From the Editor: Food Freedom Day was early this year

March 14, 2008
Written by
hough accompanied by little fanfare, Canadians celebrated Food Freedom Day quite early this year. By Feb. 3, the average Canadian had earned enough income to pay their grocery bill for one full year. It took just 34 days to cover those costs. Food Freedom Day in 2007, by comparison, was celebrated on Feb. 6.

In 2003, Canadians spent, on average, about 10.5 per cent of their personal disposable income on food, compared to 12.4 per cent in 1998.

Ontario Federation of Agriculture president Geri Kamenz notes that energy, hired labour, machinery and chemical costs, along with taxes, have increased anywhere from 10 to 73 per cent since 1992. This has put a lot of pressure on farm families, particularly when the money they receive for their food products is not increasing at the same level. “In fact,” says Kamenz, “the average cost of food has increased 13 per cent while the increase in the price farmers receive is just two per cent. That means the prices paid by consumers increased six times more than the prices farmers received.”

Food Freedom Day serves to remind consumers of the contributions made by Canadian farmers, and to also serve as a reminder of the value, safety and quality of Canadian-grown food.

The Centre for Rural Studies and Enrichment at St. Peter’s College in Saskatchewan recently completed a comprehensive study entitled, The Farmers’ Share: Compare the Share, Update 2006. It was a followup to the original Compare the Share report compiled in 1991 by MP Ralph Ferguson and his staff. Among his conclusions, Ferguson said that “current prices for farm commodities do not allow for sustainable agriculture” in Canada. The 2006 report, authored by Diane J.F. Martz, notes that “the statistics presented in this update clearly show that the prices received by farmers for their products have not increased significantly over the past two decades. At the same time, the retail prices of farm products have increased, in some cases considerably.”

The farmers’ share of wheat going into a loaf of bread remained constant at 11 cents from 1981 to 2004. A 450-gram box of crackers in 1982 retailed at $1.26, and six per cent, or eight cents, went to the farmer. In 2005, that same box of crackers cost $2.01, but the farmers’ share actually declined to four per cent, or seven cents. When it comes to processed foods, growers are not sharing in the bounty.

Adequate farmgate pricing levels continue to be a challenge, and the greenhouse sector is no exception (both flowers and vegetables). It’s difficult to raise prices sufficiently each year to cover costs of production and comply with new market requirements. Premium products should attract premium prices.

Research into new production systems, pest/disease management strategies, and breeding has helped improve yields and reduce crop losses. This work has helped more farmers remain in the industry despite woefully sluggish prices.

Cheap food prices are cause for consumer celebration. They’re glowing testimonials to the efficiency of Canadian farmers. Yet, having marginally higher food prices, primarily for the benefit of producers, would be even greater cause for celebration. Surely, we can have cheap food and a vibrant ag industry at the same time.

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