CBC Digital Archives

Is the family farm economically viable?

Whether they raise wheat, peaches, beef or potatoes, the Canadians who run our family farms have sometimes struggled to keep pace with the demand for cheap, abundant food. Threats to the family farm have ranged from the high cost of land and crippling interest rates to corporate competition and encroaching cities. Some farmers have adapted and thrived, but for others the strain has proven too much. CBC Archives looks at the evolving family farm.

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Is it time to shut down the family farm? In the face of the latest farm crisis, an urban advocate says too many farmers on marginal lands are drawing too much money in government subsidies. Larry Solomon of the Urban Renaissance Institute says many farmers and their families would be better off in urban centres. On the CBC Radio program This Morning, Solomon says farming is little more than "a grand make-work project." 
• Agricultural subsidies are direct or indirect forms of income support for farmers.
• A 2001 report by the Urban Renaissance Institute found that from 1992 to 2001 federal and provincial governments spent an average $3.53 in subsidies for every dollar earned on Canadian farms.
• The study found that the three provinces with the highest subsidy-to-earning ratio during that period were, in order, Ontario, Newfoundland and Quebec.

• Researchers at the George Morris Centre, an agricultural think tank based in Guelph, Ont., disputed the study's findings. The Urban Renaissance Institute's study included expenditures for agricultural research and expenses for food inspection and grading - both public services that benefit all Canadians, not just farmers.
• According to the George Morris Centre's own study, the more accurate ratio was almost 64 cents in subsidies for every dollar of farm income.

• The Crow Rate, which ended in 1995, was once an important subsidy for western grain farmers. In 1897, in return for $3.3 million from the federal government and permission to extend a rail line through the Crowsnest Pass in the Rockies, the Canadian Pacific Railway gave reduced freight rates to farmers shipping their grain east.
• See an additional clip about the phasing-out of the Crow Rate and its effect on farmers.

• Prices for grain were remarkably low in the late 1990s, and net farm income was lower than it had been since the drought-ridden years of the 1930s.
• In December 1998 federal Minister of Agriculture Lyle Vanclief introduced AIDA - the Agricultural Income Disaster Assistance program.
• AIDA was controversial from the start. Farmers said it was too restrictive and that the only people who were really helped by it were wealthy hog-barn investors, not grain farmers.

• The spring of 1999 was unusually wet in parts of both Manitoba and Saskatchewan, making it nearly impossible for about 5,000 farmers to seed their crops in time.
•. In October 1999, shortly before the time of this clip, premiers Gary Doer of Manitoba and Roy Romanow of Saskatchewan went to Ottawa hoping for more aid for farmers. Vanclief's response was to increase AIDA funding by $170 million, bringing the fund to $1.7 billion.

• Moved by the plight of Western farmers, Toronto MP Dennis Mills organized a family farm tribute concert at Toronto's Air Canada Centre in January 2000. Among the performers were Randy Bachman and Burton Cummings, Sylvia Tyson, Big Sugar and Fred Eaglesmith. The concert was not intended as a fundraiser, but as a way to draw attention to the farm crisis.
• Listen to an additional clip in which Mills and Tyson talk about the concert.

• In February 2000 farmer Nick Preston drove his combine all the way to Ottawa from his farm in Dawson Creek, B.C. Travelling at 20 km/h, it took him seven weeks to get there. His goal was to draw attention to the farm crisis. When he reached Ottawa, Preston was greeted by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, who gave him a glass of whisky and offered to do all he could for farmers.
Medium: Radio
Program: This Morning
Broadcast Date: Dec. 9, 1999
Guest(s): Noreen Johns, Larry Solomon
Host: Michael Enright
Duration: 8:35
Photo: Topley Studio / Library and Archives Canada / PA-009193

Last updated: May 23, 2013

Page consulted on December 8, 2014

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