Woodlawn farmer three-term NFU prez

WOODLAWN – Woodlawn sheep farmer Katie Ward says there’s lots of work left to do as she starts her third term as president of the National Farmers Union (NFU).

The NFU announced its executive earlier in December following its online national convention. It was then the farmers’ organization announced the ninth-generation family farmer was acclaimed to a third term.

Along with her husband, Mathieu-Andre Chiasson, Ward raises sheep, pigs and chickens on pasture which she direct markets to farmer’s markets and restaurants. She also grows hay, wheat, oats and barley.

West Carleton Online first spoke to Ward when she was elected to her first term in 2018.

“I’m seeing an awful lot of enthusiasm and accomplishment coming out of the NFU,” Ward told West Carleton Online on Dec. 23. “I’m really excited to continue to build up the membership and forward the concerns of our farmers.”

Ward says the top three issues the NFU membership is facing are the climate, livestock issues including abbatoir access and food supply.

“The pandemic has really highlighted weak spots in the system,” Ward said. “Farmers and eaters are really taking the opportunity to speak to each other. We’re working on making the system less fragile and more resilient.”

For the first time in the NFU’s history, its annual convention was held entirely online. It has led to a new the NFU coming up with a new way of education.

The lobby group has launched NFUniversity. With classes on the second Thursday of each month, NFUniversity will feature experts, researchers, farmers and others on topics ranging from climate change, agroecology, seed policy, carbon markets and beyond. The sessions will build upon the foundational knowledge many NFU members and others already have to delve deeper, advance the NFU’s understanding to a higher level, and increase the NFU’s capacities to analyze and advocate. 

“Whether you are a member or not, I encourage you to check it out,” Ward said.

Seed Synergy and control of seed production, something Ward spoke about in 2018, continues to be an issue for the NFU.

“There is concern about who controls seed production, and therefore food production, is going to be an ongoing issue,” Ward said. “Taking it out of the farmers’ control and giving it to a group that just wants to sell you things, may not be the best idea.”

The NFU recently wrote a letter to Hon. Navdeep Bains, minister responsible for Consumer and Corporate Affairs, on Dec. 17 registering their objection to the planned use of “Seeds Canada” as a business name and/or trademark for the corporation that will form when Canadian Seed Trade Association (CSTA), the Canadian Plant Technology Agency (CPTA), the Commercial Seed Analysts Association of Canada (CSAAC) and the Canadian Seed Institute (CSI) amalgamate under a new governance structure.

The letter states the name Seeds Canada imitates the names of many government departments and agencies, such as Revenue Canada, Health Canada, Elections Canada, Service Canada, Transport Canada and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, and thus implies the new organization is sponsored or controlled by or is connected with the Government of Canada.

“This is illegal under the Canada Business Corporations Act Regulations, so we have asked the minister to stop them from using this name,” the letter reads.

Abattoir access has been an issue for years, but really came to the forefront during the pandemic. There is not enough local access, Ward says.

“Farmers here are having to book spots for next August,” she said. “In some cases, the animals aren’t even born yet. It’s a fragile service that farmers really depend on. Good rural jobs can com out of local food production.”

Ward says the issues for both farmers and consumers have really come to the forefront during the pandemic and in a way that’s a good thing.

“There’s a lot of interest,” she said. “Eaters feel they have to make decisions based on prices. The sentiment is there. There is a real push to buy local and add security to the local food chain.”