19, 2005: New technology and farm management practices
have resulted in many farm properties, especially the typical
100-acre farm, no longer providing a family income from the
business of farming. We’ve observed the pattern for
decades. Average farm size in Ontario has grown to well over
200 acres, with a lot of farmers renting additional acreage.
Most farmers are part of the refinancing and modernizing that
has reduced the significance of land to the countryside economy.
Farmers are adjusting to a new reality: in a high-tech and
information economy, land is less and less the determining
factor in the viability of a farm business.
Farmers are adjusting. Is our countryside?
Yes, in some respects. Take the most obvious accommodation--the
farm community’s successful argument that farmland should
not be burdened with the same level of property taxes encumbering
houses, industries and commercial establishments. That program,
which began as a rebate to municipalities of a portion of
the taxes levied on farmland, is now enshrined as a property
class with a taxation level at 25% of the residential rate.
Not adequately, in other respects. Moderating the tax burden
on farmland-–while significant does not deal with the
biggest problem caused by the declining importance of land
to farming. Half a century ago, most 100-acre farms generated
enough economic activity to support a family – often
a family with several more children than then average-size
family of today. Now it takes 200, 300, 500 and in some commodities--if
the farming activity is limited to producing bulk undifferentiated
commodities--1000s of acres to support one family.
We face a bigger dilemma--our land is not producing enough
economic activity to maintain a strong countryside economy.
We have passively accommodated the declining economic importance
of the countryside rather than actively revitalizing economic
activity on our land.
Stimulating the countryside economy has been a frequent point
of discussion in the think tank sessions the Christian Farmers
Federation organizes for its members. Support has emerged
for some significant changes:
- The definition of agriculture
must be broadened well beyond primary production
to include all the value-adding activities that innovative
farmers can create: storage, packing, sorting, treating,
processing, marketing, or selling.
- Permitted uses on a farm
property must include a full range of economic activities,
both industrial and commercial, as long as they are small
The goal is simple: allow enough economic activity on a countryside
property to support a family. We know that agriculture has
slipped to a “contribution to family income” for
more than half of Ontario’s farming families. It is
time to encourage a much broader range of economic activities
on our farm properties to revitalize our countryside economy.
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