Ranch Musings: The state of agriculture

Columnist David Zirnhelt is thankful for where they are and who they are

I need to remind myself that we all need time to express gratitude for what we have, not what we don’t have.

So, this is my Thanksgiving wish for all ranchers, farmers, eaters of food, and anyone else in the food system: we are facing unprecedented chaos in our environment (flood, excess water, drought in places) and economic/financial challenges, perhaps permanent ones — may you thrive in the face of this adversity!

Things could be worse, much worse.

From the 30,000-foot level, this is what the agriculture industry looks like.

Taken as a whole, the industry is losing money, according to the latest Statistics Canada figures. Land prices are up maybe six times the inflation rate, which discourages the next generation.

Our human resource situation is not getting better fast enough to encourage more farmers to come up with succession/transition strategies and to act on them.

Millennials probably don’t want to work the way the retiring boomer generation did. The next generation after the millennials still have to prove themselves.

This raises the question about just what are we entitled to and how hard do we have to work or how smart do we have to be, to work for it.

Governments never have enough resources to put towards the problems, and communities may not be cohesive enough to develop the capacity to work together on common issues.

Individuals and small businesses rarely have all the skills they need to operate.

Knowing what crops will grow best to feed consumers and regenerate the land and soil is an ongoing problem in the face of climate changes.

Knowing how to manage yourself, those you work with, and those you wish to take over from you, are huge challenges.

Pollution by agriculture — too much phosphorous and nitrogen getting into water — has resulted in a new set of regulations. Now farmers have to test soil before applying chemical or manure fertilizers.

It is difficult to get recommendations on improving your soil’s health. The cost of compliance with regulations is creeping up. The cumulative cost increases to agriculture have no offsetting increase in prices that will keep up with food price increases.

Government’s answer, and to some extent industry’s own answer, to the challenges is to think globally, to think locally and to improve management by measuring through monitoring and planning based on your analyzing your business, and on and on.

It is no wonder that an increasingly aged workforce in agriculture is keen to get out, or kick back and enjoy what we have.

I know our Thanksgiving tables will be pausing to be thankful for where we are and who we are.

More importantly, we will remind ourselves that what we wish for ourselves, we should wish for others.

David Zirnhelt is a rancher and member of the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association. He is also chair of the Advisory Committee for the Applied Sustainable Ranching Program at Thompson Rivers University Williams Lake.

READ MORE: Ranch Musings: Permaculture in Canada


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