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Photo Essay

The Canadian Family Farm

Mark Spowart, London, Canada, March 12, 2007

Yellow Gold is a family run grain and oilseed farm located in Parkhill, Ontario. It has been owned and operated by the Willemse family for three generations. During its existence, the farm has endured droughts, floods, disease, infestation, and anything else Mother Nature has thrown at it. And, in a farming history that is as old as Canada itself, it has survived, and grown. However like many other family-run farms in Canada, the future is uncertain. Today's farmer faces a new foe, and it is one that can adapt to new circumstances. This new enemy is not an insect or exotic virus, but rather the U.S. Farm Bill. In this picture Rick Willemse is followed by his youngest son Matt into a field of soybeans. (Photo: Mark Spowart)

The Canadian family farm has fed a nation. It has provided lifesaving grain, wheat and corn to Third World countries during time of war, famine and political unrest. The Canadian family farm is as old as Canada itself. This long and treasured icon of Canadiana has provided a lifestyle and vocation for large percentage of the population and now it is at risk of becoming extinct, the victim of cheap foreign producers and the U.S. Farm Bill.

While farm product supply has increased, demand remained the same resulting in downward pressure on the price of Canadian crops. Enter the United States government, asserting its commitment to American farmers to remain competitive against other players.

On Jan. 9, the Associated Press reported that the Canadian government claimed the following through the World Trade Organization (W.T.O.): "Canada has lodged a W.T.O. complaint against the United States over what it claims are illegal government handouts to American corn growers and is challenging whether the billions of dollars in overall farm subsidies paid out by the U.S. government comply with international commerce rules."

The complaint went on to say: "The United States has been providing subsidies to its agricultural producers that create unfair market advantages. … The specific complaint on corn concerns some $9 billion paid out by the U.S. annually in export credit guarantees and other subsidies that Ottawa says unfairly and illegally deflate prices."

"These U.S. subsidies continue to cause economic harm to our corn farmers," said Canadian Agriculture Minister Chuck Strahl. All of this from a government who returned to power after a 12-year absence, and who ran on improving relations with The United States.

This story is as much about politics as it is about economics. However hanging in the balance is the Canadian farmer and a traditional way of life that is truly being threatened. Canadian farmers call it the "Generational Gap," it is real, and it is looming.

Finding visitors. After close inspection, Simon finds a leaf beetle that enjoys the green leaves but usually does little damage to the actual soybean crop. (Photo: Mark Spowart)


With planting completed, Rick (left), Brian (middle) and Simon check on their wheat crop that was planted during the previous fall's harvest. Each year a different crop is planted in a different field from the last. This rotation, and more importantly the timing of the rotation, is being researched to see how it effects the following crop's yield. (Photo: Mark Spowart)


Simon checks on the health of their corn crop. Yellow Gold plants different varieties of corn, and a result only a portion of their crop was affected by "Vomitoxin." "I was lucky," said Rick, "two-thirds of our crop was clean." (Photo: Mark Spowart)


A field of soybeans at dusk. (Photo: Mark Spowart)

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