Defining “Family Farm” Is Not a Solution to Bill 6

Photo Credit: Three Farmers

The debate and protest over Bill 6 has taken several turns in the last ten days. One part of the debate has been over the definition of family farms in the discussion and whether family farms should be protected from Bill 6 legislation.

Some farmers are pleading that the added costs of insurance are too expensive and not necessary based on their farm’s individual safety record. Some farmers are claiming that legislation like Bill 6 is better suited to large corporate farms or feedyards or potato growers. In other words, some in the farming community are trying to throw larger farms under the bus to selfishly avoid having to adhere to a common standard if the legislation comes to fruition.

Farmers often take issue when others, whether A&W or local gardeners, make claims about superiority. Take for example, a vendor at a farmers market who implicitly suggests “I am a small farm, so I am better. Those other guys are just a bunch of corporate virtual farmers with clean fingernails and open laptops.” That bugs many conventional farmers, and yet some individuals are doing the exact same thing with Bill 6.

Somewhat hypocritical if you ask me.

In cases like this, it may be easier to have a look at another industry and how we treat its family designation, but more on this later.

I tweeted last week that bringing the family farm definition into the debate is very complicated.

And I was not the only person asking the question about why family farms had entered the debate.

As late as yesterday, Alberta Liberal leader David Swann said that Bill 6 needs changes and one of them was to omit small family farms from the legislation. Much of this discussion is coming from two places. First, from politicians pandering to a base that no one can define, similar to trying to appeal to the middle class (what is the middle class nowadays?).

Secondly, the discussion on what is a family farm is being debated by farmers. One minute farmers are bragging about how big their farm is and that agriculture is big business and now many are boasting about how small their farm is. I’m confused.

In the above tweet by Wild Rose leader Brian Jean, I think he meant he was supporting all the farmers that were at the rally. Were they all family farms? Well in Brian Jean’s defence, very likely. According to Ag More than Ever, 98% of the farms in Canada are family owned and operated.

ag more than ever - family farms

Sabrina Caron, a Quebec dairy farmer, discussed the definition of a “family farm” on the Ag More Than Ever website:

There is little agreement on a definition. Yet, once we accept the fact that agricultural models today come in all shapes and sizes, we can reach agreement on a broad description. Family farming reflects the family’s heritage and tradition. Whether there are several generations involved in the business or they are working to feed several families with high-quality products, there are as many types as there are farms. There is no one overarching definition. Rather, there are all kinds of family farms to meet all kinds of consumer needs. Not only does agriculture feed us, it’s a vocation that allows us to live off this vast and beautiful land. Agriculture – with all the care farmers put into it – provides a taste of the soil and a sense of place.

Engaging in a debate over the definition of family farming is not an easy way out of Bill 6. Passing the buck on to larger farms is not the way to avoid standardized regulations.

Think about the restaurant industry and food safety regulations. Most small towns have a one or two mom and pop diners, maybe a franchise (ie, Subway or A&W) and maybe more dining options if there’s a city close by. Whether you eat at a small family restaurant or the the franchise, you are assured that the each restaurant is following the same food safety regulations. Food safety laws apply to local restaurant owners and large franchises. Virtually every mom and pop family restaurant has struggled to survive in a time of globalization, massive marketing budgets and intense competition. Society recognizes this by encouraging you to dine local and support the local restaurant, but would we ever say, “hey, you are a family restaurant so we will give you a pass on this regulation”?

What you are not considering is that you don’t speak NDP.  By saying family farms, the NDP really means small farms and for many of you reading this, sorry you will be on the same side of the line that your corporate farm friends lie.

Whether you agree with Bill 6, parts of Bill 6 or nothing about Bill 6, farmers should be in this together no matter your size or shape — livestock, cash cropper, conventional, organic, 100 year farm or just starting out, the industry should be focused on enabling the changes it desires to Bill 6 and the regulations instead of re-defining family farms for the sake of selfish convenience.  Farmers have a better chance of getting the changes they want if they stop trying to sling mud at each other and stand together as farmers under one definition.  Farmers.

 

Shaun Haney

Shaun Haney is the founder of RealAgriculture.com. He creates content regularly and hosts RealAg Radio on Rural Radio 147 every weekday at 4:30 PM est. @shaunhaney

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One Comment

Rich Smith

This is an excellent article Shaun, a thoughtful and cogent analysis of a divisive issue. I agree that defining “family farm’ is not a solution to Bill 6 and the debate creates undesirable divisions within the farming and ranching community.

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