December 19, 2005
Much of our lives are spent adapting. Much of our formal education is geared to adapting skills deserving of value in the marketplace. We adapt our time to suit our employers in order to be worthy of our wages. We adapt our ingenuity for business in the anticipation of sales that cover expenses and garner a profit. We care for animals, till the soil and cultivate crops in anticipation of an abundant harvest. Throughout our working careers we retrain ourselves and upgrade the tools of our trade. In my line of work, right–on-time learning is essential every day — because adaptation creates new strategic policy challenges.
Ontario agriculture is a powerhouse of adaptation. Evan as net farm income slides ever-lower, farm families borrow more to keep farms going. As smaller and smaller slices of the consumer’s food dollar go back to the farm, farm families persuade governments to increase transfers from taxpayers, AND bolster family income with off-farm jobs. The result? Total farm family income remains stable and comparable to other families.
Last week, a University of Guelph Department of Agricultural Economies and Business seminar highlighted recently completed research and emerging research priorities. It was a great opportunity for some right-on-time learning — and a confirmation that there is little in the research pipeline to solve the farm sector’s problems any time soon. I was also encouraged that there was no endless chatter about still more adaptation — because adaptation for adaptation’s sake is part of farming problems:
• Bigger farmers are less connected to local communities and rural economic development,
• More intensive farms are less connected to the local environment and its stewardship,
• More ability to produce bulk undifferentiated commodities is a guarantee for still lower prices,
• More control by a few concentrated food retailers turns farm production into captive supply.
Christmas time is unique among the seasons. Christmas is the season of pause from the hurly-burly of our struggles for a “fair share.” Christmas is a time for giving without expecting something back.
We all face pressures to adapt or “get with” dominant market trends. In this most festive of seasons, we all risk participating in the happy-talk and feel-good images designed to spur an end-of-year economic boom. We all risk a shopping-inspired tinsel joy and plastic peace, culminating in ever-bigger packages beautifully wrapped, and ever bigger bills conveniently assigned to our credit cards.
I pray that our gift giving will remain rooted in the Spirit of God and the gift of Jesus the Saviour. This is the spirit of Christmas that deserves to last all through the New Year.
Elbert van Donkersgoed
This commentary was first published as Corner Post, Farm & Countryside Commentary #412.