Old MacDonald doesn’t exist – he went bankrupt

I find it interesting that the term “large farm” is seen as a dirty phrase in many agriculture circles. The “big guys” are taking over, buying up land, and putting the small “family” farms out of business.

Wait a minute…we run a large prosperous family farm that employs 15 people and gives back to our community. What’s so wrong with that?

According to the 2021 Agriculture Census by Statistics Canada, there are 189,874 farms in Canada. According to Stats Can, the definition of a farm for this census is one that produces agricultural products and reports revenues and expenses for tax purposes to the Canada Revenue Agency.

Before 2021, a “farm” was defined as an agricultural operation that produced at least one agricultural product intended for sale. 

In my opinion, the definition is getting better…but still needs work. And, here’s why.

How do we define a “farm”?

Out of almost 190,000 farms in Canada, we must ask ourselves how many of those are active? How many acres are represented by these individual farms? What’s the average revenue of these farms? What kind of emissions are these farms producing?

I would hazard a guess that only about 12% of these farms are actually producing and selling enough products to be considered a working farm. The rest, in my opinion, are hobby farms and should not be considered as part of the same category.

I know I will get pushback on this argument, but it’s important to consider how the census data is being used against us as farmers.

When the federal government says Canadian farmers are not doing enough to utilize sustainable practices, I beg to differ.

For example, when the government talks about the number of farms using sectional control, of course, the number is low. A small hobby farmer can not afford to use this technology – no surprise there.

But that hobby farmer likely only represents a small fraction of the acres being farmed or gross revenue being created.  

Did you know the average farm’s acreage is 778 and even in Saskatchewan, where large farms are more common, the average acreage is 1,668? (Stats Canada) Again, small when you look at the big picture. We farm 32,000 acres near Moosomin. This is just an acreage example when, in fact, gross revenue and net profit are the more relevant comparables for sustainability.

Sustainability is a function of size, revenue and profit.

Small farms can’t afford to buy equipment and implement technologies that would help them be more sustainable. We do need programs and financial incentives to help these smaller farms rather than holding it against them.

And, since the large farms are the ones implementing sustainable technologies, it would be nice if we appreciated that aspect rather than criticizing these farms for growing, expanding and thriving.

Farms can’t afford to go green if they’re in the red

I don’t know too many people who would be happy making the same salary they made when they first started working. Why, then, do we expect farms to stay small and barely make enough to pay staff and family members?

Old MacDonald doesn’t exist anymore, because he would have gone bankrupt by now. Today’s farms are highly advanced, progressive and, yes, they need to be large to ensure profitability. In turn, that allows us to hire more people, feed more people and invest in the latest sustainable technology to help us do our jobs better.

Can we stop wishing we could turn back the clock and live like Old MacDonald did? Let’s be blunt – small farms don’t make enough to pay the bills. 

Find me a farmer who would disagree.

Instead, let’s welcome and encourage large producers who are leading the way, setting examples for smaller farmers and helping Canada’s agriculture industry thrive.