By Dave Milne – December 5, 2017
“If we don’t value dirt, we’re going to lose it to steel. If we don’t expose the next generation to agriculture, we risk falling even further behind.”
– Financial Post, Dec. 4. 2017
What it means:
As noted in the Post story above, the connection between consumers and farmers is tenuous at best. And that’s bad for everyone.
The studies are many and varied but it seems clear that Canadian farmland is indeed disappearing, swallowed up and paved over by the very cities that agricultural producers in this country help to feed.
According to a 2013 Statistics Canada report, urban sprawl has consumed more than 7,400 square kilometers of farmland in recent decades – an area almost three times the size of Prince Edward Island. Other studies have questioned that, stating that while farmland has indeed disappeared, it’s been mostly wooded areas and other unproductive ground that has been largely sacrificed – not the best quality land used for food production.
In fact, StatsCan’s 2016 Census of Agriculture found the area devoted to actual crop production has actually increased over the past few years, as farmers themselves have converted land formerly used as pasture, summerfallow or other less productive ground into cropland.
No matter the details, there’s little doubt continued urbanization is only furthering the divide between farmers and consumers. Not only is the process claiming more rural land for houses, schools and business, it is claiming more people too.
Fewer farms, older farmers
The 2016 Census of Agriculture counted 271,935 farm operators on agricultural operations, down from 293,925 in 2011 as the multi-decade trend toward fewer but bigger farms continued. Meanwhile, the fastest growing age group amongst farm operators was those aged 55 years and older.
The family farm I grew up on in Grey County is no exception. My parents are still there but the hogs are long gone and the 300 acres are now mostly farmed part-time by my older brother, who is now approaching that 55-year-old age bracket. His oldest son expressed an interest in coming home to farm at one time, but hasn’t done so yet. If he doesn’t, there isn’t anyone else. My own kids are city raised and so far, there’s little to suggest a farm is where they’re going to end up.
But at the very least, my kids have seen a working farm in action on their visits to their grandparent’s farm – something many of their peers likely have never done.
And that’s just sad.