10, 2005: There’s lots of documentation about
a piece of reality that frustrates farm families -- so much
that many of them will be participating in demonstrations
during the next two weeks at Queen’s Park, the seat
of our Provincial Legislature.
Back in 1991, Ralph Ferguson, then Member of Parliament from
Lambton County, launched the first substantial documentation
of this frustrating reality -- a study he called “Compare
the Share.” It demonstrated that retail prices during
the 80s rose faster than farm gate prices. The Centre for
Rural Studies and Enrichment in Saskatchewan, with financial
assistance from the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, has
updated the study to 2004. The results are no surprise --
retail prices are still rising faster than farm gate returns.
The gap is widening.
For example, the farm gate price of pork decreased –
I repeat decreased -- by $0.15 per kilogram between
1981 and 2003. The retail price of pork increased by $3.51
per kilogram during that same 22-year period. The farmers’
shrinking share has been well documented. Do we understand
First, there is technology. Farmers are eager adopters of
new technology that makes them more productive -- often increasing
production beyond the needs of the market and creating a downward
pressure on farm gate prices.
Second, there is globalization. The productive technology
first developed in North America and Europe is being customized
for local farming systems around the world. Brazil and Argentina
have created low cost production systems capable of delivering
commodities to our superstores at prices below the cost of
production of local farmers.
Third, there is the managed food chain. The Canadian food
system resembles an hourglass lying on its side: a large number
of very diverse farmers on one side, and a much larger and
diverse consumer population on the other. In between lies
a very narrow passage controlled by fewer and fewer super
food enterprises. Consumer dollars are not getting through
that narrow passage back to the farm.
Finally, there is “just let me do what I am good at.”
Many farmers are drawn to agriculture by the challenge of
meeting real needs while working with soil, plants and animals.
They would like nothing better than to focus completely on
meeting society’s basic food needs – taking care
of hunger. And they would, if in return they received a decent
income for their families. A decent return would leave few
farmers demonstrating in Toronto.
But the food value chain has changed. Consumers want super-savory,
sophisticated, light and lively, fizzy, fruity and flavored
and naturally gourmet. Just producing cuts farmers out of
most of the value for which consumers are willing to pay.
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