Are farmers more alike, or more different from each other? Hmmm… those might be the only questions you can ask on every farm across the country and get the same sorts of answers.
You can slice agriculture in so many ways, i.e. by commodity sectors, by sales volumes, by the farmer’s age, by technology usage… the list goes on and on.
In her cover story, “I’m a Canadian farmer” for our July/August issue of Country Guide, associate editor Lorraine Stevenson spends her time going in the opposite direction. In a rapidly changing agriculture, Lorraine asks, is our idea of what it means to be a farmer changing too?
In other words, what do farmers share with each other, despite all those slices I mentioned above.
How is a western farmer the same as an eastern farmer? How is a grain farm the same as a dairy farm or a swine farm?
Or aren’t they the same? When you get right down to it, are the differences more important than the commonalities?
Sometimes it can seem Canada’s farms are steadily getting more different from each other. And despite e-communication, it can also seem we know less about each other than ever before, and don’t really care to know more.
But that’s just sometimes. I hope you’ll read Lorraine’s story, and as you go through it and read all the very memorable and quotable quotes that she brings us, I expect you’ll find yourself time and again saying, “Yup, that’s true. They could say that about me too. In fact, I’d be proud if they did.”
We are running this story in midsummer on purpose. It’s a good piece to pause over and to muse over before you get into the urgent, busy round of decision-making that awaits you this fall.
We can talk all day about the things that differentiate one farmer from another, like where you farm, what you produce, what associations or marketing boards you belong to.
The differences, I expect you’ll find, tend to be in very specific things, while the commonalities tend to be core values — the kind of values that fill Lorraine’s report.
They’re values that would swell anyone’s chest with a simultaneous dose of humility and pride.
But we also need to ask, does this mean everyone with these values has an equal chance to succeed in today’s agriculture?
Despite all the change that is rushing through farm country these days, it’s easy to believe that the real pace of change is slow. The same families farm more or less the same ground, growing more or less the same crops and shipping them to more or less the same buyers.
But we’re wrong. The real change is in the ability of individual farms to make future decisions, and it’s hard to believe that this is as democratically distributed as the shared values we boast of.
We’ll talk more this fall, but I confess I’m disturbed by the new Farm Management Canada survey about the decline in farm business management practices.
For now, though, do let me know what you think. Are we getting it right? I’m at [email protected].