By John Clement
July 15, 2011
I’m starting to show my age because I recently realized that I’ve spent very close to 30 years working at a professional career in Ontario’s entrepreneurial agricultural community. Having grown up on a century-plus farm in southern Ontario, I moved into agricultural journalism for a number of years before going to work as a staff member for the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario. Over the course of those three decades, I’ve assembled some overarching observations about farming in Ontario that seem to give shape to lots and lots of smaller observations. Here are just a few:
- Agricultural Innovation Roars Along at a Rapid Pace. Farming continues to be one of the most innovative industries in the country. Production know-how has increased by leaps and bounds and now includes all the potential found within genetic engineering. Marketing of products has moved away from undifferentiated commodities to value-added markets that serve to fulfill multiple consumer demands for convenience, nutrition and health. Finally, agriculture has added industrial production for industry and energy to its usual mix of food.
- No Agricultural Commodity Gets A Free Ride in the Market. I grew up when tobacco was king in my county and now the industry has virtually disappeared. And while that commodity had health concerns attached to it, the same can’t be said for other commodities like beef and pork. Domestic beef production has continued to struggle from the devastation that started with BSE, while pork --- formerly one of the commodities I considered most resilient --- was knocked off its feet a few years back and continues its climb back from the brink. Our federal government’s commitment to expanding trade will only keep the pressure on for the vast majority of commodities.
- Social Understandings about Farming Shift Over Time.Years ago, a lot of the discussion on farming was carried out amongst farmers themselves. I recall lots of conversations about farmers being colleagues rather than competitors, along with debates about which types of marketing systems helped build stronger rural communities. But now that discussion has moved outwards from farmers to include urban consumers. And while the conversation used to be about how farmers engaged each other and the marketplace, it now is centred on broader questions like food security, nutrition and things like “environmental footprints.”
I don’t expect any of these overarching themes to change any time soon. Farming will continue to be an industry that raises crops and livestock, but the environment in which it carries this out will keep marching forward in a dynamic fashion. I hope that three decades from now we’ll be able to continue contemplating and celebrating an Ontario agricultural sector that meets the challenges of the day, despite the struggle it brings.
John Clementis the General Manager of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario. The CFFO Commentary represents the opinions of the writer and does not necessarily represent CFFO policy. The CFFO Commentary is heard weekly on CFCO Chatham, CKNX Wingham, and UCB Canada radio stations in Chatham, Belleville, Bancroft, Brockville and Kingston. It is also archived on the CFFO website: www.christianfarmers.org. CFFO is supported by 4,200 family farmers across Ontario.