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Few Are Serious About Supporting The Small Family Farm

Leo Hofer, who along with his wife Lorraine ranch near Meadow Lake, Sask., says while there is lots of talk about supporting smaller family farms and keeping people on the land, there is little political and economic will in the country to keep smaller farms operating.

Hofer, who has born and raised at Goodsoil, Sask., on the edge of Meadow Lake Provincial Park, at 73 still runs a 100 head cow-calf operation and loves what he does. He and his wife have also worked off farm most of their lives.

He notes that politicians always talk about supporting family farms, but he says the last time he recalls any real government support was back in the Diefenbaker era of the 1960s, when there were programs to help producers to buy a few more cows, or pigs, or a few more acres to farm.

“Today, it is all geared to larger operations,” says Hofer. “If you’re a bigger producer you can get half a million or a million dollars, but there isn’t much available to the smaller producer.”

The same applies when buying inputs such as fuel and fertilizer — there are price breaks for larger producers buying large quantities, but he sees few deals for the smaller family farm.

He used to grow grain and haul it to the elevator at Meadow Lake, but now that it has closed, he isn’t interested in paying the trucking costs to haul it to Lloydminster or other points.

“There just isn’t much to encourage the smaller family farm, or the new young farmer who may want to start small and work their way up,” he says.

Hofer was busy in early April, tending to the last few head to calve. There wasn’t too much snow left in his area, and he figured there would be good moisture to get grass growing this spring. Unlike some areas of the southern Prairies he says they had just about the right amount, with no extremes on either side.

Hofer makes a good point about what is ahead for the smaller family farm. I think back about 25 years ago and talking to producers with 1,200 to 1,500 acres of cropland and/or 100 to 150 head of cattle was pretty normal. And while there are a few of those left, for many today the starting point is 5,000 and 6,000 acres and I have learned to not even raise an eyebrow when a producer starts talking about 15,000 or 20,000 acres of cropland.

Growth of beef numbers hasn’t been as dramatic, in my experience, but more often today I connect with producers with 300, 500, or 800 head operations.

I know lots of “family” farming operations, where if the parents and children, siblings, and/or cousins can get along they run large farms and large herds — they are still family businesses, but the scale is considerably larger.

I love statistics because I can misread them to suit my needs, but in looking at agricultural statistics for Canada, the average farm size for the country is still only 728 acres and the average beef herd size is about 70 head.

So based on that, I would have to wonder what Leo is talking about. He is still well above the curve. But I know enough that statistics don’t tell the real story — there are far more commercial producers falling in that 5,000-to 15,000-acre range, than in the 700-to 1,000-acre range.

A couple other interesting things I saw in looking at statistics — the Canadian farm population has declined from about 3.3 million people in 1931 to about 684,000 in 2006 Figures on farming margins showed beef producers clearing about five cents on a dollar after expenses, grain producers netting about 17 cents on each dollar, and dairy producers topping the margin scale with 24 cents on every dollar after expenses. And while the number of farms in Canada has declined steadily since I was a boy in 1956, the total area of land being farmed over those 55 years hasn’t changed a bit.

Growing up as I did in an Eastern Ontario dairy-farming community, where there are no dairy farms left, and really very little commercial farming activity of any kind left, I can easily understand Leo Hofer’s point. It’s not so much that people will go hungry, but as small farms disappear so go the local schools and churches and grocery stores, and hardware stores and elevators and hospitals and hockey rinks. The only industry that seems to thrive and expand are funeral homes. But it is the unravelling of the social fabric of rural Canada that is real issue as opposed to whether we’ll find enough to eat. I live in a city of a million people and I know two neighbours a little bit. I think back to the community where I grew up and life was really pretty good. I understand the argument you can’t stop progress, but as the industry and society evolves, I do wonder if we are really going forward toward something better.

Lee Hart

THE REAL DIVINE PLAN

On the sixth day God turned to the Archangel Gabriel and said: “Today I am going to create a land called Canada. It will be a land of outstanding natural beauty. It shall have tall majestic mountains full of mountain goats and eagles, beautiful sparkling lakes bountiful with bass and trout, forests full of elk and moose, high cliffs overlooking sandy beaches with an abundance of sea life, and rivers stocked with salmon.”

God continued, “I shall make the land rich in resources so as to make the inhabitants prosper, I shall call these inhabitants Canadians, and they shall be known as the most friendly people on the earth.”

“But Lord,” asked Gabriel “don’t you think you are being too generous to these Canadians?”

“Not really,” replied God. “Just wait and see the winters I am going to give them.”

YOUNG LEADERS

The Cattlemen’s Young Leaders (CYL) Development Program is pleased to announce its 2011 national mentorship recipients. The 16 recipients were named following a challenging selection process that saw 24 finalists participate in a roundtable setting with key industry facilitators.

The 2011 CYL mentorship recipients are:

B.C.:Jeff Braisher and Haley Rutherford.

Alberta:Ellen Hondl, Mark Lyseng, Kelsey Brandon, Becky Fenton, Lindsay Smith, Virgil Lowe and Christy Goldhawk.

Saskatchewan:Allison Porter, Tara Mulhern Davidson, Sarah Anderson, Sheldon Kyle and Ryan Beierbach.

Manitoba:Cody Krentz. Ontario:Amanda Rosborough. CYL chairman Brad Wildeman

congratulated the 2011 mentorship recipients and thanked all finalists for participating in the selection process. “Attracting this calibre of youth to the Canadian beef industry will ensure we have strong, capable leaders into the future,” he said. “Their enthusiasm, willingness to adapt to new challenges and belief in the positive future of the beef industry is both refreshing and revitalizing.”

Roundtable facilitators included representatives from the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA), CYL Foundation Partners Cargill and the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency (ALMA) as well as event sponsors Meyers Norris Penny and Farm Credit Canada. Northlands Farm and Ranch Show also sponsored the event.

The 2011 CYL candidates will be paired with a mentor for an eight-month mentorship in the CYL Professional or Industry Leader mentorship category. The professional mentorship gives candidates the opportunity to pair up with agricultural professionals to get a jump-start on the beef-related career of their choice. The industry leader mentorship pairs finalists with the appropriate industry representative in a specific policy area of interest, such as animal health, international trade, international and domestic marketing, environment, research or advocacy.

The CYL program celebrated key milestones at the event. A banquet was held on April 1 to celebrate the successful completion of the Alberta CYL pilot and honour its graduates, Rosie Templeton, Samantha Sperber, Cody Schooten, Ricki Fleming and Nanita Blomquist. The formation of a CYL Advisory Council to the CCA was also announced. Through this Advisory Council, CYL, composed of CYL graduates and participants, will have interactions with CCA Directors and will help formulate CCA policy.

About the author

Field Editor

Lee Hart

Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary.

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