Have Ag Journalists Lost Touch? How progressive producers have outgrown old narratives.
Popular Narrative – Agriculture producers face more risk than they have ever faced. Between policy, volatility in both commodities and inputs, inflationary costs, and weather occurrences, it has never been a more stressful time to be a farmer.
Unpopular Narrative – Over the last decade agriculture producers have become some of the wealthiest business owners in Canada. Due to food security they survived a pandemic and came out the other side with some of the highest grain receipts and profitability in history. Between insurance on crops and beneficial tax treatments, there has never been lower risk in farming.
While listening to my business partner on a podcast with “The Food Professor ” the other night, I took one line to heart that became the focus of this blog. One of the individuals, who is not a farmer, made the statement “can you please tell farmers to quit complaining”. Now for many this would be fighting words, for me it actually was a breath of fresh air to hear what the outside public views as a perception in agriculture. Not that I whole-heartedly agree or disagree, but it was a pretty blunt and truthful proclamation.
In reading most editorials today, there is a distinct pessimistic view from many authors. Whether it be to identify all the new risks that farmers must go through, or how government policy is killing the industry, or even going as far as to say progressive farms will be the end of agriculture. As a reader it puts our industry in a bad light, and as a professional that works with some of the top farms in the industry, it is only a half-truth. Being a partial owner of Hebert Grain Ventures, I have never been more thankful to be in this industry.
So, I decided to identify a few of the areas where journalism is failing our industry. Here goes:
- There has never been a more profitable time in my life in agriculture.
First off, this is not a generalization. I work on both the consulting and insurance sides of agriculture so I like to think my view is pretty unbiased on this topic. Over the last few years and moving into 2023, whether you grow a crop or not, you will make more money than most of your previous years farming. This may seem like a blunt statement, but I have more data and financial information to back this up than I would like to even admit. Being involved in insurance allows me to see coverage levels in all geographic areas of Western Canada, and the amount of coverage has never been higher. Again, premiums are up as well, but if we complain about a $20 premium for coverage of $700 to $900 on canola, that is really not something I am going to address without a bit of irony.
Now, to address the arguments I am also going to handle the objections quickly. Cost of production has never been higher on farms as well, I totally agree. However, the costs do not overrun the commodity prices. I don’t have a projection this spring that does not show large profits in all areas in Saskatchewan or Manitoba (sorry Alberta I don’t have clients in your province on the financial side). A cost of production over $500 is a risk, but when the minimum gross revenue is $700 I don’t really need to address that risk. Going forward this will be an issue, but right now not so much.
- Consolidation is killing the industry and way of life.
For context, my thoughts come from me running a large farm, so take this for what it is worth. Growing up, my opinions were similar to most, large farms were hurting agriculture. Now, two decades later I have drastically different views and a considerably larger amount of data on the subject. Not that I think consolidation is always a good thing, but I do believe that it is going to happen whether you like it or not. We can sit and complain or be part of the progress.
The big irony is that when I was farming, we had land locations with distinct names; the “volk half” or the “Mellish yard”. As a 4,000-acre farmer I was oblivious to the fact that I was already involved in consolidation. So unless the readers of this blog are all 160-acre farmers, guess what, you are a consolidated enterprise. Like it or not you have bought out or are renting somebody else’s homestead. More of the industry needs to understand this fact before throwing stones.
Now, back to the topic at hand. Our last summer event at HGV we had all the employees, spouses, owners, and kids attend. To tell you the truth it was actually overwhelming to see the growth of our team over the last few years. I may be overestimating, but there were at least 30 kids at the event which makes me hopeful for future human resource issues on our horizon. To say that we are killing communities and agriculture is a stretch. And the fact that I have part ownership in the business and my last name is not “Hebert” kind of eliminates a lot of the arguments. I am a farmer in the same sense of the word as everybody else in this industry.
- The government is trying to kill agriculture.
Now, I will meet you 50/50 on this one. In fact, between my business partner and I, we have written numerous blogs from both perspectives. The truth is that yes, government regulations have negative impacts on agriculture., But as of right now, there are no regulations that are currently destroying agriculture grain producers in Western Canada.
The positive side that most journalists won’t cover is that “some” regulations may actually push the industry forward. We are significantly behind when it comes to adoption of new technologies in agronomy, we are currently using insurance that tells management to quit farming if they look like they are in a claim position, and there’s plenty of room to grow when it comes to knowing what is in our soil (nutrients or water). Overall, agriculture practices could be improved in many aspects, and some regulations could improve operations and even make us as producers more profitable.
In the end, I believe that the current narratives being put forth by many agriculture journalists are in ways, half-truths. In the past this wasn’t as clear, but watching on social media as more and more farms can now comment on blogs and articles it is becoming more evident. The shift in agriculture is occurring and the media and journalists are not keeping up. In fact, most producers have now outgrown the narrative.