Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Death of the Family Farm

As I have written here before, the push to end the Wheat Board comes not from Johnny and Janey Canuck the family farmer who goes to work in order to keep their farm afloat, but from the corporate millionaire farmer the modern face of agri-business.

His neighbours are not fellow farmers, they are competition he would like to eliminate.

"Nearly all large scale-farmers would say take away the monopoly," says Gary Pike, a Calgary-based agricultural consultant whose clients include many of the country's most successful growers. "There's a fundamental belief [among the public] that the board is bringing a big premium for farmers, but full-time farmers can pick off opportunities much better than the wheat board," he said. "They can take their marketing into their own hands."

Mr. Doerksen is a good example of what he's talking about. Something of a rarity today, Mr. Doerksen is a prosperous farmer. At a time when more than half of prairie farmers are either losing money or barely breaking even, the 32-year-old university graduate has annual revenues in excess of $1-million and takes three holidays a year. Last winter, he took his family to Costa Rica.

He has a degree in agriculture and regards his farm as a business as opposed to a livelihood. He's at home in the arcane world of agricultural futures, and he's equally adept at building relationships with customers. He recently bought a fleet of trucks as a way to provide better service to the food companies that buy his lentils and other non-wheat board crops.

The corporatization of farming in Canada continues supported by the Harper government.

Long-term farming decline continues

Thousands more farms and farmers disappeared through the first half of this decade, continuing a steady long-term decline that began six decades ago.

But thanks to increases in efficiency, the size of farms and government support, the value of their produce has increased, and increased more than their costs.

Those are among the key findings of Statistics Canada's "Snapshot of Canadian Agriculture" from its 2006 census, released Wednesday, that also revealed there are more "million dollar" farms than when the previous census was conducted in 2001 but also more farmers working off the farm to supplement their farm incomes, especially in the economically booming Western provinces.

Farms, meanwhile, got bigger, with the average size increasing eight per cent to 295 hectares from 273, leaving the amount of land devoted to farming in Canada virtually unchanged at just over 67.6 million hectares.

While Canadians often think of Canada as a major agricultural nation, Statistics Canada noted that a comparison with seven other countries that have conducted a farm census over the past decade revealed that Canada "despite its size has by far the smallest proportion of total land that is agricultural at only 7.3 per cent, mainly because of soil quality and the nature of the Canadian climate and terrain."

And Canada had the third-smallest amount of land devoted to farming of the eight, which included the U.S., Britain, France, China, Brazil, Australlia, and Argentina.

Still, Canada's farmland was increasingly productive.

Meanwhile, the proportion of farms with inflation adjusted gross receipts of $1 million or more increased to 2.6 per cent of all farms in 2006 from 1.8 per cent, and those "million-dollar" farms accounted for more than a third of all farm receipts.

Hog farms were the most likely to be "million dollar" farms, with 18 per cent of them falling into that category, followed by poultry and egg farms. In contrast, only two per cent of field crop farms, which are the most common in Canada, were.

Two-thirds of farms, or most, had gross receipts of between $250,000 and $1 million.

However, just 55.8 per cent of farms earned enough to cover their costs.

"Million dollar" farms were the most likely to cover their costs - 86 per cent did. However, more than one quarter of the smallest, with receipts of less than $25,000, also did, mostly fruit and vegetable farms, or greenhouse, nursery and floriculture operations, and many of them located in urban areas.

Still, nearly half of all farm operators also worked other jobs or businesses, up from just under 45 per cent in 2001, with 20.2 per cent working more than 40 hours in other jobs. Slightly fewer were working full time on the farm - 46.7 down from 47.7.

Report highlights

- Hog farming accounts for only 2.6 per cent of all farm operations but 18 per cent of hog farms report gross receipts of more than $1 million.
- The number of beef farms declined even though the number of head of cattle increased. BSE knocked many farms out of business while surviving farms had to keep cows longer since they could not be exported.
- Fewer chickens are laying more eggs to meet consumer demand.
- Turkey farming increased and birds are getting bigger.

- The census found a shift from annual crops like wheat and barley to perennial crops such as alfalfa.
- Wheat, hay and canola are the top three crops grown in Canada.
- Blueberries beat out apples as the biggest fruit crop for the second consecutive census.
- Grape production for use by wineries grew by almost 15 per cent
- The area used for vegetable production decreased nearly 7 per cent.
- Sweet corn is the most popular vegetable, grown in almost one quarter of the total vegetable area.
- For the first time, maple sap was produced west of Ontario.

- The census counted both organic farms and for the first time farms transitioning to organic, which is why the numbers jumped from 2,230 to 15,511 farms or 6.8 per cent of all farms.
- Field crops are the dominant organic product.


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