Are farmers in Canada losing the trust and respect of their fellow Canadians?
The most recent numbers I could find concerning that question are from 2018. A poll, conducted by Insights West, puts farmers among the most respected professions – with only nurses, doctors and scientists ranking higher.
Another poll, this one conducted in 2017 by Phoenix Strategic Perspectives for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, found the community to be the second most trustworthy profession.
There is unfortunately a proviso to those numbers. A strong proportion of those expressions of trust and respect, roughly half, come with the word somewhat – ‘somewhat’ trusted and ‘somewhat’ respected.
There is certainly room for slippage in how farmers are viewed by their fellow Canadians and if developments over the course of 2020 have any influence, that may have already occurred.
With the pandemic in full swing last spring, Canadians began expressing concern for their food system in a concrete manner. Many stocked up on non-perishable food items in late March and early April. Others, perhaps even more prudent, began gardening, growing their own food, if only in a small way.
Perhaps even more important was the light shed on Canada’s agricultural workers. In the early days of the pandemic, there was even uncertainty as to whether enough workers could be found to keep those farms with a heavy reliance on labour functioning at something approaching full capacity. Even then, some crops, notably asparagus, were left unharvested.
Organizations supporting the agricultural migrant worker community have also had an influence. Members of the media including members of the national media have bought into that blame-game narrative, often portraying the farming community in a negative light.
The typical response of farmers to such criticism has been to entrench themselves further into their defensive stance, a posture that only serves to deepen division.
The farm community, I think, needs to come to grips with the reality of farming and agriculture in Canada. It’s more concentrated today than ever before.
A good number of farms in Ontario rely on a labour force of 100 individuals and, in a few cases, more than 500. Perhaps most symbolic of the success of some of these businesses are the farmer-owned mansions that have sprung up in various locations across Southwestern Ontario. In one particular case, a gated estate overlooking Lake Erie, the area covered by lawn might have served to provide livelihoods for two or even three farm families 50 years ago.
This is not a judgement but rather an example of the direction the farming industry has taken in Canada. Primary production in agriculture has grown ever more concentrated, a reality that is making it increasingly difficult for Canadian agriculture to use the term “family farm” to defend their industry.
Unlike most of the milk sold in Canada, the Canadian farming community isn’t homogenous. Small farms exist still and those people remaining on the land, regardless of their holdings, represent a diverse community in many other ways.
Yet the trend toward concentration in farming in our nation needs to recognized and a fundamental question asked. Is this a direction – the road toward ‘plantation north’ – that should continue to be embraced? ◊