by DAVE PINK
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business has set out to clear up some misconceptions about Canadian agriculture.
“A large number of Canadians have never set foot on a farm,” says Mandy D’Autremont, a senior policy analyst with the federation, and one of the authors its recently released report Realities of Agriculture in Canada. As a result, she says the Canadian public doesn’t know enough about farming to know what’s fact and fiction.
Canadians, according to a federation survey of 18 focus groups last December, believe that agriculture is not innovative or modern; that the agriculture sector is shrinking; that farming is unsustainable and potentially harmful to the environment; and that farms are increasingly moving away from families and into the hands of corporations.
And all of that, based on a survey of 523 Canadian farmers this spring, is wrong, the federation is reporting.
“The public’s perception is not reality,” says D’Autremont. “Hopefully, this report will correct those misconceptions, and shrink the gap in understanding.”
The farmers surveyed live in every food-producing region in Canada and work in the grains, livestock and fruits and vegetable sectors. The survey is freely available on the CFIB website http://www.cfib-fcei.ca/english/index.html, and federation officials are talking it up during every interview opportunity with the media, says D’Autremont.
The survey showed that 81 per cent of Canadian farmers regularly use the Internet for information and when they are considering buying products and services. As well, a large majority of farmers use the most up-to-date technologies for training and budgeting.
“Farming in Canada isn’t an archaic operation,” the report says. “In fact, quite the opposite is true – the variety of business management tools used show that agricultural operations are sophisticated, strategic and modern.”
As for the public’s belief that that Canadian agriculture sector is shrinking, the report points out that a full 44 per cent of Canadian farmers are considering expanding their operations during the next three years, while only 10 per cent said they would probably downsize.
As well, 21 per cent of farmers said they are planning to hire more employees.
“The agriculture industry employs more than two million people, which is equal to one-in-eight jobs in Canada. With more farmers planning on hiring and looking to expand their businesses, it is clear this is a growing industry,” the report says.
The survey also found that a big majority of farmers are taking steps to protect the environment, such as investing in energy-efficient vehicles, making improvements in the handling of hazardous products such as chemicals and waste products such as manure. And, the report says, a greater number of farmers are doing what they can to preserve green spaces and wildlife habitat.
“Only five per cent indicate they have not taken any of these specific environmental actions,” the report says. “Contrary to public concerns of unsustainable or harmful environmental practices, these findings overwhelmingly demonstrate how important environmental protection is to Canadian farmers.”
Also, despite a widespread belief among Canadians that more and more farms are falling into the hands of faceless corporations, the survey shows that an overwhelming number of Canadian farms are still family owned, and are likely to be passed down to the younger generation – even if the traditional business model for the family farm has changed to meet modern demands.
“Understanding Canadians’ misconceptions about agriculture is an important step toward narrowing the disconnect they have about the sector,” the CFIB report says.
“Beyond promoting positive views of the agriculture sector, government policies can also help foster agricultural competitiveness in Canada and ensure the next generation is interested in taking over the farm,” the report concludes. “Farmers’ top priorities for government action include an increased focus on regulatory reform and reducing the total tax burden. Almost half of farmers say an increased focus on industry research, development and innovation would also improve their competitiveness.” BF