by BETTER FARMING STAFF
The former longtime publisher and editor- in-chief of now defunct farm journal Farm & Country passed away Wednesday. John Richmond Phillips was 88 years old.
Phillips, or JP as he was known, stood “at the helm” of Farm & Country for 25 years, having spent 10 years previously as a reporter and a business editor. During that time the publication grew from a regular 12 page issue to as many as 96 pages in tabloid format during the peak times of the year. The focus was on farmers not rural residents, “catering to business-minded farm families -- those making a career in agriculture,” as Phillips himself wrote.
Headlines were crisp and hard hitting. “Farmers fear Ottawa sell-out on GATT” read the cover on the Feb. 11, 1992 issue, as international trade talks threatened to bring an end to supply management.
Phillips wrote his last editorial in December, 1992, when he spelled out the goals of the publication over the years. Among them: “There was the conviction that Farm & Country, apart from informing readers, had to be a catalyst for change. There were the editorial campaigns for marketing boards, supply management and stable funding for a General Farm Organization.
“Farm & Country assumed a watchdog role over the industry, especially Big Business, Big Unions, Big Urban Media, and Big Government. With this came libel suits, including a demand that I be fired. It came from the late Agriculture Minister Bill Stewart who felt editorial criticism of his policies went too far. We later became firm friends.
“Sights were also fixed firmly on the future. Agriculture’s survival and eventual prosperity will be found on the frontier of change.”
His stories about farm families "were very powerful," says Gordon Hill, a former president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture and a close friend. "John was very much in the farmers’ side. He knew farmers’ problems and he was very sympathetic. He wanted to see their stories told."
"John was a terrific newspaperman for farmers."
Phillips and Hill both served on a farm income committee struck by Stewart and chaired by deputy minister Evertt Biggs. The committee's report, Challenge of Abundance "sanctified supply management," Hill says.
Farm & Country and its sister publication Hog Market Place Quarterly were published by Agricultural Publishing Company, owned jointly by the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, Ontario Pork Producers' Marketing Board and The Cooperators insurance company. It went into receivership in July 1999. Some staffers went on to form privately held AgMedia Inc, which publishes Better Farming and Better Pork magazines, and this website.
John Phillips is survived by five daughters and 12 grandchildren. He is predeceased by his wife Benita Rose. A funeral mass will be held on Saturday, May 30, 2015 at 11 a.m. at Holy Family Church, 1372 King St. W., Toronto. Interment will be in Mt. Pleasant Cemetery. In memory of John, donations may be made to Water Ambassadors Canada, 1-877-988-4688, to help with the relief efforts in Nepal and around the world. Online condolences may be made through www.turnerporter.ca BF