Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Recommended: A Great Read About the State of Farming in Canada

It takes quite a bit to excite me these days about a pundit's writing on Ag (I was fairly bored with The Nation's current "food issue" same ol' same ol') and just then along comes one of the best writings I've ever read from a lesser know source. I don't often make a post just telling you to read a certain article, but this one out of Canada's Walrus Magazine by Chris Turner cannot be missed and please note that the Canadian story here overlaps with the U.S. Ag story, and the global one as well:

~ The Farms Are Not All Right ~
The growing gap between what they produce and what they earn is driving many farmers off the land.
The crisis in Canadian farming.


In the history of agriculture, no one has ever paid less for their calories than contemporary North Americans do — in labour or in dollars — and a substantial portion of the techno-industrial genius and applied skill that enables us to eat so cheaply is found in places like Jaques Farm.

For all its prowess, Canada’s cheap food policy has produced an agribusiness sector that broadcasts the mixed signals of a system under severe stress. Nationwide cash receipts have climbed from $37 billion in 2006 to more than $44 billion last year, with a record take of $46 billion during a price spike in 2008. But over the same period, net farm income — the figure that matters most to the 300,000 Canadians who work the farms — has fluctuated wildly, climbing from $283.5 million in 2006 to above $6.8 billion in 2008 (a twenty-four-fold increase) before declining 62 percent, to just over $2.5 billion, in 2009 and 2010. Between these figures lies a gap pried steadily wider by the need for more land, bigger and smarter equipment, patented seed, and ever-precious supplies of fossil fuel inputs — from the gas in the combines to the petrochemical herbicides and nitrogen fertilizers that enable increasingly larger yields. Roger Epp, former dean of the University of Alberta’s Augustana campus, in the heart of eastern Alberta farm country, put it to me this way: “That growing middle piece of the graph between net farm income and gross farm income is the money that flows through farmers’ hands but doesn’t stick around long.”

These have been boom times for canola growers and harvesters of pulses (such as the Jaqueses’ Great Northern beans), but Canada’s global market share in its traditional agricultural mainstay, wheat, has declined from 23.5 percent to 14.5 percent over the past twenty-five years. Canada has fallen from third to seventh in overall food exports worldwide; grain imports have spiked by 100 percent since 2000; and profit margins have steadily shrunk, even as mounting market pressures to expand and invest in new technology have inspired an unprecedented stockpiling of debt, like so much winter hay, across the Canadian countryside. (The average Canadian farmer’s debt-to-income ratio is thought to be two and a half to five times the average American’s.)


...click here to read the whole article

The author, Chris Turner has written three books, most recently The Leap: How to Survive and Thrive in the Sustainable Economy. He writes a sustainability column for the Globe and Mail.

h/t Treehugger