The interconnectedness of Canadian farmers’ income security and the climate crisis cannot be denied; yet, neither issue is being addressed with the urgency it warrants. As two young people in agriculture, a farmer and farm worker, we are deeply concerned for farmers, who feel the dual pressure of declining income and increasingly extreme climate conditions. Farmers need support programs in the wake of a worsening climate crisis, and universal basic income may be an option to offer relief.
From our experience working on small scale farms, we have seen the unique challenges farmers face. In the wake of the fall 2021 flooding, I (Heather) heard from a BC farmer who worried their income losses would not be covered because it was a relatively small financial ask. Would the support program consider them insignificant? In the last two seasons, the Nova Scotia blueberry farm I worked on lost at least a third of their expected yield due to a widespread drought and a late localized frost. Insurance or support programs available were not cost-effective for their size of farm.
These predicaments are not unfounded or uncommon. Provincial and federal governments need to consider small farms when developing climate adaptation, mitigation, and crisis recovery support programs.
The Canada-BC Flood Recovery Program for Food Security, announced early February, is headed in the right direction. It makes financial support more accessible across farm sizes and for a wide variety of infrastructure and product losses. When farmers face natural disasters, fast recovery is essential for the survival of their farm and local food economies.
We believe this kind of program flexibility should be replicated across the country to address climate-change related events. Beyond funds, such government programs need larger workforces to swiftly communicate and to ensure all farmers can get needed help no matter their farm size.
More universal programs that benefit farmers are needed to fill the gaps in farm support programs. The precarity and unpredictability of a livelihood that is dependent on the environment cannot be understated. As price takers, bowing to the whims of the market for inputs and outgoing products, farmers would benefit immensely from a universal basic income (UBI). By redistributing resources, UBI benefits everyone and gives small scale farmers an opportunity to increase their resilience in the face of climate change. This boost would help to ensure the viability of land-based livelihoods and could diminish barriers to entry for those looking to farming as a career option. On my (Rebecca’s) small farm, UBI would alleviate some degree of economic stress and increase my capacity to make sustainable growth and adaptation to climate change my top priorities.
Farming is often unfairly deemed unskilled labour. The high intensity seasonal nature of the work means that it is both physically and mentally taxing. It is an injustice that people who work hard to produce Canada’s food supply are often unable to have economic dignity. For equity to be achieved in our food system, all farmers and farm labourers need access to UBI.
Farmworkers and small-scale producers are falling through the cracks of existing agricultural support systems. Together, UBI and flexible climate-related crisis support programs for farmers and farm workers will mend the holes in our safety net as storms become more frequent, weather more severe, and workers – and our food supply – more vulnerable.
Rebecca MacInnis, Farmer
Heather Beach, Farm worker