Its been almost a month since my last post; my involvement in Farmers Matter seemed to takeover the blog writing section in my life, lol. That being said, Farmers Matter was an awesome event to be a part of and I wouldn’t trade the experiences from the last couple of weeks. The event was larger then we ever dreamed it would be and we achieved our goal of raising awareness about agricultural issues in a positive manner. I’d like to personally thank all of our sponsors; so many industry partners pitched in to make our meeting a success and the event wouldn’t have been possible without their support.
On to the Blog…..
One of my earlier posts touched on difficulties facing young people that want to enter into a career in farming, most notably the sheer size of investment that must be made to enter the business. I did manage to end that post with a positive example of a young farmer who tackled the problem and has managed to carve out a successful business but today I want to focus on the other side. I have a friend from school that came from a family with very successful farm businesses who had always maintained a desire to return to the farm to become the next generation in their family to farm.
Today his dream seems to be fading as the challenges seem to pile on top of each other; each problem representing a new roadblock to finally living his dream. At the same time, his professional career is blossoming because he is using his knowledge to help make other farmers successful.
From my point of view, the most frustrating thing is that the challenges that he faces don’t stem from on-farm issues, they are created by inept policies that stifle growth and keep young people from entering the business. He has told me that he would have no problem putting together a business plan that would create the necessary cash flow to maintenance his debt but it would require the expansion of his family’s current business.
Enter the problem….current quota policies for supply managed industries. (For non-ag readers, supply management is a system that uses production quotas to match domestic production with domestic demand to ensure that the farmer gets paid a price that is equal to his cost of production). I have criticized this system in the past but one thing cannot be denied; supply management makes it possible for small family farmers to earn a decent living. This system has been a beacon of stability in the agricultural landscape here in Ontario since the inception of the quota system in the early 1970s.
Over time, quota values increased because of the lucrative nature of the business and in an attempt to curb their values the Dairy Farmers of Ontario (the group that regulates the dairy quota market in Ontario) put a cap on their value. While this change may have been well intentioned, the policy makers failed to realize that if an individual holds an asset that they deem to have a value greater then the capped price they won’t sell it. Because of this, young farmers cannot purchase the quota required to produce even if they have a sound plan to finance the acquisition. Young farmers are faced with hurdles stemming from market conditions; we don’t need further barriers created by bungling bureaucracies.
In the end, I still think my friend will figure out how to farm; we have had shared our fears of not getting to farm in the past but I think he has the passion to figure it out and overcome the problems facing young farmers. However, if he doesn’t get to farm his story will be added to the pile of young people who yearned to return home to farm but couldn’t.
This story expands beyond the emotional side, we cannot deny that our farmers are becoming older at a rapid pace (the average Canadian farmer is 52) and if we don’t have an influx of young people into the industry soon the knowledge to produce food will die off with the farmers from the baby boom generation. Canadian consumers should take notice of this problem…if you want your children and grandchildren to eat locally grown food you need to make sure that the children of farmers are able to return home to produce the food.