Farm income looking grim for this year

Earlier in the year Agriculture Canada released a report with dire predictions of falling income for farmers and ranchers across the country in 2010. Somehow such reports sound vaguely familiar – almost like it’s an annual prediction that we have come to expect. The report states that the farm sector will receive over $41 billion in receipts but realize only about $290 million in net returns to producers. That’s a 90 per cent decline from 2009. Alberta will be particularly hammered because of severe losses in cattle and hog returns.

Considering that 2009 was no stellar year for farm income, one has to drag out the obvious and ponder where are the government support programs that are supposed to alleviate this disastrous situation. We all remember them – those clever schemes with the cute Agri prefix – AgriStability, AgriRecovery, perhaps these programs would be better described as AgriHopeless and AgriDysfunctional it’s all very AgriVating to producers in the real world.

Producer organizations and even some government ministers admit that these programs were not going to work for commodities facing a sudden and prolonged market collapse. They were also not going to work in response to a weather or trade disaster. They were going to work if markets went moderately up and down in an orderly manner and only if some years were profitable. That’s the way federal bureaucrats want the market to behave and it all works in theory. But apparently, bureaucrats have a penchant for not wanting to believe that actual market and weather disasters happen.

The ag report on projected farm income did manage to create some good news out of their dismal report. They stated almost gleefully that the government had taken steps to help the industry to recover and renew, adding that the government was helping find new market opportunities. Gosh, how helpful that will be – producers will now have new opportunities to lose even more money.

Then to gloss over the situation even more, the report noted that farm family income was actually going to go up thanks to an increase in off-farm income. How insulting to even include such a statement which only serves to prove that most farmers and ranchers can no longer obtain even a modest living from the farm. I expect that ag bureaucrats have become convinced that producers should expect to work off the farm if they want to stay on the land. Has agriculture finally become a hobby for the majority of producers? If we are to understand from the net income return figure, the average net return per farmer will be between $350 and $3500 – yeah, that pretty well makes farming a hobby.

The failure of the industry support programs has become crystal clear even to provincial and federal ag ministers. They will never admit to making a mistake, of course, but they are getting dangerously close to making that much feared admission. Some ministers have said that they recognize that the programs are not working as hoped and that they need adjustment – that’s almost an apology in politician language.

It seems only when former government ministers and politicians are in opposition that there is some willingness to admit that maybe they were wrong – sort of. Wayne Easter, the former Liberal Agriculture Minister stated that there were some flaws in the support programs he helped create while in government. That would be the same Mr. Easter who was prepared to fight to the death for these same programs when he was in government. He further states that if the Liberals are returned to power they will start over with a clean slate and consult with producers to create new more effective programs. Yeah, right – every opposition member says that. I recall the Conservatives were going to fix CAIS and AgriSupport when they came to power. Now, we see the sad spectacle of them defending the programs they used to condemn – do we expect a returning Liberal government to really start over – not a chance. The entrenched federal bureaucracy just won’t let them.

Meanwhile, a once proud and viable sector of the economy limps along and hopes a sudden market development or weather calamity elsewhere in the world will cause prices to temporarily keep them in business. Come to think of it, that’s just how government support programs are designed to work.