Yesterday saw the first release of 2021 Census of Agriculture data in Canada. A veritable feast of agricultural information is now being served up to the inner statistician in all of us.
This again provided an opportunity to check up on the use of trees on British Columbia (BC) farms for production and conservation. Unfortunately, there are still no statistics gathered to help us determine what management systems are employed on farms. Hence, the numbers presented here represent the use of trees in a blend of conventional horticulture, farm forestry and agroforestry.
Farm Credit Canada’s annual report on farm values revealed soaring farmland costs across the country in 2021. This is good news if you are intending on liquidating your farm holdings. But bad news if you are trying to get started in agriculture and for society as a whole.
Record High Land Costs
Across Canada farmland prices increased by 8.3 percent in 2021. In British Columbia, it was a whopping 18.1 percent rise. And, in some BC regions the jump was even more acute. For example, farmland values in the South Coast region rose by 33.7 percent, and by 28.2 percent in the Cariboo-Chilcotin.
Frank Layden, former coach of the NBA’s Utah Jazz, once recounted a conversation he had with an underperforming player.
I told him, ‘Son, what is it with you? Is it ignorance or apathy?’ He said, ‘Coach, I don’t know, and I don’t care’.
Los Angeles Times, December 10, 1988
And it is the two-headed monster of public ignorance and apathy that creates one of the greatest challenges to agriculture. And, indeed, also for society.
Recently agriculture has been prominent in the news. And rightly so. It is foundational to human health and survival. It is woven into many of our most pressing environmental and socio-economic issues. Yet, move beyond the recent concerns about food inflation and grocery store supply disruptions and very few people seem to care about the viability of Canadian agriculture. Indeed in last fall’s federal election, neither agriculture nor food directly ranked among the top ten voter issues.
So, how do we develop a long-term, supportive public policy for sustainable agriculture? Especially when the majority of the public knows very little about the subject and doesn’t care to learn?
Most of the people I have met in my life have not left an impression. Our encounters now reside in the back corners of my mind as a face or name that is disconnected from where or when we interacted. Others, for better or worse, or sheer volume of discourse, have resonated with me. And then there are a select few, for whom I’m a better person for having known.
Pete Spencer was such a man.
I first met Pete years ago when I facilitated the British Columbia Agroforestry Initiative. He had moved from ranching and logging in Vanderhoof to an acreage in Kelowna. He was planting Christmas trees and was looking for advice and connections. I soon realized that he knew a great deal more about agroforestry than his initial questions implied. And, from this first meeting onwards, I came to know Pete as someone who was humble, wise and giving.