From the Editor: April 2011

March 14, 2011
Written by
For some it’s a celebration; for others it’s a sad commentary on the state of current farming revenues in Canada.

We’re talking about Food Freedom Day, which this year fell on Feb. 12. This represents the amount of time the average Canadian had to work to pay their food bills for the entire year. It was only 43 days this year.

Canadians spend an average of just over $7,000 on food annually, which is about 10 per cent of household expenditures. That compares to $5,700 (11.4 per cent of household expenditures) spent in 1997.

Food Freedom Day is indeed good news for consumers.

But what about farmers? Isn’t this where it all begins? They have much less to cheer about.

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture helps put things in perspective. It notes that, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, “food consumption accounts for 45 per cent of household expenses in Indonesia, 39 per cent in China, and over 13 per cent in the United States. In Egypt, food inflation has risen above 20 per cent, with the price of common food items such as tomatoes surging as much as 300 per cent last year. The price for a kilogram of meat has risen to as much as one third of a monthly wage.”

An interesting exercise would be to calculate how many days the average Canadian had to work this year to pay farmgate prices for their food this year. I’m guessing it would have occurred some time during the second or third week of January. Retailers have raised prices over the years, while telling farmers to hold the line.

“The portion of consumer spending working its way back to the farm is relatively small,” notes the CFA, “particularly when the costs of production are taken into account. In recent years, farmers have had to manage production around extremely unstable costs for inputs such as fuel and fertilizer.”

It’s not just farmgate food prices that are too low. Ask any poinsettia grower in Canada if they should be earning more for the crop. A grower recently explained that poinsettia prices haven’t risen appreciably, if at all, over the past 20 years or more. That’s not sustainable. And you can ask the same question of bedding plant, holiday plant or cut flower growers, and get pretty much the same answer – prices are not rising fast enough, if they’re rising at all.

One has to wonder what impact the current instability in the Middle East will have on fossil fuel prices. Natural gas prices tend to follow oil prices. And greenhouse growers don’t need higher energy prices.

If Food Freedom Day is something to celebrate, we should toast the efficiency of Canadian farmers to remain in business under burdensome pricing pressures.

What the farm industry needs is government recognition of these pressures, and the introduction of suitable support programs.

Maybe if consumers knew the full story behind Food Freedom Day, they, too, might insist farmers receive their just deserts.

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