I found Richard Sanders' comment on the profitability of farm most
interesting. It seems to me though that the problem of economic
viability, as he described it, is not at all restricted to organic
farming. In Quebec (eastern Canada) where I spent most of my life,
the agriculture in general is in bad shape.
I am a soil scientist so my knowledge of economics is not all
that great (so please correct me if I am way out in left field) but it
seems to me that most of Quebec's agriculture problem are pretty much
linked to the impossibility for farmers to have their assets grow at
the inflation rate. For a farmer in Quebec, producing one tonne of
wheat will cost almost twice as much as the price he receives for it.
This is why there is a program called 'revenue stabilization' that
compensate for this in many different areas of production. The
dairy, eggs and poultry sectors are protected under a system of
quotas, so that the 'extra income' comes from the consumers pockets.
When considering GATT/WTO pressures to eliminate any trade barriers
plus the fact that our governments are bankrupt, how sustainable can
any form of agriculture be in that context?
It seems to me, in this type of economy, to be truly economically
viable farmers need to be the best on that market (i.e. producing at
the lowest cost). Even the very best producer of small grain in
Quebec cannot raise a profit on his own.
This is why I totally agree with Richard Sanders when he says that
the survival imperative is to redesign society in a way that makes the
different systems ecologically (I would add 'humanly') rational. As a
starting point I think we would be wise in trying to understand
exactly what the economist E.F. Schumacher wanted to say when he
wrote: "Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People
Mattered", back in 1973.
Land Resource Science
University of Guelph
Guelph, Ontario, N1G 2W1