Church Stands with Prairie Farmers

Article excerpt

"Act of God" or not, the Anglican Church is lining up behind Prairie farmers facing an economic disaster after a combination of torrential spring rains and low commodity prices played havoc with this year's crop.

Bishop Malcolm Harding of the Diocese of Brandon said no one in the rest of the country seems to be paying much attention to the situation which is threatening the livelihood of Western farmers.

The bishop has written to all parishes alerting them to the importance of the farm crisis. More work needs to be done in the pastoral area, he said.

One farmer told him he felt the need to meet with other farmers to talk about the problems. "The women do it well but the men have a bit of a struggle," the bishop said. "There's a role for the church."

Ministerial groups are to meet in September to discuss other ways to help.

It's a crisis that has built slowly and lacks the dramatic pictures that captured people's imagination and sympathy during the Ontario-Quebec ice storm and the floods in Quebec's Saguenay region and Manitoba's Red River. But the implications of this disaster are likely to be more severe and long-lasting, warn observers in the region, who suggest the long-term outlook for farmers has not been as bleak since the 1930s.

Bishop Harding says he and Rev. Larry Winslow, regional dean of the Peace Garden Deanery, have been working together to deal with the crisis on a "political, pastoral and prayerful level." This includes lobbying the federal government for assistance for farmers. The national church's general secretary, Jim Boyles, has already written Ottawa supporting the diocese's call for action.

The Rural Disaster Recovery Coalition, which includes Manitoba's agricultural producers, chambers of commerce and the association of municipalities, predicts losses of $240 million in the farm sector this year.

The coalition says because the situation is an "act of God," it should be regarded by governments as a unique circumstance and should be addressed outside existing agricultural support programs.

Three factors led to the current crisis, Bishop Harding said. Record-high spring rains left many fields unsuitable for planting and overgrown with weeds; commodity prices were low; and Canadian farmers have difficulty competing with American and European farmers who still receive subsidies.

Canada has eliminated almost every farm support program while other countries have continued to prop up their agricultural industries, Hartley Furtan, an agricultural economist at the University of Saskatchewan, told the Canadian Press's Sandra Cordon. …