Diving deeper into how Canadian farmers feel about the benefits of trade and market access

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Canada is a trade-reliant nation across several industries, agriculture included. Canada’s primary producers have mixed opinions on the real value of trade, however.

In a recent RealAgristudies survey, only 52 per cent of Canadian farmers and ranchers perceive trade and market access as having a positive impact on their operations. This statistic, though seemingly modest, is a window into the varied experiences and perceptions across agriculture. As we looked deeper into how different producers responded, we start to tease out some of the differences within the industry.

The RealAgristudies survey results are based on a scale of -2 (very negative) to +2 (very positive) with 0 being neutral.

Farmers primarily engaged in crop production perceive a higher benefit from trade and market access, with an average positivity score of +0.62. This contrasts with the livestock sector, attributing a lower score of +0.22. This lower score for livestock is based on the influence of supply management which I will address later.

A closer look at farm sizes and income levels brings another layer of complexity to the discussion. Surprisingly, the largest farms, reporting revenues above $5 million, saw the least benefit from trade, rating their advantage at a mere +0.24. This finding challenges the assumption that bigger farms are always better positioned to harness the benefits of global markets. In contrast, farms with revenues between $2.5 to $5 million expressed a higher positivity, at +0.68.  The reason the largest farms would see a lower positive impact of trade agreements is unclear to us at this time but this is something to dig into in the future.

The generational perspective provided further differentiation, with younger farmers under 35 viewing trade and market access more positively, scoring an impressive +0.83. This optimism dwindles with age, as farmers over 65 recorded a lower score of +0.41.

Regional analyses helps us understand some key differences, too, with Western Canadian farmers, whose operations are often export-oriented, assigning a positivity score of +0.61. This stands in contrast to their Eastern counterparts, who gave a lower score of +0.27, highlighting the geographical disparities in trade reliance and attitudes within Canada.

Within the livestock sector, differences were stark: dairy farmers marked trade impacts negatively, at -0.47, reflecting the challenges faced by supply-managed sectors in the wake of trade agreements. Beef and pork producers, however, maintained a positive stance, with scores of +0.32 and +0.36 respectively, underscoring the differences between farm types.

Admittedly, I thought supply-managed farmers would see trade as a more substantial impact and similarly beef and pork would see trade as a more positive impact than either recorded.  Beef farmers have a clear example of the 2003 BSE crisis to see what happens to its industry when trade options evaporate overnight.

These insights demonstrate that the impact of trade and market access on Canadian agriculture cannot be painted with a broad brush.  As I reflect on the data broadly, it makes me wonder if trade is under appreciated by export reliant farmers.  What needs to happen policy-wise domestically or on the international stage for viewpoints to change? From a brand perspective and economic reality, Canadian proponents of agricultural trade have some work to do to convince farmers of the benefits and value back to the farm gate. I would also challenge ourselves to look deeper into how trade could better serve producers in the short and long term.

In future weeks we will look at other policy issues and how farmers feel they are being impacted by them. This provides immense clarity in my opinion and allows for the farmers voice to be heard and better understood.

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