We are in the early stages of a new era for farming. It is based on the gradual reduction of government subsidies, new techniques in farming, the globalization of demand, and changes in consumption patterns.
The farming industry in Canada, and particularly in the United States and in the European Union, have relied on major government assistance. In view of the huge deficits everywhere, government support programs, of necessity, are being reduced. Despite popular approval in the farming community, government funding no longer can continue.
The very small farm no longer is efficient and cannot compete. The costs of machinery and fertilizers are so onerous that only the medium-sized farm can afford to be operating. The very small farm simply will disappear. One could draw parallels with the demise of the small shopkeeper or the local garage, and with the perhaps painful but necessary adjustment of others caught up in a time of tremendous change.
There are inevitable reforms in farming that are coming. Modern technology means that input costs have soared, and efficiency requires that only the most productive can compete. That trend has been underway for decades, but is accelerating. Nowadays, it should be noted that the medium-size farm usually is more productive than the Soviet-style huge farm.
However, as farming itself ceases in many areas to be the mainstay of some rural economies, questions about the future of rural regions as a whole are raised. Yet, there are a few tentative answers emerging. For example, in Ontario an Agriculture Stabilizing Coalition is working on the development of programs to stabilize the farming industry. Adjustments to help the displaced farmer will entail using farmland for leisure activities, something our increasingly urban population needs and wants. Also, farmers must change their production to cater to more organic farming and the trends to bio-fuels.
Governments must do something so that medium-size farms are not shut out of deals with food processors, such as the frozen food industry. Now, by tied contracts, usually only the very large farms have been able to work with these processors. That must change, and with new government regulations, others should be able to compete for this business.
Global demand for food is rising exponentially, and Canada should be more able to participate in this trend. More needs to be done.
These reforms can be accomplished, once it is recognized that reforms are critically important.