Friday, July 12, 2024

No life like it

Ah, farming. Master of your own destiny. Up before the sun. Working in the great outdoors. Coaxing plants from the soil. Caring for animals. Harvesting the fruits of your own labour. There’s no life like it.
All this may be true, but there’s another side to the story, as people in the agriculture industry said to the visiting revenue minister on Friday, and as participants discussed at a farmers’ mental health event last Thursday.
Their message is clear. The competition is unfair. You can’t make a living. The stresses are too great. People are leaving the farming business. It is undermining the rural economy, threatening Canadian food security and making us more dependent on imports.
Lots of people seem to love free trade, but if it is not also fair trade, then it’s not economically sustainable.
As long as we are putting agricultural goods produced in accordance with Canadian labour and environmental standards up against products from places that have no such standards, then it is going to be unfair competition that we can’t win.
Some folks seem to be making lots of money in the food industry, but it isn’t the farmers.
And if farming is not economically sustainable, the psychological pressures on people who were born to be farmers will only grow. Many will find something else to do. That will put rural communities where farming happens in jeopardy, and that is not socially sustainable.
As our agricultural lands are turned over to other purposes, and as our food security diminishes and our reliance on imports increases, more of the planet will be under agricultural practices that are environmentally unsustainable.
Three strikes, you’re out.
So, maybe farmers should borrow even more money to buy more technologically-advanced equipment to enhance their productivity. Maybe that’s the solution. Or maybe not, as it increases the burden of anxieties over how to repay the loans.
Or maybe file a complaint about the unfair practices of international competitors, and try to get an import tariff slapped on their products. Good luck with that. In countries that either lack environmental and labour regulations or the means to enforce them, they also tend to fall a bit short on principles of democracy, public accountability and a free press, making it nigh on impossible to gather evidence that someone is not adhering to international labour and environmental norms.
Surely the smart people who brought us free trade on a global scale can figure out how to ensure that it does not lead us into the disaster to which we are headed.
Because, as the steamroller of global free trade in agricultural products rolls on, the risk is that many of our farmers will get crushed under its weight.


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