‘Get bigger or get out.’ Oh good? –Quesnel Cariboo Observer

I believe it was a United States Secretary of Agriculture (equivalent to Canada’s Minister of Agriculture) who told American farmers, “Get in or get out”.

Later, another US secretary said “go big or go home.” Maybe he meant if you don’t grow, you might as well stay on the farm and find another job.

Those words were repeated to me during my two-year tenure as Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for British Columbia in the early 1990s. The echo came for economists working for the ministry. Globalization of trade and export opportunities meant there were opportunities to sell overseas, but this would require our agricultural production to be competitive with other parts of the world.

What has happened over the past few decades is that large farms have grown in size, small farms have increased in number, and the number of medium-sized farms has decreased. Today, the producer of agricultural commodities earns 14 cents on every food dollar paid by consumers.

Indeed, those farms that add value to other stages of production are able to generate more income. On the local side, with local direct sales, local farmers can contribute to local food security.

On the other hand, an increasingly large share of the world’s food production is controlled by large private corporations, large cooperatives or sovereign entities (the Chinese government, the oil-producing counties of the Middle East are examples ).

Many of these entities are beyond the influence of local communities and their objectives are primarily to secure agricultural land for their own benefit by making a profit and/or to feed their own people.

For example, beef exports from Chinese-owned ranching lands to America could well serve to feed a growing middle class in the country.

Many of these exports are supported by government production subsidies to keep farmers producing products like soybeans, canola, wheat, barley and corn, to name a few.

Recent forecasts for global and domestic markets have painted a bright picture with fairly high processes and volumes in the face of drought and COVID.

It is the shrinking middle class of farmers who will lose out in the opportunity of global commodity trade (raw unprocessed food).

The European Community (EU) should allow only green products in its markets: products raised in a sustainable way that do not depend on important chemical inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides and antibiotics, for example.

However, to sell in this market, farmers will have to adapt to be able to sell multiple container loads of produce, as transporting produce to market is expensive.

I’ve probably said it before: small and medium-sized businesses can behave as a larger entity through collaborative or cooperative organizations. It takes effort, determination and business skills beyond basic production knowledge.

My final comment is this: our human resource deficit is not just in labor (including skilled labor like meat cutting) but in the entrepreneurial realm (private and community) .

Many of our new and existing farmers will be required to complete the equivalent of a Masters of Business Administration in Agriculture.

David Zirnhelt is a breeder and member of the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association. He is also Chairman of the Applied Sustain Advisory Board.able Ranching Program at TRU.


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