Agriculture is racing into the future. We all agree on that. But what will farms look like in that future? And who will farm them? I can’t say for sure, and I don’t think you can either.
Here’s an interesting assignment for a snowy March evening. Make a list of your current machinery inventory and the kinds of workload it can handle.
Then, make an equivalent list of what your family owned 25 years ago, and a list of what it owned 50 years ago too.
Enjoy doing it. Dig out some photos. Listen to some stories.
And then put yourself in your parent’s shoes. Ask yourself, could you possibly have predicted the machinery in your shed today?
There’s a reason why I ask. How can we predict the future of agriculture if we can’t even predict the tools that farmers will farm with, let alone all the black swans that are bound to come our way?
There’s something about black swans that makes us think: If we can just survive this one, we’ll be able to get back to the real business of agriculture.
But when was the last year we didn’t have a black swan, whether it was the COVID-19 pandemic, or the trade war, or weather, or whatever.
So, again, how can we predict the future of agriculture if we can’t predict the pressures that our farms will face?
I’m not a pessimist. Not even close. But I had a long conversation with a former colleague who wanted to talk about the future of farming, and those conversations are always a little disquieting.
There is so much we do not and cannot know.
I don’t want to overstate this, There’s such huge stability built into agriculture that I’m always skeptical whenever anyone starts talking about revolutions and transformations.
I know I’m not alone in this.
The family structure of Canadian agriculture, our farmers’ passion for what they do and who they are, and of course the sizeable amount of equity they have in their farms all conspire against such predictions.
But let’s not understate it either, and I hope you’ll keep such uncertainties in the back of your mind as you read your way through this issue.
We don’t like to think of our farms as competing with one another, yet there’s little doubt that business acumen and financial muscle-power make a difference that sooner or later has to show.
Do read Lorraine Stevenson’s article on Canada’s vanishing “average” farm. I’m sure you’ll be as impressed as I have been at the number of young, new farmers who are committing themselves to their farming aspirations with as much vigour as any former generation.
Let’s also not forget the greatest certainties. People have to eat. And they’d prefer to eat healthily and interestingly.
And where there’s a market, there can be an idea that can attach to it. I’d never bet against bright farmers of any size or age.
Are we getting it right? Let me know at [email protected].