I’m an optimist. Are you? Let’s find out.
Overall, our farm sector is healthier than it has been at any time in my memory. Nor do I see any precipices in our immediate future.
There can always be bad news. But really, who actually thinks that interest rates are going to jump into double digits by the year’s end, or that the loonie will trade at a premium to the U.S. dollar?
There could be black swans, of course, which are by definition unpredictable. But except for the abandoning of ethanol supports, which seems altogether unlikely, it’s hard to imagine many black swans that wouldn’t help rather than hurt our farms.
Still, I keep coming back to what I think is the key finding in Canada’s most recent farm census, which showed that the average farm in Canada climbed to 820 acres in 2016 from 779 in 2011.
That works out to a five per cent gain over five years, or, as you’ve already worked out, about a one per cent a year rise.
Of course the actual numbers vary from farm to farm, but I continue to think that the great unanswered question is not how much our farms grew in those five years, but how much they wanted to grow.
Yes, we know there are a lot of farms with late-career farmers who probably aren’t that interested in growth. But don’t overlook the fact that a lot of those farms are multi-generational operations now, or would be multi-generational if they had been able to expand.
The great image I have is that our farmers have enhanced their management capabilities so dramatically in the last 10 years, we now have farmers in place who, if they had the chance, could farm 25 or maybe even 50 per cent more than the country’s current land base, essentially using existing technology.
I admit it’s a number that I have pulled out of thin air, but I expect your guess isn’t very far off mine.
In the next few issues of Country Guide, we will write more about this, but this January is finding more of us with a nagging sense that either Canada’s farms will have to grow, so they are generating income from more acres, or they are going to have increase their net income per acre, probably by an amount that exceeds a reasonable expectation for commodity production.
So, are we optimists? Well, every neighbourhood that I’ve inquired about across the country seems to have farmers in it who are eager to take on the challenge.
They’re ready to grab the reins in a way this country has never seen before, based on their individual visions for how a sustainable, profitable farm can be built.
Not all will succeed, or will have the chance to succeed. But I am sure in my bones that the winners will be world class. Indeed, they’re world class already.
Agriculture will be different in 2023, I guess that makes me an optimist. Am I getting it right? Let me know at [email protected].