Several decades ago, farmers were encouraged to expand their operations – get bigger – if they wanted to survive.
Government officials provided statistics showing the importance of larger, more efficient operations.
Generally, farmers have complied. Farms have expanded from 45 hectares to 450 hectares on average. Economies of scale have helped their bottom lines, but not enough to protect them from so many uncertainties in the industry.
Farm organizations have presented calculations showing a need for improved risk management programs, but the federal government has shown strong resistance to the implementation of such programs. They don’t seem to acknowledge the need for changes to existing risk management programs – changes that should have been in place in 2008.
Now, when survival of the new normal – by size standards – is on the line, government officials are unwilling to implement the requested changes. They don’t seem concerned with the possibilities of today’s farmers failing and disappearing from the landscape.
It is interesting to note the differing perspectives of our federal government on farms and farming. The Department of Correctional Services is closing its prison farms across Ontario because they are too expensive to operate – they lose money, notwithstanding relatively inexpensive labour and the opportunity to market the farm outputs.
And yet our federal Minister of Agriculture denies that our Ontario farms are in dire straits and in need of a revised risk management program.
They can’t have it both ways.
Keeping today’s farmers in place, surviving through unpredictable economic conditions, will be a delicate accomplishment. There’s not a lot of space for error or mistakes in judgment.
Statistics Canada reports show that fewer than two per cent of the country’s population is producing the food needed to feed the other 98 per cent. Global population growth is expected to continue, and the need for more and more food will prevail.
That is why the Ontario Federation of Agriculture and the group of non-supply-managed commodity organizations have joined forces into the Ontario Agricultural Sustainability Coalition (OASC) – to try to impress upon the federal government the need for specific changes to existing risk management programs.
There is another force at work reducing the numbers of farmers in Canada – the reluctance of young people to get into farming. Statistics show a very small percentage of active farmers today in Canada is under the age of 35 years. MP Larry Miller, chair of the federal government’s Agriculture and Agri-Food Committee, has travelled Canada recently to review what is keeping young people out of farming.
The conclusion of that committee appears to be a lack of profit compared to the large investment required to operate a farm, and all the work that farmers have to do to operate their farms.
The OFA and its federal counterpart, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, offer solutions to the federal government – amend AgriStability, retroactively, so it actually works to manage the real risk farmers have been facing since 2008. We also need to see the government adopt an AgriFlex program that will enable provincially-designed business risk management programming to be implemented to address the particular risks within each province.