Wednesday August 20, 2014

How we farm has varied factors

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It has become a much-heard comment about farming that their land is the most important aspect of the operation.

That may seem like an obvious statement, but it at times seems to be lost on those not in the farm business.

There seems to be a belief out there, at least among some, farmers are doing no more than mining their land for all its worth today, with little thought about the consequences tomorrow.

What agriculture may not like to hear is that the concern over such actions might be warranted in more cases than agriculture would like to admit.

There are mounting influences which may be pushing farmers to maximize yields at all costs today, with lessening consideration of what the land might be able to produce in a decade, or two.

The first is purely financial in nature.

The debt load of farmers is high.

Costs of production are high.

The cost to expand is high.

The result is a need to generate good returns on every acre available.

That means doing whatever can reasonably be done to crop every acre, year-after-year.

The result is marginal land probably better suited to wetlands and bush are cleared for cultivation.

Crop rotations are pushed in pursuit of the highest valued crops, think canola on much of the Canadian Prairies.

Farmers are eager to adapt to genetically modified crops, again witness canola, again in pursuit of returns.

Business is almost always profit driven, and farming is no more, or less, than big business today.

That was less the case in the past.

The farm was seen as a family legacy.

When one envisions passing something on to the next generation it is generally cared for in the best possible way, whether it’s the family bible, a vintage car, or the family homestead.

Today a farm is more likely to pass to someone from miles away, based on having the cash to buy out a modern, large scale farm, than it is to be passed on within the family.

Like it, or not, that may subtlety influence how one approaches farming.

One is more apt to fix a hole in a radiator hose with pepper when selling the car to a stranger, whereas the hose gets replaced when it sells to a nephew.

And then there is the need to produce food for a growing population.

It does not take much of a negative production glitch to alarmingly tighten supplies, or by contrast a record crop here last fall did not cause an outright price collapse because the world can utilize larger supplies.

The multiple modern realities on the farm have to be pressuring farmers in ways which might not be the best for the future, but are needed to operate successfully. That is a reality of the times.

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