Farm forecast for 2011 holds promise of growth

As 2011 begins, a new year in agriculture is about to unfold. The sheer diversity of Ontario agriculture ensures that some farmers will be blessed with great production and good prices while others will face another trying year. Beyond the vagaries of weather and the market there are issues that Ontario farmers may have to face in the year ahead.

A major factor will be the fact that 2011 is a provincial election year, which means that our politicians of all political stripes will be looking for ways to support the rural and farming community in order to sway votes in their direction. Last time around, in 2007, the pilot Risk Management Program for Grains and Oilseeds was launched and perhaps a similar opportunity will emerge this coming year.

In supply management, the issue of emerging market opportunities or recapturing lost markets may be the order of the day.

In particular, many in the dairy industry are feeling constrained by slow growth in quota availability, and are hoping that new opportunities for industry growth will emerge in 2011. More broadly, the cost of energy will be a growing concern for many farmers and the broader community. Expect the farm community to be divided on this issue, with those profiting from green energy on one side and those opposed to it on the other. Finding ways to build bridges between these two camps will be essential if Ontario is going to continue to reshape itself in a way that makes renewable energy an important and accepted component in its energy mix.

 For many farmers, the issue of labelling of food products is an important on-going issue. For those impacted by Country of Origin Labelling in the United States, a decision by the WTO on this issue may impact their future business decisions. Others believe that telling the consumer where their food comes from is a good thing to do, and labels that obscure the origin of a product need to be changed to be more honest.

Finally, the issue of the collective and individual debt carried by Ontario farmers is an underlying issue. As long as land values increase and interest rates stay low, the danger of our high debt levels remains manageable.

However, if either of those factors change for the worse, there will be a crisis for many Ontario farmers.

There are opportunities and challenges that will present themselves to individual farmers and the various organizations that work on farmer’s behalf to improve the business environment in which they operate.

Nathan Stevens is the Research and Policy Advisor for the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario.