crop News.
Allison Ammeter, APG Vice-President
As a farmer, I’m a firm believer in being ready and able to answer questions about agriculture whenever they are asked, whether it is from a friend, a consumer or an activist. This requires being informed and being available. Most of my life, I’ve been called upon to do this at the kitchen table, in the local coffee shop, or on social media.
When I stepped onto the Alberta Pulse Growers Commission (APG), I knew that I was agreeing to do this on a greater, more provincial scale, sitting on a board of farmer directors, advocating for pulses in particular. This has required me looking at research projects that will benefit producers, planning ways of communicating with producers and consumers, and trying to be forward thinking in how to help producers in the future.
When I agreed to be the APG representative on the Grain Growers of Canada (GGC), I knew I was agreeing to step up on a more national scale, sitting on a board of farmer directors, advocating for crop producers in Canada. The committees there are dealing with issues of transportation, sustainability and sound science, trade and marketing, research, and safety-nets.
Having said all that, when I received a phone call first thing in the morning on Friday, February 7, asking if I would be willing to travel to Ottawa for Monday, February 10 to testify before the House of Commons Ag Committee on Transportation, my reaction was similar to most peoples. “No, I don’t want to go, I’m not informed enough, ask someone else”. Okay, I didn’t say that, I thought that. I told GGC I would call back shortly. Then I talked to my husband, talked to APG’s Executive Director, and I talked to myself. All three told me this is what it means to step up and be an advocate for my industry.
I agreed to fly to Ottawa, and then I proceeded to read everything I could get my hands on to be sure I was representing producers accurately and putting their best interests forward. There are some fabulous resource people in our industry, and I was very grateful for the policy papers sent to me by APG, GGC, and Alberta Barley Commission staff who were all working together on behalf of GGC.
I worked over the weekend with several of the other GGC members to produce a nine minute statement to read before the committee on Monday afternoon. We had been given a time limit by the clerk, and were informed that there would be approximately 40 minutes afterward for questions from the committee. I knew the best way for me to prepare for those questions was to know the issues, to be honest, and to speak from a farmer’s perspective.
“Farm advocacy means stepping out of your comfort zone.”
Of course, I was only one of many cogs in the squeaky wheel that has been trying to get the transportation issue dealt with by government. The week before I went to Ottawa, several farmers were there with the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Convention, and while there many of them talked to their Members of Parliament (MP). The crisis that had developed with the grain not moving across the prairies was being spoken of in every circle. The House of Commons had called for a four hour emergency debate on the issue. Because of all this, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Agriculture had called for presentations on the issue, which is why I was there.
Before committee, the GGC Public Affairs Manager and I had made appointments to visit my MP (Earl Dreeshen, who is also on the Ag Committee) as well as Ruth-Ellen Brosseau, the NDP vice-chair of the Ag Committee. Both were extremely good connections. I particularly appreciated the 30 minutes I sat down with Ms. Brosseau, a city girl from Quebec with an Ag portfolio. With her, I was freely able to offer myself as a farm woman resource; I hope that this relationship will continue to strengthen in the future. This is farm advocacy.
Media discovered that Rick White, General Manager of the Canadian Canola Growers Association, and I were in Ottawa to appear before the committee, and we received a request for an interview with Martin Stringer of CPAC and Prime Time Politics. Again, the first response is “uh. no.”, while the reasoned response is “Of course we’ll do that”. So Rick and I gave a quick and snappy interview on the transportation issue which was then aired for the federal political junkies viewing pleasure.
The committee really impressed me, as it was made up primarily of MP’s with experience in agriculture, and seemed to be very close to non-partisan on this issue. Getting the grain moving is not a Conservative issue, a Liberal issue, nor an NDP issue. It is a “good of the country” issue, and the committee seemed determined to achieve results.
The hearing itself was two hours long. Appearing in the hour before me, all by video conference were Greg Cherewyk, Chief Operating Officer, Pulse Canada, Wade Sobkowich, Executive Director, Western Grain Elevator Association, John Heimbecker, Director, Western Grain Elevator Association and Levi Wood, President of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association. They were well-spoken, well-informed, and gave excellent presentations and answered questions in a knowledgeable and professional manner.
The hour I appeared before the committee included Rick White, who spoke on the cash advance program, and Stuart Person, Business Advisor Agriculture, MNP LLP, a farmer and accountant, who spoke about cash flow via video conference. I really noticed that as professional as all of the witnesses who appeared by video conference, the committee was far more engaged with the two of us who were there in person. When I spoke up as a farmer, they sat forward, leaned in, obviously wanting a “boots on the ground” perspective. This is farm advocacy.
In addition to appearing at committee, I had been offered an invitation for the next day to the pre-budget reception, the budget tabling in the House, and the post-budget reception; all because I was “in the right place at the right time”. By accepting these invitations I was also able to speak to Honourable Ministers: Lisa Raitt (Transportation), Peter Mackay (Defence), Rob Nicholson (Justice), Jason Kenney (Employment, Social Development and Multiculturalism), Kevin Sorenson (Minister of State Finance), and Candice Bergen (Minister of State Social Development); as well as having a photo taken with the Right Honourable Prime Minister Stephen Harper. None of those opportunities would have happened if I had not said yes and stepped up. This is farm advocacy.
When I returned home, my local newspaper, the Red Deer Advocate, called and asked if they could do an article on my experience and on the transportation issue. To his credit, Harper Richards, Red Deer Advocate Editor, did a very comprehensive article and addressed the issues very well, for which I was grateful. Our entire reading area was appraised of the grain crisis. This is farm advocacy.
The lesson I have learned? Farm advocacy often means stepping up. Farm advocacy often means stepping out of your comfort zone. The good news is that there are a lot of great resource people to help you when you are called upon, to ensure that it will be worthwhile and beneficial. The rewards are multiple – not the least of which being the knowledge that you were able to stand up and speak knowledgably and passionately for a cause that you strongly believe in. This is farm advocacy.