Date: Fri, 11 Dec 1998 16:57:45 -0600 (CST)
Farmers March In Toronto to Protest Disastrous Prices and Demand Relief
By Robert Simms, Militant, Vol.62 no.46, 21 December 1998
TORONTO - Farmers, most of whom raise hogs, protested in front of the Ontario legislature December 1 to demand immediate income assistance from the Ontario and federal governments. Newspapers reported up to 1,000 farmers participated in the demonstration. There are 6,000 hog farmers in Ontario. They carried signs like: "Hog farmers going bankrupt," and "1972 prices, 1998 bills," "Cost 70 cents/lb., get 30 cents/lb.," and "No farms, no food, no future."
In Canada, hog farmers across the country and grain farmers concentrated in the prairie provinces have been especially hard it by a worldwide collapse in farm prices this year.
In the Canadian market, it costs about Can$100-$110 (Can$1 US$0.65) per hog to raise it to market size. Last year, hogs were selling at above average prices of $160 per animal. Since mid-1998, prices have collapsed to $60 and less.
Bert Beyens, who has been farming for 33 years, keeps about 1,000 hogs on his farm in Parkhill, Ontario. He told the Militant, "I'm losing $3,000 per week. We can't survive at these prices. We have to do something. I hope the government listens." Another farmer from Wingham, Doug Garniss, who raises hogs, beef, and cash crops, said, "We've never seen prices fall so hard and so fast, ever. It's a disaster."
Hog production has expanded rapidly in Canada from 16 million shipped in 1993 to 19 million in 1997. Formerly concentrated in Ontario and Quebec, many farmers in the prairies have expanded into raising hogs, often encouraged by government officials and bankers. Speakers at the Toronto rally emphasized that 40 percent of hog production is exported.
The expansion was based on rapid growth in demand from markets in Asia and Russia. The economic collapse in these countries has slashed demand. Capitalist politicians in Canada also blame what they call unfair subsidies to farm production from governments in Europe and the United States spurring overproduction; and as part of their intensifying trade competition with their rivals they also urge farmers to put the blame there.
Leaders of provincial farm organizations and the Liberal, Conservative, and New Democratic political parties addressed the Toronto rally. Conservative provincial Minister of Agriculture Noble Villeneuve promised aid coupled with federal government relief, but no amounts or timetables were mentioned.
There have been reports of some farmers shooting their pigs because they can't afford to feed them. Some Ontario farmers have donated pigs to local food banks. One speaker at the rally said 400 hogs have been promised to the Daily Bread Food Bank. Sue Cox, executive director of that organization, said a couple of meat processors have agreed to process them for free.
In September, Quebec hog farmers closed a major highway for several days demanding immediate provincial government aid.
In Saskatchewan, some 700 grain farmers in a convoy of 225 trucks converged on North Battleford in November to demand assistance. Farm income in that province in 1997 was $680 million. The federal government estimates farm income in Saskatchewan in 1998 will be $189 million, and negative $169 million in 1999.
"We're just sort of on the edge of a black hole. A lot of farmers are just plain saying they won't be around," said Stewart Wells, a farmer near Swift Current, Saskatchewan, and a representative of the National Farmers Union.
Federal Agriculture Minister Lyle Vanclief has proposed to the federal cabinet a package of $400 million in aid to farmers this year and additional funds for next year, to be augmented by provincial government programs. Ottawa, however, has made no announcement or promise yet, and Vanclief admitted that no funds would be available until after farmers file tax returns in the spring. The program, directed mainly at hog and grain producers, would only kick in after farmers' incomes fall below 70 percent of their historical average.
Many farmers and farm representatives who spoke at the rally stressed the fact that they need immediate assistance. They have been losing thousands of dollars per week and need money before the end of the year. Vanclief asserted that a firm government announcement of forthcoming aid would enable farmers to approach bankers and suppliers to get loans for the period.
Many farmers also pointed out that although prices for the hogs they ship have collapsed in recent months, prices at the supermarkets for pork have not budged, with hog processors and grocery chains fattening their profit margins.
At the Toronto rally, several farmers indicated to the Militant they had heard of the strike vote by a large majority of workers at Quality Meats, a Toronto pork processor. The company is demanding massive wage cuts and other givebacks similar to the contract Maple Leaf Meats wrested from its workers, members of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), after a three-month strike last March. Workers at Quality Meats are members of the UFCW.