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Monday, January 27, 2020
Their View / Opinion

Major agricultural trends for 2020 taking root locally

Major agricultural trends being predicted this year for all of Canada are taking root here in the region. Although it’s months before crop producers will be in their fields, they’re keeping an eye on at least three significant issues bound to colour the way farming goes in 2020 – before they have a single seed in the ground.

Those issues, and the trends that either preceded them or developed from them, were described Tuesday by Farm Credit Canada (FCC), our country’s biggest farm financer. It holds a $36-billion lending portfolio, which keeps it on its toes, forecasting where the industry is headed so money can be available when and where it’s needed.

The issues – climate change, protectionism and automation – underline how agriculture is both global and local, in some other continent as well as right there in the field next to your subdivision.

J.P. Gervais, FCC’s chief agricultural economist, says these issues could significantly change the way Canadian farm operations, agri-businesses and food processors do business at home and around the world. The test, he says, is how farmers will adapt to take advantage of the opportunities or mitigate the challenges that come with each of these trends.

That’s big stuff. FCC and others who advise farmers are increasingly focussing on management – that is, helping farmers manage for potential risks and stay profitable and sustainable.

Now, that’s one thing when the risk is nearby, like urban encroachment or a veterinary shortage. But it reaches new anxiety-riddled heights when the causes are mostly out of farmers’ hands.

For example, what can farmers do about a chronic labour shortage? Automation is one response. Gervais says that despite global economic turmoil, the outlook for Canadian agriculture and food in 2020 remains positive thanks to ongoing investments in technology and innovation.

“These investments enable Canada to produce a wide range of commodities and processed foods, which helps the country maintain its competitive position in the world export market,” he says.

Some farmers can create automation themselves, but on a broad scale, they need to buy it.  They can try influencing labour shortages by pressuring Ottawa to support migrant worker programs. They can support organizations such as AgScape that introduce agriculture into classrooms across the province and familiarize young people with food production and related careers. But for the most part they can’t make anyone, local or otherwise, develop a taste for farm work.

The same goes for climate change. It affects us locally and requires action here, but it’s also a huge, complicated issue that needs attention worldwide. Activists ignite antagonism against farmers by blaming them and their livestock for global warming and climate change, sparking pro-environment campaigns with themes such as “agriculture isn’t destroying the planet – it’s feeding it.” The goal is to try to clarify farming’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, which is about eight per cent of the total, at least in the US. Transportation comes in at almost 30 per cent.  

Protectionism – that is, foreign countries unfairly closing their borders to trade, or subsidizing it hugely – rounds out the big three from FCC. Again, farmers feel helpless against it. Most recently, Grain Farmers Ontario have called for Ottawa to set up a trade war fund, to support farmers hammered by protectionism. But they can’t fight it themselves.

The themes and issues identified by FCC carried over from 2019 and will likely be repeated next year … which is another frustration for farmers. No wonder that for them, mental health is also a major issue.

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