The Farmers' Share: Compare the Share 2004

Centre For Rural Studies and Enrichment -- November 2004

Compare the Share, Phase I was published in 1991 by the Hon. Ralph Ferguson, M.P. and his staff. The study compared producer, processor and consumer prices during the 1980's. In 1998, Mr. Ferguson donated the information from Compare the Share, to The Centre for Rural Studies and Enrichment at St. Peter's College in Muenster. The unfolding crisis in agriculture in 1999 generated considerable interest in bringing “Compare the Share” up to date. During the summer and fall of 1999, the data was extended back through the 1970's and updated to include the most recent statistics. In the summer of 2004, we again began to receive inquiries about whether Compare the Share had been updated. With support from the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, we were able to hire a student to find the new data.

“Compare the Share, Phase I” showed that farm gate prices during the 10 year period from 1980 to 1990, had increased very little while the prices to consumers had increased dramatically. The Family Farm in Question: Compare the Share Revisited traced prices back to the 1970's when farm gate prices and retail prices were more closely aligned. Through the 1990's the price gaps that opened in the 1980's continued and in some cases widened. This update of Compare the Share finds retail prices increasing faster in the past five years than they did in the early 1990’s, again in most cases with no corresponding increase in the prices paid to farmers.

Farmers in the agricultural sectors regulated by marketing boards saw the prices for their products follow the wholesale and retail prices more closely and in those sectors, farmers have retained a higher percentage of the retail price. The importance of the stability afforded by marketing boards is pointed out in a new study by the George Morris Institute which makes the link between the economic stability enjoyed by supply managed agricultural industries and the vibrancy of neighboring rural communities.

Farm families continue to subsidize their farm with off farm employment. In 2000, 73% of the total income of the average Canadian farm family came from off the farm. Managing a farming operation after a full day's work off the farm combined with the stress of keeping the farming operation going in the face of low commodity prices poses a terrible burden on many farm families.

Ralph Ferguson stated in 1991 that "current prices for farm commodities do not allow for sustainable agriculture" in Canada. Again these words remain valid, as low commodity prices, weather problems and the BSE crisis mean the outlook for many farmers is grim. That the sustainability of the family farm in Canada is at risk is evident in the newest Census of Agriculture numbers that show a decline of 10.7% in the number of Canadian farms between 1996 and 2001.

This study examines trends in the farm sector without detailed consideration of underlying causes. The information in “The Farmers’ Share: Compare the Share 2004” comes from publicly maintained statistics. These sources along with the assumptions used in the analysis are listed in the endnotes.

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