COLUMNS: Ranch and farmland ownership: does it matter?

I just returned from the Annual National Farmers Union (NFU) national convention where I was a panelist.

I just returned from the Annual National Farmers Union (NFU) national convention where I was a panelist, addressing the regulation of meat processing in B.C.

The invitation came to me as a producer of meat products. We used to be in the business of selling local, government Inspected, beef into the local and Vancouver market.

For beef, we are in the Vancouver ‘foodshed.’

Commercial operators — those trying to make a living from their ranch — can easily have a surplus to local demand and need to go to a bigger “local” market.

Others need to export from their region because they produce a surplus to the region’s needs and thus their product goes into the global food system.

Two hundred kilometers is a long way to truck live animals in small numbers to get them slaughtered and cut and wrapped. Too far is not very far when it comes to stressing animals by trucking them.

Any source of stress: lack of food, water, noise and transport, mixing with strange animals from other herds can all contribute to the meat being less than great.

So local processing is superior to distant processing.

While at the convention, I picked up a publication “Losing Our Grip 2015 update: how corporate farmland buy-up, rising farm debt, and agribusiness financing of inputs threatens family farms.”

It was published by the NFU in March 2015.

The NFU is one of the few organizations in Canada dedicated to the success of the family farm and which supports Food Sovereignty. Perhaps in a future article I will expand on food sovereignty and what it entails.

In this publication they point out that “since 2010 there have been significant changes to Canada’s agriculture-related laws, policies and institutions.”

Among the changes cited are: Canada has adopted Plan Breeder’s Rights powers which will give corporations more control over seed, and a reduction of public plant breeding at our research institutes.

Trade Agreements such as CETA, TPP and FIPPA entrench these rights by clauses in the agreements which protect investors in seed breeding and stop nation states from regulating seed production in the public interest.

In the land side, sovereign wealth funds which are state owned funds have increased their ownership of land worldwide from $4 trillion in assets in 2010 to $7 trillion in 2015. These are big numbers!

Between the years 2006 and 2011, Canada’s farmland has decreased by seven million acres ( four per cent).

In B.C. we have seen significant reduction of Class one (the best) especially in the Peace River with the approval of the “Site C” dam.

There are other threats by Limited Partnership Funds which speculate in farmland value increases, the profits of which doesn’t go to the selling farmer but the fund investors.

All of these phenomena work against the family farm and ranch.

We are, as a result, more food insecure and losing our sovereignty (ownership and control)over our own food here in Canada.

David Zirnhelt is a member of the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association and chair of the advisory committee for the Applied Sustainable Ranching program which started at Thompson Rivers University in Williams Lake this January.