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Editor’s Note: Our greatest risk

The defining events of 2018 may have been the things that didn’t happen, like ripping up NAFTA or pulling the plug on ethanol supports. That’s not how it’s going to be in 2019

Tom Button

Our January 2019 issue of Country Guide, like our issues all through 2018, is full of good news.

Has there ever been a time when farmers have felt so capable of withstanding weather and marketplace shocks that would have had them spinning in other decades?

And has there ever been a time when farmers have felt that the ways they have structured their farms and the ways that they have learned to get, incorporate and measure the effectiveness of great business advice has put them in control of issues that they used to be at the mercy of?

I don’t want to wax too poetic. I can always find lots of things to worry about. When we look back on 2018, for instance, will we wonder at how we sat on the sidelines as the first anti-glyphosate court settlement came in, and as “Glyphosate Residue Free” became a recognized certification standard in grocery stores where no one has the least idea why you spray it?

(If you haven’t been keeping up with the issue, go to the website for Gerald Pilger’s columns in our back issues. But don’t do it too late at night.)

For the most part, though, agriculture held its ground in 2018. We weren’t traded away. Dairy and our other supply-managed commodities weren’t roughed up nearly as badly as Donald Trump had promised, and somehow the global grains and oilseeds market didn’t collapse under the strain of U.S.-China tensions.

Of course, there may be black swans on the horizon that, by definition, we can’t yet see.

I’ve said previously in this space that I grew up being told that agriculture moves in cycles, and that the worst thing about cycles is that, whenever you are in one, you think it’s going to be that way forever.

For decades, I took that to be inescapable truth. Is it still?

It isn’t safe to generalize. Beef obviously isn’t canola, and the weather will make fools of any of us.

Even so, our farmers are incredibly self-directed now. They know how to stress-test their farms, they know how to diversify their investments, and how to sort their way through everything from share types to ratio analyses.

I’ve said here before too that today’s farmers are bright, they’re passionate, they’re committed… the world has no idea how lucky it is to have such people producing its food.

It makes any job in agriculture fantastic, especially mine.

That said, I’ve noticed a great change. Probably you have too. In fewer and fewer of our interviews do farmers raise any sort of collective aspiration. Rarely do they say, “we’ve got to set Canada apart for the quality of what we produce,” or “we need a national approach to research,” or “we need to find common solutions to our diverse infrastructure challenges.”

This may be our greatest risk of all.

Are we getting it right? Let me know at [email protected].

About the author


Tom Button

Tom Button is editor of Country Guide magazine.



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