Saskatchewan, Canada, January 11, 2005: As
the kids go round the ice at the skating rink in Moose Jaw,
I sit in the bleachers having a rather disturbing conversation
with another parent. Young and ambitious, he tells me how
he farms on weekends in the Kayville district, while living
and working all week in Moose Jaw. The long hours he puts
in repairing truck and tractor engines and transmissions,
and building trailers, describe a fellow with many useful
skills and lots of energy.
The dream he and his wife have is to buy some land to add
to the family holdings, and then move to the farm. Meanwhile
he works hard, knowing that few farms can support their owners
unless there is a significant amount of off-farm work involved.
The disturbing part comes when he began to talk about whether
the move will ever take place. The problem for them is that
the area they want to move to, her family's home, is practically
deserted. The once thriving community of Kayville, that 10
years ago boasted an indoor pool open year round, is down
to a population of 10. The Co-op store is gone, the large,
modern community hall is closed, as is the credit union, and
the school has been gone for a decade or more. Much of that
decline followed the closure of the rail line and the Pool
So when he considers his options, my friend looks at the
fact his kids would have to ride the school bus for nearly
three hours every day. Hockey teams, school sports, all types
of recreation are now many miles away. In Moose Jaw, he lives
only a few blocks from the skating rink, swimming pool and
school. He heart is on the farm, but his head wonders if it
will ever be possible. As a skilled mechanic and jack-of-all-trades,
he believes he can survive financially on the farm. Can his
family make the social and cultural transition? Will they
The problem, of course, is self-perpetuating. If young people
don't stay in, or return to rural areas, these can never recover.
But without a critical mass of people, what is the incentive
to return to what has become an isolated area?
Much of this stems, as rural readers well know, from the
lack of net farm income. It is a problem Wayne Easter, parliamentary
secretary to the federal Minister of Agriculture, has been
given to tackle. Easter has no doubt about the cause. It is,
he says, a lack of farmer power in the marketplace. The solutions
are less evident.
My friend in the skating rink might agree. We muse on what
would happen if farmers simply refused to sell their crops
and livestock unless prices improve. He pauses, and says it
wouldn't work unless you could be sure everyone had to take
part. Otherwise, he says, some would break ranks as prices
rose and ruin it for everyone. He hesitates and says, almost
apologetically, "It would have to be like a union, or
Even when frustrated farmers hold their products back, it
can have the opposite effect. We talk about the recent story
around canola. It seems farmers in western Canada are simply
not willing to part with their canola at the prices currently
being offered. As a result, potential sales are being lost
and the stage is set for large carry-out stocks of canola.
This will, naturally, ensure large supplies and low prices
next year, assuming normal weather.
The canola problem is made worse by the large soybean crops
in the U.S., Brazil and elsewhere. Cheap soy oil and meal
affect both oilseed and livestock feed prices.
The problem is not only one of market power, not only that
the world grain trade is controlled by a handful of companies
or that three or four meat packers control the North American
market. It is also a problem of over-production, and a lack
of will by world governments to eliminate hunger and poverty.
All of these seem out of farmers' control. But my friend
in the rink gives me hope. He doesn't believe farmers are
solely to blame for their situation. He is beginning to see
that solutions won't come unless we work together. And that
may mean with farmers all over the world.
© Paul Beingessner (306) 868-4734 phone 868-2009 fax
© Paul Beingessner, firstname.lastname@example.org
. The author is a columnist, transportation consultant and
third-generation farmer in Truax, Saskatchewan.