This is a difficult question to tackle. The key trends at the present time are both external and internal.
International competition. External trends point to ongoing agricultural subsidies in many parts of the world, which, unless countervailing subsidies are provided in Canada, result in disincentives for productive farming operations.
Emerging markets may bring about major shifts in production of certain products and affect the viability of growing such products locally. For example China is rapidly becoming a world leader in the production of pears and apples, which has implications for the Ontario fruit industry. Balanced against that is an international crisis with water. At a lecture entitled Water Pollution and Environment given at Guelph University in 2000 the following comments were made:
The problem is that much of this groundwater use is not sustainable. Again we didn't realize the extent to which we were moving into an unsustainable situation until the last 5 or 10 years, on this large scale. If you look at any of the major agricultural regions in the world that currently depend on irrigation, and depend on groundwater for that irrigation, you find that farmers are pumping more water out than nature is putting back in. As a result water tables are dropping steadily beneath the land. Farmers are having to pump ever deeper to get the water out. This is the case in the Punjab of India, which is a major source of rice and wheat for India. It's also the case in China's north plain, which supports 40% of China's grain production, and it's the case in much of the Western United States. The Ogalalla Aquifer is essentially a non-renewable type resource. If you pump water out, very little is going in, particularly in the portion that underlies Texas. The California Central Valley provides half of all the fruits and vegetables that we eat in the United States, but heavy overpumping of groundwater is required to produce these fruits and vegetables. You see this problem of hydrologic deficit financing in North Africa, the Middle East, and anywhere you look. It's essentially drawing water down today to meet food needs today, and basically taking away some of tomorrow's supply. It is a big red flag for food security. Given the best data I could find, I've estimated that as much as 5 to 10% of our food supply today depends on this unsustainable use of groundwater. This means that 5 to 10% of the world's food supply isn't really that reliable over the long term, because you can't overpump groundwater indefinitely.8
Canada and the Central Ontario Zone have an accessible, sustainable supply of water. With climate change and the lack of sustainable water supplies in other parts of the world, maintaining a strong agricultural base where there are the resources for it to continue in the long term, seems prudent.
Scale of operation. Trends related to the scale of operation are changing. Farm operators are running larger farm operations, operations that may be separated from each other by significant distances. This trend allows for economies of scale in the use of equipment, but creates fragmented operations that are more diffic ult to manage and supervise. Services such as custom work become less accessible as fragmentation grows.
Farming on rented land. The increasing trend to rental land in the zone is of concern. Renting land is a disincentive to making the capital investments required to improve and maintain the land. Short-term leases discourage farmers from making the significant investments of time and money required to properly maintain land or to cultivate crops that take longer to come into production.
Legislative requirements. Lack of understanding about farm management practices, and perceptions of environmental problems at the farm can generate a complicated legislative response. This in turn increases the cost and complexity of farming and can accelerate retirements or decisions to leave farming. The Nutrient Management Act, for example, is extremely onerous for small operators. The agricultural community is concerned that its implementation will render small livestock operations uneconomic.
Aging of the work force. The rising age of farmers and the lack of incentive for the next generation to enter the industry is a concern. While fewer are doing more on larger parcels, there still needs to be a work force to carry on.