Here is what I wrote in September 2008: “Somewhere in the land and in the barns that are being bought and sold, and in the equipment purchases, and in the new partnerships that are being formed and the old ones that are falling apart, there are the beginnings of trends that we’ll point to in 10 years with knowing nods, saying, yes, it was there for us to see even then.”
The future seemed all before us. Did Canada make good on it?
It turns out I was watching the wrong signals. The big change hasn’t been in the farms, it’s been in the farmers.
On a chart of farmer competence and capability, the trend line has climbed steadily up.
There’s only one word to describe the transformation of agriculture in the past 10 years. It’s professionalization.
Farming is far too complicated for any of the other words we might try. The bull market and the consequent run up in land values may have floated all boats, but different farms had different objectives in mind and different ambitions to fulfill.
Agriculture didn’t suddenly shift all in one direction. As you’ll read in our September 2019 issue, and in every issue of Country Guide, farming is more diverse than ever.
But also think of all the things that we never could have anticipated. Did anyone really understand how tight the land market would become throughout the decade, or how this would impact our forward planning?
Did we really think interest rates and the loonie’s exchange rate would be so favourable for so long?
Nor did anyone really understand how productive agriculture would become. It’s still hard to believe how, on a global scale, demand would grow at record rates year after year after year, but farmers would still out-produce the market anyway.
And who could have predicted that we’d end the 2010s with NAFTA in a kind of political limbo and the world embroiled in a worsening cycle of protectionism, and that global markets would be less rational 10 years later than they were at the start of the decade?
Did farmers make the right choices? Well, if you answer that question by looking at net worths in 2019, you have to say yes.
Will we think so in another 10 years? There are reasons to see challenges ahead. We all have concerns about our international competitiveness and about sagging infrastructure. And we have concerns too about land prices and the next generation.
But the capability of farmers to take the wheel has never been stronger. Their decision-making has never been better. Their ability to build resiliency into their operations is unparalleled.
Did farmers make the right choices? The answer is yes, unquestionably, because they invested in themselves.
Are we getting it right? Let me know at [email protected].