Tough economic times are farmers’ times

The following editorial was printed in the Guelph Mercury, November 27 2008.

We are faced with a daily deluge of bad news — falling stocks, job losses, even the dreaded “r” word.

Without a doubt, our country is sliding into some tough economic times that will mean change, turbulence and upheaval.

Not a pleasant prospect but I would argue that some are perhaps better equipped to handle this turmoil than others.

Farmers are one such group.

In my opinion, tough economic times are farmers’ times.

After all, it isn’t often that one sector or another in agriculture isn’t struggling with low prices, trade barriers or other economic issues that can have a devastating impact on someone’s business — and life, in the case of farmers.

I’ve had the chance to meet and get to know many farmers during my career and I’ve come to appreciate that they are truly some of our unsung heroes.

These folks are the backbone of rural Ontario and the cornerstone of the food chain that keeps us fed and healthy.

They all work hard, they struggle to weather the ups and downs of their businesses, they’re passionate about the life they’ve chosen and they all have wonderful stories to tell.

Here are some examples.

Debbie became a beef farmer after losing her job at General Motors several years ago and now raises premium Simmental cattle that are sold to beef breeders as far away as Prince Edward Island, British Columbia and Georgia.

The money’s not as good as it was at General Motors, but farming is a wonderful thing, she says.

Heather speaks of the challenges and rewards of growing crops and running an apple orchard in the city of Brampton.

She welcomes thousands of city school children to her farm every year to give them a glimpse into life on the farm and how apples are grown, kids who would otherwise never get a chance to visit a real farm.

Mark and Dianne work with the trees in their sugar bush to harvest the first crop of every season — maple syrup.

Its sugary, natural goodness is what Dianne calls “a luxury of nature and a gift to yourself” when she’s talking to customers about her farm’s product.

Mary Ann is a retired teacher who hasn’t retired from teaching.

Although she’s no longer in the classroom, she has brought the classroom to her family farm where she spends hundreds of hours every year explaining to her many visitors how pigs, cows and chickens are raised, where milk, eggs and bacon come from, and why it’s important that we have farmers.

Chris is the fifth generation of his family to live on his farm, where they produce eggs and grow grapes.

He speaks with pride about walking the same land that his great-great-grandfather, a blacksmith, first did more than a century ago.

Farmers deal with a lot of uncertainty in their businesses.

A sudden burst of bad weather can wipe out an entire crop.

A fluctuating dollar can mean the difference between a profitable year and one that isn’t.

An outbreak of a virus can devastate an entire herd of animals.

And always, farmers are at the mercy of government policies and global supply and demand for their products, which they are mostly powerless to control but can make times tough on the farm.

But to a one, they speak of their love of the land, their passion for farming and their pride in the part they play in producing safe food for Canadians and others around the world.

To me, though, it was Roger, who runs an egg farm with his wife and four children, who perhaps summed it up the best when I asked him to tell me about farming and what he does: “I’m an egg farmer and I love my life!”

Not everyone is so lucky, but it sure is a place we all aspire to be.

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