CFFO:Meeting needs of different sized farms a challenge

The family farm is a cher­ished concept in Ontario agri­culture.

But increasingly, events are pointing towards a need for pub­lic policy development that serves the needs of all sizes of family farms. The Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario has been advocating what is known as “differentiated policy streams” for the past year or more.

In essence, the CFFO has been saying that large, medi­um, and small farms are all dif­ferent and require the province to apply different rules, policy approaches, and support to each size category of farm. We simply have to start building a place for all sized farms in serv­ing the overall public good.

Most of Ontario’s farms continue to be family owned and operated, so the issue isn’t really about ownership. The issue is really about how we sup­port families who farm dif­ferent sized operations. A couple of examples will suffice to show how the tension is starting to materialize across the countryside.

For one, the recent contro­ver­sy over pork marketing shows there is a need for a policy response that takes into account all sizes of farms. Large hog farms, most of which would still be classified as family farms, can do more things for themselves and re­quire less support in producing and marketing hogs.

But the large collection of smaller farms simply must have continued access to mar­kets through a provincial mar­keting board. And one could probably make an argument that additional support should be directed towards smaller producers in serving the overall public good.

Another example of the emer­ging tension revolves around caps on public support programs. The CFFO firmly main­tains that appropriate lim­its need to be set on support programs in order to support family farms. But we are now see­ing multiple generation farms setting up shop under one roof and creating chal­lenges in how to interpret where and how a family farm level should be set. And if we were to seek to modify the support given to those multi-generation family operations it would also have to be coun­ter­balanced against the natural advantages that larger farms some­times have in the market­place. Here, too, a policy stream that made different rules and appropriate support for dif­ferent sized farms and ar­rangements would be helpful.

At the CFFO, we believe that public policies that recog­nize the contributions made by farms of all sizes, and regulates accordingly, as well as provid­ing appropriate support pro­grams to all kinds of farms, will contribute to a viable agricul­tural sector and a socially and environmentally healthy coun­try­side.

And we’re not alone in say­ing that. A report from the Institute of Agri-Food Policy Inno­vation stated that “to ac­cel­erate growth and competi­tive­ness in Ontario agriculture we must develop policy streams tail­ored to the different objec­tives, needs, and capabilities of the members of the industry.”

Nobody will say that push­ing forward on this pathway will be easy. But if we want to serve the needs of all farmers, and in the process serve the overall public good, we need to start moving towards a public policy approach that recognizes and plans for the needs of all sizes of farms. There needs to be a place for all.

John Clement is the Gen­eral Manager of the Christian Farmers Federation of Onta­rio.