Record farm profitability masks drop in research

Record farm profitability masks drop in research

We know that farmers count on two factors for survival: profitability, and sustainability. One without the other just doesn’t work.

Profitability is short-sighted if it’s not sustainable. The same goes for sustainability. Production and management approaches that ignore profitability are doomed to fail. Farmers have to make a living, like the rest of us. So, they have to be profitable.

But their kids can’t succeed them if sustainability has been sacrificed on the farm for profitability. Farmers are in it for the long term, and that means they need to farm sustainably,  not just make money.

That’s a communications challenge farmers need to overcome, convincing people it’s OK if they make some money, and that making money does not have to come at the expense of sustainability. It’s not an either/or situation.

In fact, making money means there’s more resources available to put towards sustainability, to make sure your farm is aligned with new, economically sound ways of thinking and acting environmentally. All this is fundamental to a healthy farming sector.

Lately, on the profitability front, things couldn’t get much better.

Last week Statistics Canada announced that farmers realized record revenues in the first six months of 2021.It says high prices for commodities such as livestock, grain and oilseeds (especially canola) made the difference, along with strong sales and a hungry demand globally for what Canadian farmers grow.

So what’s a record look like? Statistics Canada says total farm cash receipts, which do not include expenses, came in at a little over $38 billion from January to June. That’s a year-over-year increase of almost 12.5 per cent. During the same period last year, national farm cash receipts were valued at about $34 billion.

Interestingly, direct government payments to farmers were $125.5 million lower than during the first six months of 2020.That means farmers are relying less on government support, and instead getting money out of the market.

The timing for farmers to get money out of the market instead of the government is good. Government coffers are spread thin, more so now when it’s trying to figure out how to pay for pandemic support programs.

In fact, it’s those programs that are being blamed for another headline this week, this one related to sustainability.

On Tuesday, the annual Global Food Security Index was released, showing a drop over the past two years in countries food security. That’s became a particularly hot issue when the pandemic set in…what are countries doing to make sure they are food secure? Are they putting enough resources into their food systems to make sure they can feed their own citizens?

Overall, no, they’re not. And the finger is pointing right at developed nations like Canada and the U.S.

The global index considers all aspects of food security, including agricultural research dedicated to food production. And in developing countries, the commitment to research has dropped as, once again, governments channelled their resources into COVID-19 mitigation and recovery.

Of course they did. The pandemic is continuing to take lives, but the need to recommit to research is essential. Canada did great on the global index, coming in fourth. The U.S. wasn’t far behind, at seventh. It’s not like either country has quit cold turkey – in fact, on both sides of the border, there are sparkling examples of governments sponsoring agricultural research.

But globally, when it comes to food security, developed countries can’t take their foot off the gas. They need to keep showing leadership, and not let research slide.

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