Maybe there are too many farmers

photo-_7.jpgAs a result of being a student in the University of Guelph’s Online Agricultural Communications Program, I am a participant in many online discussions with classmates, instructors and guest instructors who are experts in their field. Some of the experts are self-proclaimed ‘city slickers’. I find it fascinating to ‘listen’ to them and read their perspectives of agriculture. During one of the assignment chats, I read all of my classmates views about the recent news of the poor financial positions of non-supply managed farmers. I started applying the ‘city slicker’ mentality to their comments and I began to wonder whether or not there are too many farmers in Canada. In other industries, if there isn’t enough money to cover the costs of the business (or to make a living for the individual), the business goes broke or the individual exits their current field and finds a new job. Is that what’s happening to farmers?

Being married to a farmer, I know the passion that he brings to the career. I have often teased him that it wouldn’t matter whether he made a profit, farming or not. Since he loves it he’s going to farm anyway – as long as he can afford it! Is that a common position for other passionate farmers?

Thanks to the continuing advances in technology, farming has changed drastically. Oh sure, farmers still plant, fertilize, harvest, etc. but the yields from the same acreage have increased tremendously. Thanks to hybrid seeds and other seed technology, higher producing crops can be grown on the same or less acreage.

Equipment keeps getting bigger too so that it takes much less time to plant, fertilize and harvest when using a 24-row planter instead of the 6-row planter. And how many farmers can continue to afford to buy and maintain these 24-row planters? Doesn’t it make sense to have fewer farmers that have the equipment and then the other landowners simply hire the equipment owner to do the planting, fertilizing and harvesting? Minimum or no-till types of tillages also reduce the amount of input time and costs that farmers incur.

Maybe I’m simply thinking too much like a city slicker. I know that I have often thought that there are too many lawyers in Canada but they all seem to be making a living so their services are obviously needed by someone. The theory of supply and demand is working.

Can the same be said for farmers? If there are farmers that can’t make a living without some kind of subsidy, maybe all of them aren’t needed. Are consumers/users of the farmers’ products having their demands met while many farmers still complain that they can’t make a living? Maybe there isn’t a need for all the farmers. Sometimes economics isn’t pretty – especially if you’re a passionate farmer.

If there are fewer farmers (thereby reducing the supply of the product), the price of the product should go up – hopefully enough that the fewer farmers still in the business can make a living – without a subsidy. Whether it’s supply and demand or other contributing factors, the economics of farming are forcing some farmers out of business. Hopefully the ones that remain continue to have a passion for it while at the same time, make a fair living.

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