Whether it’s unpredictable weather, physical labour, or the price of land, being a farmer is no easy feat.
And with the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, Canadian dairy farmers say one more hurdle just formed.
Through the new agreement, American dairy and poultry farmers will soon have up to 3.9 per cent access to the Canadian dairy market.
According to dairy farmer Will Vanderhorst of Norwood, Ont., it’s a change which could affect the future of the dairy industry in Canada. He is a board member with the Dairy Farmers of Ontario.
“Would I encourage my sons or daughters to enter the dairy industry when our industry continues to be whittled away and given up to other countries’ products?” he asked, “I think that’s the mean concern.”
Pat Learmonth, director of Farms at Work, a Peterborough, Ont., organization aimed at connecting and helping local farmers, believes one of the biggest challenges in the industry today is how to make a living as a farmer.
“It’s always been tough, because of things like the weather,” she said. “But now, I think that because the economy for food is so global, people are trying to compete against food that’s coming from other places where their costs of production are very different.”
Learmonth says consumers have a huge say when it comes to helping local farmers stay afloat.
“As consumers, we need to adjust our thinking about food, and we need to recognize that food is not the same as buying a television from China. People need to eat three times a day, and it’s a matter of life and death,” she added. “So food is everything to people.”
The price of farmland is another factor which Learmonth believes is preventing farmers from expanding their operations.
“Farmland has become an investment, rather than a business plan,” she said.
Many farmers in the Kawarthas say climate change, which usually results in unpredictable weather, is already creating a challenge.
However, Learmonth has a slightly different take on that situation.
“Climate change is a little bit of a good news, bad news story for us,” she explained. “Because here in Ontario, we actually have more heat units now, and we can actually grow things here a little bit better than we could in the past.”
At the same time, places like California and Mexico are experiencing what Learmonth calls “severe droughts,” which is negatively impacting their farmland. Canada sources much of its fruits and vegetables from California and Mexico.
Learmonth suggests Canadian farmers could start growing foods such as carrots, tomatoes and strawberries for longer periods of time throughout the year.
“If we were to, in fact, replace those imports … and if people were to use their buying power to make conscious decisions every week to just spend a little bit more money buying products that were grown in Ontario … then we could add enormous amounts of money to our own local food economy and rebuild our industry here in Ontario.”
Learmonth says people must speak out to help the agricultural industry in Canada.
“We have to put pressure on our government to take the agricultural sector more seriously.”