Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario Commentary By Suzanne Armstrong, CFFO Director of Research/Manager of Board & Committee Services
New farmers face many challenges as they attempt to get established in the business of farming.
This is the first of two commentaries focusing on new farmers. Next week’s commentary will discuss FarmStart, an organization helping new farmers.
This week’s commentary challenges us to think about farms size and financial risk from the perspective of starting farmers.
Viable economic opportunities for new farmers ensure the vibrancy of agriculture in the long-term.
In part this requires that good farmland is passed on to the next generation of farm families, including those who are not the children or grandchildren of our current farming families. This is a significant land-use policy challenge.
Some young farmers have the advantage of growing up on farms, and may be able to slowly work to buy the family business.
Many CFFO commentaries have focused on the importance of succession planning to help ensure businesses can transition smoothly from one generation to the next.
This remains of vital importance, as according to the Agricultural Management Institute (AMI), only about 19% of farmers actually have a succession plan.
Other farm families do not have a clear successor who wants to take over the family business.
This situation creates both a challenge and an opportunity to find a different type of succession plan for the farm.
But what about those new farmers who may want to farm, but who didn’t grow up on a farm, or who, for whatever reason, are not part of a succession plan?
At a recent CFFO Policy Tour meeting, a young farmer stood up and shared both his enthusiasm and frustrations in trying to get into farming.
Although he did not grow up on a farm, he became interested in farming in high school, and pursued his interests in college.
When he wanted to start a farm business however, he found that many of the avenues he explored had very high risk, and did not fit with his other life goal to support a family.
He wanted to get into crop farming, but found the debt load to start farming too risky. Finding a land base was also a challenge, because land prices are high, and available land was often bought by larger established farms.
Even when looking for farm-related work, he found many agricultural jobs were seasonal.
He turned to direct-to-market vegetable farming, which was much more profitable with a smaller-risk initial investment. He was also able to train as a Certified Crop Advisor.
This young man’s story illustrates many of the challenges that new farmers face.
It also shows how important profitable smaller operations are for newer farmers who either cannot access the capital needed to start a larger farm, or who are not willing to take on the sleepless nights that a sizable financial risk would mean for them, as they are starting out in both farming and raising a family.
Our farming policy needs to recognize the benefits of both large and small farms, and should not dismiss small operations as “hobby farms.”
Farms are not always large crop or animal operations with large equipment. We should not dismiss the significance of smaller farming operations, nor the seriousness of those who run them.
In order to keep a vibrant community of farmers of all ages, it will be important to have farms of all sizes across the province that can support viable family livelihoods.