Ag minister speaks soothing words

Federal Agriculture Minister Chuck Strahl found himself standing in the rain Tuesday during an impromptu question-and-answer period.

Federal Agriculture Minister Chuck Strahl found himself standing in the rain Tuesday during an impromptu question-and-answer period.

A concerned local farmer stopped the minister on the wet gravel between his van and a nearby barn where a news conference was to be held.

“In the Yukon, the environmental community doesn’t support agriculture,” Bill Drury told the minister.

Environmentalists think the entire Yukon is a protected area for wildlife habitat.

“Whether you’re a farmer, a logger or a miner you’re infringing on wildlife habitat,” said Drury.

“In the South they say that where there’s farms, there’s a huge increase in wildlife,” Strahl said in his resounding baritone.

Drury threw his arms up into the air in emphatic agreement.

“They thrive where the farms are; it’s a way for wildlife to get a little secondary food,” Strahl continued.

“The deer population explodes; the bears are thick — they end up being a problem almost.”

The connection between farmers and the environment was the underlying theme of Strahl’s press conference when he finally made it out of the rain and up to the podium.

“A clean and healthy environment is critical to the life of all Canadians,” he said before laying out the actions the Harper government has taken on the environment’s behalf.

As part of the federal EcoAction Plan, $4.5 billion has been promised for environmental investments across the country.

“Clearly we mean business when it comes to the environment; we put our money where our mouth is,” said Strahl.

“For the first time since Canada signed the Kyoto agreement, there will be meaningful contributions to reduce greenhouse gases, which cause climate change,” he said before getting down to the matter at hand.

Strahl announced a federal government contribution of $220,000 towards agricultural water supplies in the Yukon.

The territory chipped in an additional $110,000.

The Canada-Yukon Water Supply Expansion Program provides successful applicants with technical and financial assistance for water projects.

The program has been in operation for one year.

Dave and Tracey Andrews, who hosted the press conference at their Rafter ‘A’ Ranch, used the funding to install an alternative watering system.

The farmers built a dugout, which Tracey describes as a “big dam,” to catch spring runoff and provide a reliable water source for their livestock.

Other Yukon farmers have drilled wells or installed water pipes to irrigate greenhouse operations and outdoor crops.

Many applications have been submitted and there are still some funds available.

The program is administered under the $60-million National Water Supply Expansion Program, which ends in March.

“Despite the wet summer we’ve been having this year, water supply is still an issue for most of our farmers,” said Resources Minister Archie Lang.

“This is a semi-arid climate and you need water during the short growing season or you’re toast,” Strahl added.

In the past, farming subsidies in the United States, European Union, and Canada have come under fire from less-developed nations.

Many of these nations rely on farming to support their economies and are unable to compete with the unnaturally low prices caused by the subsidies.

The World Trade Organization’s recent negotiations have been stalled for this reason.

“Canada plays within the rules; it’s America’s huge domestic-support programs that are skewing the whole thing,” said Strahl.

“Europe is changing their support programs and we’re all pushing now on the Americans to change theirs.”

Water expansion programs are considered environmentally beneficial and therefore within international guidelines.

“Agriculture and environmentalism aren’t mutually exclusive,” said Strahl.

“Better to grow locally when you can rather than burn up a million gallons of fuel to bring it up from the Lower Mainland of British Columbia.”

The only way that can happen in the Yukon is to have some farming, said Strahl.

“But you’ve got to do it right and do it in an environmentally friendly way.”