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The CFFO Commentary:Farm Policy Increasingly Needs to Pay Heed to the “Missing Middle”

By John Clement

The challenges of farm policy used to be simpler. Most farms in most commodities were about the same size and generated somewhat comparable farm revenues. But those days have been leaving us for awhile now, with new challenges emerging about how to deliver public support that is both fair and appropriate to changes in the scale of production. 

 Increasingly, farming and public interest groups are noting that we are starting to experience what could be called the “missing middle.” In short, it means that there are becoming fewer and fewer farms in the middle of the farm income picture, with increased polarization crowding farmers into either lower or higher farm incomes. Roughly, most farms are now either grossing under $100,000 in annual income, or above $250,000.

Here’s an overview of just some of those who have been paying attention to this trend: 

  • The Institute of Agri-Food Policy Innovation was one of the first organizations to flag the developing trend in a document called The Two Faces of Farming. That paper argued for differentiated policy streams for farms of differing sizes.
  • In 2007, the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario published a discussion document entitled A Place for All: Addressing the Policy Implications of Farm Size. The document spelled out the different associations people tend to make regarding the environmental and social impacts of differing size farms. It also proposes that all sizes of farms need to be included in public policy development, but that different approaches should be used for different sized farms. 
  • The George Morris Centre recently noted in a paper on funding for business risk management that it might be time to develop two tiers in safety net funding. It put forward the idea that those farms delivering around $100,000 or less in gross farm revenues be publicly supported through environmental goods and service payments, while those farms operating on a more commercial basis gain support through a stabilization program.

Although this trend has been developing for a few years now, the time could soon be arriving when policy makers will need to seriously consider the implications of the “missing middle.” All farmers make contributions to their communities and deserve appropriate government support, but that support may end up looking quite different over time due to the differing characteristics of the farm business. It’s worth the farm community’s time to start discussing the issue and to debate how to manage the phenomenon before others turn their hands to the task.

 

John Clement is 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, Ontario and is archived on the CFFO website: www.christianfarmers.org/index.html. CFFO is supported by 4,353 family farmers across Ontario.

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