Let’s Talk Up Farming’s Sunny Business Forecast to Decision Makers

A federally funded focus group exercise held across the country last December named farmers as victims of classic stereotypes, and revealed how misconceptions continue to dominate people’s perceptions of agriculture.

Notably, the focus group participants said they saw farming as shrinking, stuck in time, environmentally unfriendly and unlikely to be a family business for much longer.

Well, it appears that’s not the way farmers see themselves — at least not the 540 farmers representing a variety of commodities, who took part in a poll released earlier this week by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. They were surveyed about their anticipated business activities, and the results were eye opening.

First — and this is huge — a whopping 44 per cent of farmers said they are planning to expand their operations in the next three years.  Agriculture should be trumpeting that number, using it to show decision makers how vital it is to a chronically fragile economy.

Imagine nearly half of any other sector in the Canadian economy saying it plans to expand, rather than saying it’s going to sit tight and see what happens with the dollar, the federal election, interest rates, the Middle East or any of dozens of reasons that could be mentioned by businesses that are satisfied with the status quo.

Despite global and financial uncertainty, people still have to eat. And clearly, farmers see significant opportunities ahead.  Agriculture has momentum.  This should be music to politicians’ ears.

Another finding from the survey is that despite challenges in attracting qualified help, farmers are twice as likely to hire more employees within the next three years than to pull back.

Despite global and financial uncertainty, people still have to eat. And clearly, farmers see significant opportunities ahead.  Agriculture has momentum.  This should be music to politicians’ ears.

In fact, more than 20 per cent of Canadian farmers are planning to hire more employees in the next three years.

So, that covers business expansion and job creation. Is that worth telling the rest of Canada about? Absolutely! It certainly is Ontario at least, where the premier’s challenge of creating jobs and increasing exports still resonates in the halls of Queen’s Park.

As well, more than half of the survey respondents said they are planning to adopt new and innovative technologies. These include GPS systems for planting and spraying, robotic milkers, renewable power such as wind turbines and genomics for selecting livestock based on genetically superior traits, such as disease resistance.

“Canada’s farmers are fostering an agriculture sector Canadians can be proud of,” says the federation. “It’s a highly sophisticated and modern industry that will continue to provide an abundance of jobs and quality food for Canadians…the variety of business management tools used show that agricultural operations are sophisticated, strategic and modern.”

The final bit of good news from the federation survey is that family farms are poised to stay just that – family farms. More than 80 per cent of those who are passing their farm assets on have identified family members as the prime recipients.

So, I guess modern farming will indeed continue to have elements of traditions passed down through families, plus the benefits of technology that young people (and their progressively minded parents) bring to farming.  Sounds like the best of all worlds, for agriculture and for consumers.

Let’s talk it up!

 

Owen Roberts

Owen Roberts directs research communications and teaches at the University of Guelph, and is president of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists. You can find him on Twitter as @theurbancowboy

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