Not a lot of people give serious thought to where their food comes from. As long it keeps appearing on supermarket shelves, they are content to remain in blissful ignorance about all things agriculture.
Sure, some subjects occasionally demand attention; genetic modification is always good for a couple of headlines, as is horsemeat, apparently.
But beyond that, does anyone really care about the challenges farmers face, or where the farming industry is headed?
The farming industry is facing several challenges. Some of them are old, like insects and droughts, but they have new twists. For example, many pests are now resistant to the usual methods of control, and climate change is making weather patterns increasingly unstable.
Farmers are under pressure to increase production to meet growing demand while changing to sustainable farming methods.
There are stricter quality controls (some argue that they are not strict enough, while others would like to see controls lessened) and various consumer and animal rights organisations watch the industry like hawks.
One of the biggest challenges is attracting new farmers to the industry. According to Annie Guest (abc.net.au), Australia is losing farmers at a rate of 300 per month, and that the number of farmers has decreased by 40% over the past 30 years. At face value, the situation appears much the same in Canada. A census conducted in 2011 found that almost half of all Canadian farmers were in the 55 year old and over age group. Only 8.2% were younger than 35 years old (The Calgary Herald).
The problem is …
The problem is that, despite the fact that farming is very, very necessary, it has an image problem. Think about it. What is the quintessential image of a farmer? A slightly rotund, slightly sunburnt man in a plaid shirt, standing in a dry cornfield. It’s not cool.
There is nothing high-tech or sexy about farming. Nothing to attract gadget-happy, technophiles who crave city living and look upon quiet country life with something approaching contempt.
The Calgary Herald reports that the tide seems to be turning, as more youngsters are completing agriculture courses and second and third generation farmers are showing determination to keep farms in the family – no matter how difficult it is.
Many people are becoming disillusioned with city living and are making a conscious decision to return to a simpler way of life. They might not turn to large-scale farming, but they are looking at manageable farming operations that can sustain their families, as well as provide a decent income through local markets.
New advances in farming techniques are also making the industry an exciting place to be. Permaculture is turning into quite the revolutionary concept, with many benefits that increase productivity, as well as sustainability. Hydrologists are coming up with innovative ways to use groundwater efficiently and economically, so that droughts are no longer crop threatening and so that farming stops being so water intensive.
New computer hardware and software, and even mobile apps, are making it easier to refine farming methods and analyse data so that farms can be run more efficiently and cost-effectively.
Farming the future
It’s not all roses. Australia is still struggling to attract skilled people to the farming industry, which is one of the reasons why immigrating farmers are welcomed with open arms. The Australian National Farmers Federation (NFF) says that two things need to happen if the country wants to save its farming industry:
1) Agriculture needs to be taught at schools.
2) Money needs to be made available for research and development.
It wouldn’t hurt if the industry started working with environmental and animal rights organisations either, to ensure that farming methods stay on the right side of everyone’s sense of morality (The Australian).
Farming might be in a spot of bother, but as long as scientists keep working on sustainable solutions to improve productivity and efficiency, and so long as equipment keeps advancing, and so long as education continues, it will come out the other side (hopefully) stronger than ever.
It has to.
- farms next with rogue farm corps (thegreenhorns.wordpress.com)
- Characteristics of a Farmer – The Farmer’s Creed (agricultureproud.com)
- What Organic Farmers Want (and Need) (sustainablebusiness.com)