“If there was
profitability in the industry, it wouldn’t be a problem
bringing people into the industry.”
– WAYNE EASTER, MP
Gwen Donohoe wants to return to the family farm near The Pas after she finishes her University of Manitoba masters degree in soil science later this year. But people keep saying she shouldn’t.
That’s distressing to Donohoe, who told an April 29 House of Commons agriculture committee hearing she was “sick and tired” of people telling her she was too smart to go back to farming and stupid if she did.
Later, Donohoe was in tears as she told a reporter it isn’t just her academic colleagues who say that. It’s also family members, friends and people who care about her.
“Obviously it makes me upset. It’s very discouraging,” she said.
It’s almost a cliché in the agricultural community that young people don’t want to go into farming anymore because it’s too tough. Or, as Liberal committee member Wayne Easter put it, “Young folks say, I don’t want to struggle the way my parents have struggled.”
But judging from witnesses at last week’s hearing, there are plenty of young people ready, willing and able to farm, if only there weren’t so many barriers to it.
Take Drew Baker, 23, who works for his dad on the family farm near Beausejour. Five years ago, Baker asked the local bank for a loan to buy an 80-acre parcel of land to kick-start his own farming career. He was told he’d need a 30 per cent down payment, far more than any established farmer would have to pay.
Why so much? Because, Baker was told, he had no track record and no credit rating.
NO TRACK RECORD
Baker was lucky. His parents lent him the money. Today he farms 240 acres of his own, renting his dad’s machinery to do it.
But that points to another problem, according to a recent Manitoba Rural Adaptation Council discussion paper. It argues young rural entrepreneurs shouldn’t have to look for support just to maintain a subsistence level.
“They wish to be provided the tools and overall support and faith that they can have ownership in creating their own destiny rather than having someone hovering over them (the ‘helicopter generation’) to protect them from making mistakes,” says the paper developed by MRAC, for which Donohoe is youth director.
Too often, young people try to farm only to find out they just can’t make it, the committee heard.
FAILURE RATES HIGH
Joe Bouchard, 30, raises cattle with his family near Fisher Branch. He told the committee that a few years back, four young fellows returned home at the same time to go farming in the Rural Municipality of Fisher. One has already quit and gone to work for Manitoba Hydro. Others are on the edge.
The reasons for failure are many, witnesses told the agriculture committee in the midst of a three-week cross-Canada swing holding public hearings on young farmers and their future.
AgriStability was a major target for grievance. The program issues payments based on individual farmers’ historical financial margins. This discriminates against farmers who are just starting out because they have no margins to work from, the committee was told.
“These are the most vulnerable people in our industry and we give them the least protection,” said Ian Wishart, Keystone Agricultural Producers president.
Kyle Foster, 34, who farms with his family at Arborg, said young farmers can’t handle the extra expenses “thrown on us” by increased government regulations. Those include a winter manure-spreading ban, new rules for fuel storages, increased minimum labour wages and worker compensation coverage for farm employees, he said.
The lack of capital to help young farmers enter the industry was another frequent complaint. Witnesses said the cost of going into farming in an age of industry consolidation is too great for an individual to bear.
“It’s getting to the point where you get big or you die. And you can’t afford to do it,” Baker said.
But the most common theme recurring through last week’s hearing was that more young people would go into farming if only there were more money in it.
Easter said the committee gets that message wherever it goes.
“If there was profitability in the industry, it wouldn’t be a problem bringing people into the industry,” he said.
The real solution to that is for farmers to get a bigger share of the food dollar, said Wishart.
“What farmers need is the tools to get back more value from the value chain.” [email protected]