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BC Fruit Growers Association vice-president fears for future food supply

With pressures like climate change, cost of labour and labour shortages, there is growing concern about the future of farming in Canada.
With the ongoing climate crisis, farmers grow concerned about the future of farming.

The vice-president of the BC Fruit Growers Association says he's concerned about the future of farming.

Vernon's Jeet Dukhia lists multiple pressures on farming that have the next generation questioning the career path. Those include climate change, heat domes, floods, Arctic freezes, the labour shortage, cost of labour, and meagre returns.

But, he's still bullish on orcharding, for now.

The last agricultural census found 75 per cent of farms will change hands in the next decade, yet only eight per cent of Canada’s farmers have a transition plan.

The situation has even prompted the creation of a national Farm Transition Appreciation Day, which is set for Jan. 11. Now in its second year, the day is being promoted to encourage farmers to think about the future.

And that is a future that has Dukhia worried.

While he says his own children are interested in carrying on the family business, as are many, they also have one eye on the door.

"It's a very sad situation," Dukhia said Wednesday.

He's been farming for almost 40 years and says there is no one new coming along to fill the void left by those getting out of farming.

"Some are lucky their children are getting into it and will follow on," he said.

"But it is a tough situation ... we've had the heat dome, flooding in some parts of the province, the labour shortage. This past year, all my labour was local, people who have other jobs helping out. Normally, there is labour that comes from across Canada.

"We have farmers bringing people from Jamaica and Mexico because they can't get the help."

Dukhia says governments need to offer incentives to get into farming, as are offered in other industries.

Otherwise, he says, retiring farmers and offspring who don't take on the farm may endanger Canada's food supply.

Dukhia estimates 70 to 80 per cent of farmers will end up passing on the farm to the next generation, even if they don't have a transition plan, and 20 to 30 per cent will sell off, leaving a big food production gap.

Combined with the effects of climate change, the increasing price of land and labour, he fears "supply and safety of our food" will be the industry's "biggest concern of the next 10 years."

"If we ignore our farms, we will pay the price," he said. "I am scared what will happen to our food supply."

Farm Transition Appreciation Day was created to share advice and best practices. Speaking events are planned across the country.

"Now, more than ever, we need to focus on our wins and share best practices on how to do succession well," says Maggie Van Camp, BDO’s national agricultural practice development leader. "More importantly, we need to celebrate our generational farm families, who are the resilient and strong cornerstone of this country."

Heather Watson, executive director of Farm Management Canada, said: "FTADay is not only a celebration; it is a call to action.... The New Year is the perfect time to reflect on the positive steps farmers have taken to not only secure their own legacy but help ensure the continuity of Canada's agricultural excellence through effective planning."

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