“We need to see profitability, first and foremost.”
– GREG MARSHALL, APAS
How you gonna get ’em back to the farm? Adequate government programs and a better public image of agriculture would help a lot, say the Prairie provinces’ three major farm groups.
Support for young and beginning farmers was a major subject at an April 9 presidents’ meeting of Keystone Agricultural Producers, Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan and Wild Rose Agricultural Producers (Alberta) in Winnipeg.
There were, of course, other nuts-and-bolts topics: rail transportation, siding abandonment and risk coverage for grain deliveries.
But the need to attract young and beginning farmers to the industry was uppermost in people’s minds, the three presidents said in a telephone news conference following the meeting.
The figures are stark. According to the census of agriculture, the average farmer in Canada in 2006 was 52 years old, up from 48.8 in 1996.
This makes transferring farm ownership to the younger generation one of the biggest challenges in agriculture today, industry analysts agree.
But how to accomplish that? “We need to see profitability, first and foremost, to attract new farmers,” said Greg Marshall, APAS president.
Ian Wishart, KAP president, said the group is developing a proposal for a national government program to help young producers get started in farming.
Dubbed AgriStart, the program would offer incentives, such as mentoring, group support and credit opportunities. It would also act as a bridge toward getting coverage for young farmers under existing safety net programs, Wishart explained.
A main criticism of programs such as AgriStability is that coverage is based on a five-year financial margin. Beginning farmers usually don’t qualify for program payments because they have no margins to work with.
Wishart said AgriStart is “a little past the draft stage” and the three organizations will continue to develop it.
The group also reviewed a 2009 study commissioned by APAS on program needs for farm succession planning.
Part of the problem in attracting new farmers is that agriculture often has a negative public image, group leaders said.
When government invests money in other industries, such as the auto sector, it’s seen as an economic stimulus, said Marshall. But “whenever they put money into agriculture, it’s always reported as a subsidy. That doesn’t help farming and our image at all.”
Humphrey Banack, WRAP president, noted the number of agriculture students at universities and colleges across Western Canada is dropping and recruitment efforts are needed to increase enrolments.
“It’s our role as farm leaders to show to the universities, to the people, that there are careers in agriculture,” said Banack.
Wishart said the greatest barriers to getting into agriculture are the upfront costs, which he described as “scary.”
For that reason, agriculture needs to develop production models that don’t have such huge capital costs, he said.
KAP has an active young farmers’ group which provides valuable support just by letting members know they’re not alone, said Wishart.
“Because, frankly, it can be a long distance between young farmers sometimes in the rural countryside.” [email protected]