By Jeff Carter
I’ve long appreciated the National Farmers Union’s propensity for speaking uncomfortable truths.
For many years there was a focus on things like government agricultural policy, the banking system and consolidation within the wider agricultural industry, the chemical suppliers, grain merchandisers and so forth.
Yet the organization was never taken too seriously by a good portion of the farm community. Either the complaints were summarily dismissed or an adage all too familiar among farmers would crop up – “there’s a not damned thing we can do about it anyway” – which resulted in complacency or, worse, a willingness or even eagerness to play the agricultural game with little thought of the long-term implications.
That may be beginning to change, something members of the NFU have recognized with their report released just last month: Tackling the Farm Crisis and the Climate Change Crisis.
“The Farm Crisis is real, as is the climate crisis. Left unchecked the climate crisis will deepen the income crisis on Canada’s farms … but it also represents an opportunity.”
I don’t think there are many farmers left in Canada, even within Ontario’s Great Lakes agricultural region, who have failed to recognize the growing erratic nature of what Mother Nature has delivered in recent years.
Familiar, too, have been the economic challenges – making the farm pay – given the numbers the NFU report uses. Here are just a few of the highlights:
• In the 33-year period from 1985 to 2018, input costs consumed more than 95 per cent of farm revenue.
• This empowered ‘extractivist’ corporations to pocket nearly $1.5 trillion dollars of the value created by Canadian farmers.
• Canadian farm debt is just over $106 billion, a record high, having nearly doubled since 2000. The amount farmers pay annually in interest to banks and other lenders has been roughly equal to the amount that Canadian citizens each year pay to farmers by way of farm-support programs.
• Even with the so-called ‘up times’ for Canadian farmers that began in 2007, non-farm and off-farm income was needed to keep operations afloat.
In the past, fact-based data like this has been expounded upon – remember “Compare the Share” – but little was done to address the fundamental inequities.
That may be changing. It’s not just farmers who are concerned with climate change and how agriculture as a whole has been going about its business.
Members of the scientific community, at least those operating independently of “Big Ag”, have been raising the alarm and there’s growing concern within the wider society that something is wrong – and not just when it comes to agriculture and the climate.
Crises of all kinds are abundant, the gun crisis, the migrant crisis, the opioid crisis, the homeless crisis, the crisis of indigenous peoples, the growing disparity between rich and poor, sea level rise, the loss of species and more.
The climate crisis and farm income are indeed connected and, so too, are the rest. Perhaps the term to describe it all might simply be, The Crisis.
As a hopeful person – what other choice is there? There are bits of good news and, better yet, people are beginning to take action.
That’s begun within the ranks of the NFU, many of members which have adopted a low-input approach to their livelihoods. Given the growing desire for change, real change, from within the broad sweep of society, their chances of success have indeed been enhanced. ◊