Monthly Archives: August 2010

Post#3: An Adventure to the CNE

I spent last Saturday afternoon at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) talking to urbanites about their impressions about agriculture and I found that almost everyone I talked to had a very positive view of farmers and the work that they do.  I talked with a wide range people of all ages hailing from as far as Denmark (who ironically enough was reading about the Danish entry system at the Ontario Pork display when I started talking to her) but the message that I heard from people to farmers seemed universal: ‘Thank-You’.  Almost every person I chatted with seemed genuinely grateful for the work that farmers do and the food that they provide.  When I asked people about the rise of local food and whether it was important to them many people said that they had started to go out the farmers market instead of the grocery store, especially for things like produce because they felt it was fresher and they enjoyed the experience.

Throughout the day I was carrying my new HD pocket cam to get some videos of the people that I talked too.  Some of the clips have been loaded up on YouTube and can be found at the following link:

Please excuse the shoddy camera work, it was my first time with a pocket cam and I am working on my ability to direct short films, lol


It took awhile, but here is Post#2

A recent article by Catherine Swift, the president and CEO of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) got my attention yesterday when a former Aggie and good friend Kyle Maw posted it on his Facebook page.  The article, entitled “Taxes and Red Tape Stunt Agriculture’s Growth” highlighted some important concerns but I’m going to focus on issues surrounding the succession of farm businesses to the next generation.

An internal survey conducted by the CFIB found that 27% of agribusinesses planned to exit the business in the next 5 years.  This statistic shouldn’t be surprising; the 2006 census found that the average age of farmers had reached 51.9 and while some may refuse to admit it, most farmers do look forward to retiring and taking care of a lawn instead of 500 acres.  An even more alarming statistic from the 2006 census found that of all farmers, only 9.1% of farmers were under the age of 35.

One of the biggest hurdles for young people who want to carve out a life farming is the initial capital required to start a farm.  Consider the following example: There is a farm listed just down the road from us, it has 92 acres that is suitable for crops and has an old hog facility with capacity for 1600 finishing pigs and a very old farmhouse.   Listed at 850’000, it would take almost 89’000 to service the debt if it were amortized over 15 years using a fixed rate of 6.6% interest.  In a best case scenario where the barns lasted for the life of the mortgage (I’d be surprised if they last another 5 years) that farm could generate approximately 76’000 of revenue if the barns are utilized and the land is rented.  If you remove 25’000 for living expenses for the farmer it leaves a shortfall of 38’000 to cover the mortgage payment that must be made up by an off farm job.

This example provides some good insight into why there are so few young people farming but we also need to recognize that tomorrows farmer will need to be different then farmers of the past.  In today’s Globe and Mail, an article by David Ebner profiled a young farmer from British Columbia that returned to the family farm at the age of 24 with a Master’s degree from Michigan State in 1993. Bill Vanderkooi, now 41 has turned his family farm into a vertically integrated company that focuses on providing functional food products that are produced in an environmentally responsible manner.

I think that the next generation of farmers will need to harness a new kind of entrepreneurial sprit that will capitalize on consumer that spends a lot more time thinking about food then they used too.  I don’t necessarily mean that we all need to go out and create our own vertically integrated businesses; but we do need to work with people in our supply chains to make sure we are meeting the needs our the end customer.

While Ms. Swift did an excellent job of highlighting some key issues that could hamper the growth of agriculture in Canada, I try to focus on individuals like Mr. Vanderkooi who have defied statistics and created profitable farm businesses.  There are lots of bumps in the road for young people in agriculture today but I have a feeling that with some hard work and a healthy dose of optimism we will be able build successful businesses that we can worry about passing on 25 years from now.

Ms. Swifts article can be found at:

Mr. Ebner’s article can be found at:


One of the best things about being a farmer is telling people about being a farmer so I thought for a first post I would do a quick recap on why it’s awesome to be a farmer and then top it off with Stew’s somewhat biased top 10 “Why it’s cool to be a farmer” list.

The neatest thing about being a farmer is that at the end of the day, no matter what type of farm you are from; you get to be part of a storied fraternity that has fed people for centuries.  You are one of the few who have maintained our roots to the land and the know-how to wake up in the morning and make food for the world.  Granted, sometimes it is really early in the morning and there are some unpleasant parts of the job; I do not enjoy having to pressure wash a barn when it is -30 degrees Celsius in January (for you non farmers, think washing your car, soaking wet, continuously for eight hours) but no job is perfect.

Farming today is a lot different today then it was when the first Skinners came to Perth County to farm back in 1859. On average, today’s farmer can produce enough food to feed 120 people compared to 12 people per farmer in 1900, (  The six generations of Skinners have witnessed some marvellous inventions in agriculture throughout their time farming here in Ontario: the threshing machine, the tractor, the milker, a bigger tractor, the combine, an even bigger tractor, the robot that milks your cows, and finally a tractor that can drive itself.  While technology has changed the way we farm, the end goal is still the same; work hard every day to produce high quality food and take care of the environment around you for the generations to follow.

Now, on to the Top 10 “Why I think it’s cool to be a farmer”

Ten: I can take the occasional nap after lunch

Nine: Getting to drive really big machines

Eight: I get an amazing tan…on my arms at least

Seven: I’ll never have to buy a gym membership

Six: I get to see the odd sunrise

Five: I get to eat what I make at work

Four: I rocked wellies before Burberry made them cool

Three: Getting to see things being born

Two: Manure is an excellent exfoliate

One: I feed people