Senior Director of Dalhousie University’s Agri-Food Analytical Sciences Laboratory, Sylvain Charlebois, recently criticized a survey by the Union des producteurs agricole (UPA) measuring the consequences of inflation and soaring interest rates. on the financial situation of Quebec farms.
However, the impact of the increases is unequivocal. According to the 3,675 respondents, 2 out of 10 farm businesses already report poor or very poor financial health (0-5 years: almost 3 out of 10), nearly 5 out of 10 farms anticipate a deterioration in their situation over the next 12 months and 1 in 10 farms even plan to close permanently in the coming year.
These statistics corroborate those of the Canadian Survey on the Conditions of Business (first quarter 2023) from Statistics Canada, previously released, and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, which projects a 22.8% decrease in profits (net income) in the agricultural sector in 2023, due in particular to the increase in interest rates. They also go in the same direction as the investigation of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, which Mr. Charlebois himself quotes in his own column. The use of the words ‘chialage’, ‘complainers’, ‘pessimists’ and ‘alarming’ is therefore confusing or, at the very least, variable in geometry.
The latter also indicates that the UPA “never misses an opportunity to remind Quebecers that farmers have a hard life”. It was not his intention, but we take this statement as a compliment.
Other aspects of our mission, such as promoting agriculture, buying local, sustainable practices, the profession, safety and well-being, are also part of our many initiatives. Hand-picked, the nature of our interventions is therefore much more like fiddling with information than a real analysis of the situation.
Mr. Charlebois is almost right when he claims that “everyone is struggling, not just farmers.” The truth is that some people, or some groups of people, are having a tougher time with the current economic situation than others. He demonstrates this himself when he specifically points out that “households with a $300,000 variable-rate mortgage, amortized over 25 years, will see their payments increase by about $600 per month” and that “the food inflation will force that same household to pay $1,065 more for food this year.”
Calling for additional support for these people is legitimate. However, we do not see how direct intervention with farms in difficulty would be an avenue to be ruled out. Ensuring the food future of Quebecers, who are largely dependent on agriculture that is 94% family-owned and more impacted than other economic sectors, is rather a completely meritorious choice for society. The establishment of a neutral and independent diagnosis on the situation in the pork industry, which we recently requested in light of Olymel’s difficulties and the funds needed for its restructuring, goes in the same direction.
Of course, Mr. Charlebois’ analysis would have much more merit if he had asked for more information on our approach (methodology, etc.). But we understand that was not the real purpose of his exercise. Such an omission may appear sympathetic to some, but it is basically of little use for the common good.