Thursday, July 18, 2024
Chris Judd

What are other farmers in the world thinking?

A few years ago, at a breakfast in Shawville, two old farmers wondered “what could be done to let our farmers be competitive in the world?”
For the previous 60 years since World War II, farmers had been coached by universities, governments, corporate suppliers of inputs and their farming peers. They were using the new technologies which used unending amounts of expensive chemical fertilizers, weed killers and pesticides to increase yields, and larger and larger equipment to make farms competitive.
We also noticed that most animal sicknesses that required assistance of veterinarians were caused by a nutritional imbalance. At the same time, health care – doctors, nurses, pharmacists, hospitals, medical clinics and all the support staff that maintain the offices and buildings and aid the professionals that look after all our health needs had became the largest business in our county. Forestry and agriculture had been our country’s largest businesses and economic drivers for a couple hundred years.
I will also never forget the talk that the president of Canada’s largest province gave at the AGM of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture back in the 80s. He said, “farmers have to reduce producing what people need and produce more of what they want.” What he meant was that people expect that necessities like food should be provided as cheaply as possible, but they will pay a much higher price for what they want. He mentioned that a hockey hero received more compensation for having his picture appear on a cereal box than the farmer got paid for the grain that was used to make the cereal in the box.
One of those two old farmers had spent several years managing a large agri-touristic farm in a north-eastern state and had been active in a group that monitored trends in agri-tourism. At that time, the annual budget for tourism in New York state was greater than the entire Quebec budget. My friend Dave and I then realized that Canada and it’s provinces were spending very little on promoting either tourism or agri-tourism, except the odd ad that said “come and visit our province.” Because of Dave’s previous involvement in agri-tourism in the states and his many contacts there, I encouraged him to become more involved in the world organization of agri-tourism.
After only a few trips to visit some agri-tourism trails in the Lake Champlain area, and watching the increase in local farmers’ markets, we realized that people wanted not only to see how local food was produced, but consumers really cared about how their food was produced and what was used to produce it. A tourist trail that included a cabane á sucre not just for the maple syrup and food, but also a venue for weddings and parties, wineries, small on-farm cheese plants, orchards, farmers’ markets, pumpkin patches, pick-your-own berry farms and other rural small venues for meetings and many more rural events, were becoming increasingly popular with consumers. Dave soon became Canada’s representative for agri-tourism and very involved in the sustainable agriculture part of the world organization.
There are now more than 160 countries involved in the agri-tourism network and the sustainable agriculture sector is the most important part of it. This year, with thousands of sporadic forest fires throughout the world and increased flooding, our scientists have realized that one of the first steps to reduce the effects of climate change is to increase the water holding capacity of our soils. If our soils can absorb more water it will reduce runoff and flooding. If our soils can retain more moisture they can also endure longer periods without rain. This will result in higher yields even though we now get more severe weather and heavier rains followed by longer dry weather.
On a recent zoom meeting, with farmers and scientists from all over the world, they all expressed concern that our heavy use of chemical fertilizer, herbicide and pesticides was having a negative effect on both water holding capacity and life in the soil that can use minerals, organic matter and moisture to provide food for plants.
We have a tendency to forget that 90 per cent of the world’s farmers not only cannot afford sprays and fertilizer, but cannot even afford to purchase high-yielding hybrid or GMO seed. They must keep their own best seed each year to use to seed next year’s crop. Although some countries have very large farms, the farmers there still regard their soil as their most valuable asset.
Farmers the world over are looking at agri-tourism not only as a way to increase their income but, more importantly, as a way to educate the consumer about how their food is produced.
In many of the world’s largest food producing countries, only one per cent are farmers. Only a few generations ago, most people had a cousin, uncle or grandfather who farmed and could show first hand how crops are grown, how animals are cared for and life on the farm was a 24/7, 365-day a year job. Although now most farmers get the odd day off and even take a few days for a vacation, the farm is never turned off. Someone who is very responsible must be there to look after every need of every animal.
All farm families are consumers too. They are very concerned about how their food is produced and how safe it is. Grampa used to bottle the milk from his own cows and deliver it with Maude the horse and the milk wagon six days a week. Gramps had a saying, “if you can’t drink your own milk, you shouldn’t be allowed to sell it to anyone else either.”

Chris Judd is a farmer in Clarendon on land that has been in his family for generations.
gladcrest@gmail.com

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