28, 2003: In the business of agriculture, does farm
size matter? The speakers at the Size Matters conference in
Shakespeare late last month agreed that size matters. Finding
agreement on why farm size matters was a different story.
Fred Taite from Hogwatch Manitoba made a plea for farm families
to be able to enjoy what they had worked for all their lives-some
peace and tranquility in the countryside of their choosing.
The arrival of large hog facilities in Manitoba has meant
the loss of enjoyment for many.
He also took issue with those who paint the animal welfare
and environmental movements as a cause of concern for farmers:
He asked, "When did you have your last major loss from
animal welfarists or environmentalist versus your last major
loss from the marketplace?"
Chris Bedford from the Humane Society in the United States
described farm size as a symptom of a profound change in agriculture.
He expressed discomfort with the industrialization of raising
animals, with cookie cutter hogs and with reducing animals
to reproducible units just like a factory assembly line.
He cautioned that US contract farming was turning farmers
into predictable factory workers while their overall farming
system was recreating a Soviet-style agriculture reminiscent
of the 60s and 70s, run by corporations rather than by the
Barry Wilson, a journalist from Ottawa, pointed out that
European farm policy is guided by their desire to maintain
vibrant rural economies. Their approach is to keep many farmers--meaning
smaller farms--on the land. Europe's
common Agricultural Policy pays them to keep green spaces
groomed, tended and populated.
Wilson also reported that the typical Canadian federal economist
thinks there are too many farmers--meaning farms are too small.
One can imagine an economist's argument: margins and profits
in farming are too sliver thin to support so many families.
Reduce the number of farms and those who survive will have
There's a hitch: Canadian agriculture has been in exactly
this pattern for half a century and more. Every farm census
shows fewer bigger farms. Between the 1996 and 2001 census
the number of farms in Ontario declined by 11.5 percent. The
average farm size was up 10 percent. Those who remain still
find it tough to make ends meet. Why?
New, innovative and bigger technology is a magnet for farm
profits when it increases productivity by lowering input costs
or reducing labor requirements. Small size is not the problem.
Farmers do not have the market clout to keep the benefits
of productivity gains down on the farm. Ever-fewer larger
farms with ever-more technology and no market clout erodes
For more on the myths about hunger and the Canadian Foodgrains
Bank, a Christian response to hunger visit
- March 21, 2003: Myths
- March 7, 2003: Europe
Gets Innovative about Farm Subsidies
- February 21, 2003: Seven
ideas for Strong Rural Communities
- February 7, 2003: An
Action Plan for a Fresh Vision for Agriculture
- January 3, 2003: 2002
ag policy changes to have big impact in 2003
- December 13, 2002: Farmers
know ag’s “multiple-benefits”, but wonder
how to make them profitable
November 5, 2002: Intervening
in farm markets for the public good
- October 25, 2002: Standing
up to commodity agriculture
- September, 2002: Wishes
and dreams for Ontario agriculture
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