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Do We Really Need More Farmers And Ranchers?

Most producers, particularly those trying to get a crop into the ground last spring, would have noticed junketeering federal politicians and their entourage on a fact-finding tour in Alberta. That group would be the House of Commons Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, not to be confused with the Senate Standing Committee on Agriculture and Forestry.

Both parliamentary committees spend a lot of time and taxpayer money earnestly deliberating agricultural issues and making recommendations as to their resolution. The federal minister of agriculture can either ignore or embrace those recommendations. However, actual implementation is another matter, as that remains in the hands of powerful department bureaucrats who usually have their own agenda.

The House of Commons committee was on a cross-Canada tour to ascertain what needs to be done to attract and retain young farmers. One never understands what rationale is used to pursue such a topic. One is further perplexed as to the need to spend taxpayer dollars on travel expenses, translation logistics, and staff support on a topic that I expect most already knew the answer to before they left Ottawa.

I expect in due time, a thick report in both official languages will be issued, which should conclude that young people are not attracted to farming because they cannot make a decent living. There is nothing mysterious or new about such a revelation that required the intense deliberation of a travelling government committee.

NUMBERS DON’T COMPUTE

Another reality that prevents young people from farming is the stark fact that it may well take an investment of $1 million or more to create an enterprise that still won’t guarantee a living. If one has such a sum it would make more sense to invest that money in secure financial instruments and enjoy the income without having to lift a finger. If a young person has to borrow the same sum, the lender might not be inclined to loan money for an enterprise that may not be able to cover even the interest payment, never mind provide a decent living.

The question the agriculture committee has not addressed is whether we actually need more young people entering agriculture. After all, it seems to continue to thrive without a major influx of new people. I recall in college 40 years ago, professors warning of an impending crisis in agriculture because the average age of farmers was almost 60. We are still waiting for the crisis.

Most young people who do enter the business do so the only realistic way they can – through inheritance or partnership arrangements with family members. There are some other new entrants, mainly immigrants from Europe with plenty of cash, but they tend to buy up dairy and poultry operations. Those sectors see new blood only because supply-managed agriculture has some hope to return a decent living.

Sure, there are clever and lucky folks who have somehow managed to become full-time farmers against the odds, but they are the exceptions.

It’s hard to determine if the travelling agriculture committee junketeers will see, or will want to see, the obvious. Perhaps they will make some reference to the security supply-managed production brings to agriculture and suggest it for other commodities as a way for young people to enter agriculture.

One does hope that they can come up with some genuine recommendations to justify the tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars this junket has cost. Will Verboven is editor of

Alberta Farmer Express

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