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Business Risk Management

The importance of planning to be safe on the farm can ever be overemphasized in agriculture.

Rural culture is such that for far too long farm families have lived a risky lifestyle, accepting and even celebrating obsessive work habits in the name of staying one step ahead of the weather, saving money or earning more.

For the farm’s sake, families have silently suffered crippling loads of stress. Some have experienced serious injury, long-term disability and even a fatality. And make no mistake, when one member of the family goes down in an accident – whether it’s a toddler, the main operator or grandpa, the whole family experiences the pain.

If we look at the costs, it is questionable whether this burden or risk can really be justified for the farm’s sake.

Statistics from the Canadian Agriculture Injury Surveillance Program note that an injury or illness resulting in hospitalization costs the family approximately $10,000. Based on a 10 per cent margin of profit-making up that loss would require the farm business to earn an extra $100,000 in revenue.

A permanent injury or disability results in a $143,000 loss to the farm and a death results in a $275,000 loss to the farm.

In short, getting hurt on the farm is expensive, which makes planning for safety an important business risk mitigation strategy.

It’s Farm Safety Week this week in Canada.

Take the opportunity to review the materials. Follow the planning guide to incorporate safety into the working practices around your farm. And most of all, take a long, careful look at the people around you and think about the impact on you if one of them suffered unnecessarily and the impact on them if it happens to you.

At A Crossroads

A new report released by the Food and Agriculture Organization sheds new light on agricultural productivity and the complexities surrounding world food security.

It is a perspective that should give our farmers and policy-makers pause.

Prepared by Olivier de Schutter, the FAO’s special rapporteur on the right to food, this report suggests that agriculture will have to evolve differently in poorer countries.

While not rejecting modern science, it casts doubt on whether a high-input, energy-dependent farming system will have much of a global role in the future. (See story “Eco-farming can double food output by poor” pg. 26)

There are two reasons. Firstly, the non-renewable resources required to make this system work are becoming increasingly expensive and may not be available in the future.

But more importantly, it documents how small-scale farmers’ productivity is improved by as much as 80 per cent using eco-farming techniques that not only increase their incomes, but do not damage the environment.

There is no question that our style of farming is capable of producing vast volumes of grains and oilseeds. But recent farm income statistics are fuelling a debate over whether those productivity gains have resulted in higher profitability for the farmer. As well, there are growing concerns over its impact on the environment.

“Sound ecological farming can significantly boost production and in the long term be more effective than conventional farming,” de Schutter says.

This report says eco-farming projects in 57 nations had shown average crop yield gains of 80 per cent by tapping natural methods for enhancing soil and protecting against pests. Projects in 20 African countries had resulted in a doubling of crop yields within three to 10 years.

“Agriculture is at a crossoads,” the report says. After almost 30 years of limited investment, agriculture is suddenly capturing more interest from both the private and public sectors. But rather than investing in technology to simply boost production, which won’t solve the problem of world hunger, this report suggests taking a new direction – starting with “appropriate public policies.”

Those policies include redirecting agricultural spending away from direct farm supports or input subsidies to research and extension – an investment in knowledge. It also calls for investment in forms of social organization that encourage partnerships, including farmer field schools and farmers’ innovation networks, and connecting sustainable farming systems with fair markets.

Notably, this report doesn’t suggest our farmers will be shifting gears any time soon.

But it’s something for our Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation to keep in mind when considering a recent request from organic farmers for coverage of non-traditional crops such as green manures. Helping these producers mitigate their production risk while building knowledge of how to make these systems work is something that could have wide-ranging benefits for all farmers in the future.

Who knows? The day may come when our definition of “alternative” agriculture is reversed. [email protected]

About the author

Vice-President of Content

Laura Rance

Laura Rance is vice-president of content for Glacier FarmMedia. She can be reached at [email protected]

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