I’m just about to hit the average age for a farmer in Canada, which is 54. It was 49 in 2001. It’s a disturbing trend. It means young people aren’t signing up to become farmers. And I can’t say as I blame them. It seems way cooler to write “apps” for smartphones and work in an air-conditioned office.
At some point though, we need farmers. A century ago a farmer could feed 10 people. Today a Canadian farmer feeds 120. In the U.S. a farmer feeds 150. This is a staggering and terrifying statistic, made even more worrisome by the fact the International Energy Agency says the world hit peak oil in 2005 and all farm inputs from fertilizer to diesel fuel have nowhere to go but up. In Japan the average age of a farmer is 66. Really? I know I will have slowed down an awful lot by that age.
I saw a video on CNBC recently with investor Jim Rogers talking about the run up in stock markets. He suggests that the massive amount of money printed by the Fed is the reason for the run up in the stocks. With a zero percent interest rate it doesn’t make sense to leave it in a bank account or bond, so it forces money into the market. He’s also concerned about how Cyprus chose to go after individuals’ bank accounts to deal with their fiscal mess.
About 4 minutes into the interview Rogers suggests he is investing in the “ag” business. He realizes that we have 7 billion people, droughts plaguing farmers and therefore food inventories are low and it’s one bright area for investing.
But he asks the interviewer, “Do you know anyone who’s become a farmer? Probably not.” Most of us don’t. When I’m at meetings where there are farmers, they are all generally older people. Once in a while I’ll meet a younger farmer, but they tend to be more of a business person/agricultural scientist/investor type of person. They are well educated, tech savvy and often have taken on massive debt to purchase the land and the equipment needed today to make money from farming. Think T. Boone Pickens in overalls.
Now when someone asks you, “Do you know anyone who’s become a farmer?” you can answer, “Yes, Cam and Michelle Mather.” They may be stupid, or delusional, but they are now officially ‘farmers’! Actually, I guess we would be considered more like “market gardeners,” which I’m OK with as well. I don’t own a tractor, just a couple of rototillers. But according to Revenue Canada last year we officially became farmers. In Canada you have to claim two years of farm earnings of at least $7,000 a year to be classified as a farmer. Last year was our second year, so we are now in our third year, we are officially farmers! Yee ha!
Do you have a goal you aspire to? President of your company? Principal of your school? Owning a BMW? Traveling to Europe to do the whole Dan Brown tour thing?
Since moving to the country I’ve begun to notice license plates. Some license plates are special. They say “FARM” right on them. The pickups you see lined up at the feed mill have “FARM” plates. Farm plates are special. They’re like an Armani suit, a Gucci handbag. They bestow status on the possessor. Since moving here I have aspired to have “FARM” plates on my truck. But you can’t buy them. They have to be earned, like badges in the scouts, or a rank in the military. You have to prove you can earn an income from growing food. Farmers have different ways of getting their farm plates. Perhaps they took over the farm from their parents. Some went to university, and got a million dollar loan and bought a dairy farm. Judging by the average age of farmers, most of them did this many years ago.
Michelle and I, on the other hand, have gone the low capital route. We have expanded our gardens and built up our soil until we’ve been able to earn enough income to be classified by the tax authorities as a “FARM.” I believe this helps us with our property taxes. But that’s not why I did it. I did it because for many years I’ve wanted to earn a living growing food. I was extremely successful growing food and giving it away, but that’s a pretty easy task, and not one that can be sustained over the long term without some subsidization from other income. And with the economic collapse in the U.S. our other income had declined precipitously. It was time to finally make money from our favourite hobby!
So I’m pretty pumped about our new status! Hey Jim Rogers, I know someone stupid enough to become a farmer, ME! It looks like we’ll more than double the number of families in our CSA this year! How awesome is that!
And once Michelle has done all the paperwork, and we’ve jumped through all the hoops, I’m going down to the Ministry of Transportation office, hopefully with all of the correct documentation, and I’m going to get “FARM” plates. The word FARM is in all caps, with the letters in a vertical line before the numbers. FARM is before the numbers because, well, it’s a pretty big deal! This person is a farmer! She grows food! He feeds people, which is kind of important!
I do not want to travel to Machu Picchu. I do not want a Lamborghini. I don’t think I’ll ever wear a Hugo Boss suit. All I really want is to one day have “FARM” plates on my pickup truck. When I do, I’m going down to the Feed Mill to pick up chicken feed. I’ll drag Joe from behind the counter so that we can stand by my pickup and he can see that I’m not just that pesky urban refugee who’s always asking him stupid questions. “No Cam you want ‘layer mash’ for your chickens because they’re not ‘meat chickens.” Sorry Joe, I’ll get this eventually.
Yup, once Joe sees my FARM plates he’ll know he’s finally dealing with a real farmer. It’ll be kind of a big deal.
As I quote so often, and gratefully acknowledge the legendary philosopher kings of the big hair and shoulder pad 80’s band Loverboy … “Don’t ask me how, but guess who hit the big time.” Don’t look now, but guess who got FARM plates. Yup, that’s the Mather pickup! Better resin up the bow, thank God I’m a country boy! (or “rosin up the bow,” as pointed out in the comments below. Thanks Joyce!)