Letter from Canada:
Wishes and dreams for Ontario agriculture

By Elbert van Donkersgoed

Editor's NOTE

This column was adapted from one of Elbert van Donkersgoed's weekly radio chats, called Corner Post, which are aired weekly on CFCO Radio in Chatham and CKNX Radio in Wingham, Ontario. Elbert is the Strategic Policy Advisor of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, which is working hard to create a more satisfying and sustainable model for farming in the province. If you'd like to receive a transcript of Elbert's Corner Post address each week, send an email to evd@christianfarmers.org with SUBSCRIBE as the message.

Do any of the issues listed in this column resonate with you, or are there other wishes you'd like to share? Send them to us now, and we'll post them on the web site later.

If you had one wish for farming in Ontario in 2002 what would it be?

That was the first of many challenging questions addressed in the "Gearing Up for a Better Future" workshop series that the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario organized last winter. About 250 farmers participated in the 18 sessions across the province. Almost all were able to declare a wish as they introduced themselves at the daylong events.

We collected, organized and analyzed those wishes. Here's a brief summary:

A small group wished for specific policies on protecting farmland, on nutrient management and on markets. Eight percent wanted less urban development on agricultural land, a set of environmental rules for all of society, a nutrient management act that farmers can handle and an end to the circle of having to get bigger because of increasing costs.

Some participants were visionary. Twelve percent wished for a different kind of agriculture: less government, farming without subsidies, working together with US farmers, a united approach on the issues, a fully integrated countryside and agriculture. One farmer expressed the following hope: "When farming is going well, good people should not get greedy and overproduce."

Thirteen percent highlighted stewardship, sustainability and farm management practices. They hoped to leave a heritage for children by leaving the farm and farmland better for those who follow. They emphasized making a living by being good stewards, toning down the competitive mindset, and choosing to "market more locally and putting a face on our products." To improve farm practices they asked for interdisciplinary activities and cooperation on technical issues.

One group looked forward to improvements for their own farms. Fourteen percent longed for better weather, a half inch of rain, contentment, an injury free year, less paper work and one of the children taking over someday.

A similar-sized group wanted appreciation from the public, government, rural people, big business, media and consumers: "We want to be appreciated for the contribution we make to society." Some mentioned big and small farmers respecting each other and consumers being more interested in buying locally.

Nineteen percent focused on commodity prices and farm income. They wished for a fair return, a level playing field, getting away from expensive inputs, prosperity and the opportunity to let go an off-farm job. They hoped for prices that keep up with costs and better control over prices because "there is no other business where you have less control over the price of products."

Twenty percent of participants wished for strong family farms, healthier rural communities and better opportunities for young farmers. They wished for farmers spending more time as neighbours, a stop in the decline in farm numbers because farmers make good neighbours, easier opportunities for the next generation and "a future for my son."