Food is the new oil

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Dispatches from the 148 by Fred Ryan


Dispatches from the 148 by Fred Ryan

A farmer recently mentioned he has seen in his lifetime the price of Pontiac farmland grow from $200-400 to a contemporary $3,600 to $4,000, per acre. That’s hearsay, but realistic enough to be widely believed. Curiously, at the same time the number of dairy farms (long considered the most viable) has dropped phenomenally – down to the teens. Dairy farming barely counts as an industry in Pontiac; it’s becoming a speciality, a niche, and that’s stunning.
These reports are often met with alarm, even indignation. And for all honourable lovers of the old ways, for history and folklore buffs, they’re dismayed. What we all miss here in our paradise is the exploding world population – we still see unending forest and fields, but that population explosion, while not here, is affecting the Pontiac.
This shift in agriculture is a social movement, a seeming force of history (in our
non-interventionist societies) but there’s a big up-side to this story, benefiting the Pontiac immensely. The positive message is this: if we combine world population growth with the world’s increasing urbanization (and wealth), the result is creating a mounting demand for food and all farm products.
The dates are upon us: by 2030, the world will be increasing by 83 million/year (UN) – that’s adding more than two new Canadas to the world, each year. Population won’t fall (unless there’s war) – it’s growth is based on better health, fewer mortalities and longer life spans, not the birth rate, which is itself falling because it is reducible. So the market for food will clearly boom. 2030 is only 12 years away. Today’s $4,000 an acre isn’t extreme in this context.
This boom will be a stimulus equal in effect to the original demand for our white pine in the 1800s, which resulted in the colonization of our region. Today’s stimulus is better because it’s renewable, continual, and it’ll benefit all Canadian rural areas in various ways, and thus merit government attention.
That’s important because this boom is very climate and weather-dependent. It requires expensive, continual research, and efficient transportation (bin-to-transport). Pontiac has the necessary conditions: sufficient good, accessible land; moderate climate; high work-ethic, a knowledgeable work force; sufficient support services (health-care, environmental control, specialized education, etc.).
Our market is concentrating itself in cities. We’re half urbanized now, and as much as 90% predicted for 2050.  Ninety percent, yes. City people don’t feed themselves. And being concentrated they provide better, cheaper transportation & distribution infrastructure. Cities need our food, and their incomes are rising because that’s where there’s economic activity. Many of these world markets have higher incomes than we expect: oil rich, all-urban Qatar’s annual income per citizen is $105,912. They can afford our meat, grains, and niche products.
Urbanized consumers are better educated and healthier: they eat well, and buy intelligently. They want clean, fresh, high-nutritional quality, non-threatening foods. That’s what we offer! Pontiac has a magical image: rolling fields, forests, rivers and lakes = unquestionable cleanliness, freshness. Who wouldn’t buy food grown or raised in a place like ours (hiding, I guess, any massive radioactive dump, proposed just upstream)?
For farmers who can hang on, and especially who can re-invest in their operations, upgrading virtually everything, the future looks bright indeed. Nothing’s automatic, and Pontiac has work to do: re-investing, I’m told, means on the farm itself, but also in the industry’s public image, its sales efforts. Protecting the farm-land we have – zoning. At present, selling it for condos is the most economical use of land! Time to broaden our outlook? Environmental protection and regulation is essential, no matter how burdensome and expensive, to protect a high-quality food reputation. 
And climate change. Forget the cap-&-trade controversy. Climate change threatens more storms and longer droughts, but mostly it introduces massive chaos & instability into our climate, planning, and growing seasons. These are now our issues.
None of this is rocket science, nor is it difficult to endure. But MRC planning and government support have to be straight up and directly helpful. In a growing world around us, oil may well be on the decline. But eating won’t, and that’s Pontiac’s business. That’s Pontiac’s bright future.