Everyone has an opinion on farm size
Group’s discussion guide considers factors that create community resistance.

By John Clement

editor's NOTE

John Clement

The Christian Farming Federation of Ontario (CFFO), Guelph, Ontario, produces a weekly radio commentary which we occasionally carry under the column title “Letters from Ontario.” John Clement, the group’s general manager, writes most often, with others from the group taking their turns. With the group’s permission, we continue use of the CFFO columns as they seem useful for our international readership.

Posted April 12, 2007: Listen carefully to many conversations on farming and you’ll occasionally hear assumptions about the desirability of one farm size over another. Some people see small farms as being better for rural communities and environmental stewardship, with larger farms being far less desirable. Others see larger farms as not only desirable, but inevitable. Still others are more democratic and tolerant, thinking there is room for everyone. One thing is for certain—there are few people without an opinion on the matter.

At the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, our members have been pointing out for years now that there are differences in farms. This viewpoint has shown up regularly at our annual provincial seminar series, particularly in our 2006 series. Our organization’s leaders heard repeatedly last year from members and friends that there are differences between farms and that those differences are becoming more pronounced.
In response to these voices, the CFFO has developed a new discussion document entitled A Place for All: Addressing the Policy Implications of Farm Size. It’s not our organization’s intention to pit one size of farm against another; we simply want people to think about the subject and ask themselves if there isn’t a better way to support farms of all sizes. We seek to disentangle the actual size of a farm from a host of other social, environmental and cultural factors that affect our perceptions of farm size.

The discussion document notes that the perception of large farms as bad, and small farms as good, is not necessarily tied to the physical size or gross revenues of a farm operation. Instead, there are a number of social, environmental and cultural perceptions that have created these distinctions. For example:

  • Amongst non-farming rural residents and urban motorists, the overpowering sensory presence of feedlot and hog operations stand out.
  • The potential environmental threat of one large operation is perceived to be greater than the aggregate threat of numerous small farms.
  • Amongst farmers themselves, there is the perception of owner-operated farms being more proper, in the traditional sense, than investor-owned operations, regardless of size.
  • Finally, a higher concentration of environmental and community impacts in one farm is perhaps the greatest source of controversy.

The CFFO discussion document also examines Canada’s public policy framework for agriculture and asks if government support, alongside new rules and regulations, isn’t tilted favourably towards the development of larger farms. Finally, the document proposes that all sizes of farms be included in public policy development and outlines a series of principles that should be taken into account when developing public policy.

The CFFO invites you to download a copy of the discussion document and to consider the ideas it presents. We welcome and encourage your feedback on this perennial subject of conversation. For a copy of the 2006 CFFO Seminar Series Report, click here.