Ontario Agriculture

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The CFFO Commentary: Future of Farming requires Accommodating Differing Views

By Jenny Denhartog

September 3, 2010

The steady decline in the number of family farms in Ontario has been well recognized and publicized. Census numbers indicate that, between 1996 and 2006, Ontario lost more than 10,000 census farms. With the average age of Ontario’s farmers now approaching 60 years, planning the future for Ontario’s farm sector should be top priority.

Within the agricultural sector there are differing views on what the future of farming should look like. As always, individual’s opinions often depend on their own situation. For example, those whose farming income represents just a portion of their total income will often favour smaller, less intensive farms, while those whose sole income depends on the farm business will argue that only bigger, more intensive farms are viable. The possibility of a son or daughter joining the farm business tends to influence one’s perspective as well. So does level of debt, commodity and method of marketing. With all those differing viewpoints, discussions on the topic of long term sustainability of farming can turn into a never-ending exchange of opinions, all of them valid and many of them contradicting each other.

Over the years, these differing farming philosophies have resulted in a very diverse primary production sector. On the one hand, this diversity should be seen as one of Ontario agriculture’s main strengths as it enables our farmers to cater to a diverse consumer base. But as is so often the case, this strength is also a major weakness. Fostering the diversity comes with a multitude of complications when it comes to provincial farm policy development.

Four years ago the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario started a discussion document on the policy implications of farm size. As discussions took place it became clear that differentiated policies are needed to address the needs of all sizes of farms. Ontario agriculture does not lend itself to a “one size fits all” solution.

Ontario’s farm sector continues to try to adapt to changing circumstances and pressures, and it continues to lose many farm families along the way. If this trend is allowed to continue, rural Ontario may very well lose its unique landscape in the foreseeable future and the province will be poorer for it. If Ontario is serious about maintaining an agricultural sector and food production base in this province, it needs to develop a plan for the future of farming. The plan needs to acknowledge the different types of farming that have served consumers so well over the years, and incorporate ways to address their differing needs.

Jenny Denhartog is the Secretary to the Board and Committees of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario. The CFFO Commentary represents the opinions of the writer and does not necessarily represent CFFO policy. It can be heard weekly on CKNX Wingham and CFCO Chatham, Ontario and is archived on the CFFO website: www.christianfarmers.org. The CFFO is supported by 4,350 farm families across Ontario.

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