As an agricultural journalist nothing is better than spending time talking to people involved in the industry.
I don’t mean with me sitting there pad and paper in-hand firing questions and recording the answers for some story. While that is the job, and is usually as informative for me as it is readers of the stories, some of the best conversations have me holding a cup of coffee, not a pen, and simply talking about farming.
Recently I have had that opportunity twice in very different circumstances, and in both cases the vision of farming for those I spoke with was rather unclear.
In the first case I was actually at a meeting of the local Canadian Association of Farm Advisors where I was the guest speaker for an early morning breakfast gathering.
My topic was simple enough, some of the trends I see in farming, the debate of genetically modified technologies such terminator and lethality genes, the potential of operator-less tractor drones, and how we balance grains for food, or fuel.
But the discussion turned to much more of a simple chat among like-interested people just having coffee around a table.
That is where it became interesting.
The biggest question we all ended up kicking around is what farms might look like in the years ahead.
There is the now decades-long trend of ever larger farms and we quickly agreed that trend was likely to continue.
The real debate is where the move to ever-larger farms will take us.
There is a limit in regard to how large a farm which has any semblance of being a ‘family farm’ can continue. The ever larger units require massive cash outlays to purchase the day someone wants out.
There will always be buyers for land. It’s a finite resource and retirement funds and off shore dollars will see the long term value in a world of ever more people. Today boundaries to offshore purchases of farm land, but long term those are likely to disappear in a world where borders seem ever less important in terms of trade.
The future seems almost assured to be one of fully corporate farms, where Canadian farmers are essentially tenant operators once more, not so different from those of early settlers leaving Europe for a different future.
But as they say history does tend to repeat itself.
The second impromptu meeting was at a coffee at Heartland Livestock recently after a sale of Charolais genetics feeder cattle.
The farmers at the table all raise cattle, an industry impacted by Bovine spongiform encephalopathy in the recent past, and now again by an E.coli scare.
The future they see is one of uncertainty based on not only the issues specific to the cattle sector, but one based on razor thin margins over the years, and the issues facing a world economy battered by the situation in several European countries and that of the United States.
But they were all still willing to take the risks to keep raising cattle and to farm, and therein was the most compelling part of coffee, to see the producers dedicated to a vocation which is ever evolving but still one they love.
Calvin Daniels is Assistant Editor with Yorkton This Week