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Modern farmers face fierce challenges

In this week's column, David Hawke extols the virtues of agricultural reporting, news
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The pastoral farm scene belies some of the challenges farmers face in growing the produce we buy at the supermarket. A better understanding of farm practices will build good relationships with a rapidly expanding residential growth into farmland. David Hawke/OrilliaMatters

By now I would think most of us have seen those car window stickers that proclaim "Farmers Feed Cities." Believe it. It's a simple truth. Yet there remains a bit of a chasm of knowledge between producers and consumers on what it takes to keep our refrigerators full and our appetites sated.

The occasional article that interviews a local corn grower as to the impacts of too much or too little rainfall in a particular season is a good start, yet there is so much more that these agriculturalists must deal with: an unstable economy, shifting social values and perceptions of farm operations, invasive species on croplands, chemical handling, an aging farm community, environmental impacts. You name it and a farm-based family has many of the same stresses an urban-based family has, plus the responsibility to grow and share a food source for all to have.

This is not a "pity the poor farmer" column, but rather "realize some of the challenges modern farming faces." Gone are days of a farm having a few head of cattle, a coop full of chickens and a big vegetable garden. Nowadays it's highly competitive with big-money gambles, an "all your eggs in one basket" attitude and, yes, there's that unknown factor of weather to contend with.

I have recently become aware of an agricultural newspaper, called Ontario Farmer, that everyone should read whether you are rural or urban, school-aged or getting on a bit.

There are several things about this publication that I really like: It's a tabloid-sized newspaper, not a tiny, glowing screen; every week there is a front-page picture of youngsters helping their parents on their home farm; and the range of topics is amazing, from market prices to being environmentally aware to a touch of humour to a behind-the-scenes article on a recent news story.

You can't pick it up at a newsstand, nor even read it online; it is a newspaper with a subscription that is delivered weekly to your mailbox. An old-school approach to publication, which I quite admire.

Here's a sample of this week's topics: an exposé about some rogue genetically modified wheat; tomato late blight a concern; the behind-the-scenes story of the 'selfie' mob that destroyed a sunflower seed crop; a very readable column about the perils of renaming a city (Berlin to Kitchener); an insight to bee colony survival rates; and a revelation that dairy cows like a good scratching post.

Previous articles have dealt with the challenge of "what to do with the family farm when Mom and Dad want to retire and the kids have all moved away?" This one is a real challenge, as farm kids have indeed received a quality education and are joining well-paying companies that are outside the agricultural world. And who can afford several million dollars to buy a farm to see if they like it or not?

Just as conservation organizations are acquiring and protecting ecologically special parcels of land, so, too, are a couple of farmland groups, desperately hoping to keep good soil available to grow crops and not houses. The Greater Toronto Area is continuing its ever-expanding growth into what was once fertile farm country, and all those nice people who will live in all those nice houses all want three good meals a day, for each person in the house.

Because there is such a strong link between those who grow fruits, vegetables, cereals and meat products and those of us who eat fruits, vegetables, cereals and meat products, there needs to be a greater understanding of how the whole process works. And I feel that the Ontario Farmer newspaper does that (and in a very understandable manner).

Check for a subscription form.