Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Feeling like a misunderstood teenager

I've been trying to get my 2009 taxes done since about mid-January because I'm eager to get my Farm Business Registration Number (FBRN). You need to prove to Agricorp a minimum of $7000 gross farm income before they'll issue an FBRN. So I went online and downloaded every tax form that I thought might apply to me and started to organize my numbers. Of all the forms I downloaded, the only ones that had not been updated for 2009 yet were the farm business forms (exactly the one I needed to get my FBRN). Of course, I didn't notice the 2008 year until after I had filled everything out. And when I called the Canada Revenue Agency to ask for an updated form, I was told that it was more than a month away from being available and I could be mailed one when they were ready. Well, it's St. Patrick's Day now, and I still haven't received any forms in the mail, though supposedly they're now available on-line. Which means either I wait for the government mailing I requested, or I go somewhere with high speed internet to download them, and then find a printer to print them out with. As a self-employed person, I have until June 15 to file my taxes...but I have to pay any income tax owing by April 30, so the later date seems ridiculous to me. Not to mention that if the government owes me tax money, I want to get that back as soon as possible! Plus, I'm getting into outdoor farm mode so my personal window for getting my tax paperwork done is rapidly closing.

Going through the exercise of filling out (the wrong year's) farm tax form has been highly frustrating for me, as reading the definition of each line just emphasized how much the government doesn't understand, or seem to care about, small scale, high value, farming. Have you ever actually read any of the tax guides from cover to cover? Well, I've essentially done that with both the farm business and regular business tax guides. And I can't figure out how the government 'helps farmers'. Granted, intellectually, I don't believe that the government even notices me in the least, but subconsciously, I have the mistaken expectation that the government helps farmers. In fact, judging by how many people have asked me if I've been getting any government grants, many Canadians assume that the government doles out money to farmers like candy. Somewhere in my almost 35 years of being born and raised a Canadian, I've been indoctrinated with that idea too. Well, let me clear that up for you...as far as I my experience goes so far, government (at whatever level you'd like) absolutely does not dole out money to small farmers. Large agri-business...well, that's another matter...they have the scale to spend big money, thereby making big money, so they access corporate tax credits. In my case, I can't even benefit from all my non-refundable tax credits. It was supremely frustrating to me to realize that the so called 'Home Renovation Tax Credit' (thanks for nothing Harper) is completely useless to me, because I didn't make enough net income this year to offset it. And, my first year business loss isn't actually large enough to carry back to previous years to claim back any tax dollars from my higher income years, even though I've spent more hard cash into the Canadian economy this year, then probably my entire life combined until now. Sure, I can defer some of my business expenses into future years to use when the farm generates more income, but considering that my personal income will never be in the 6 figure range, I can't imagine I really need to keep snowballing my business expenses into the future. What I want (which seems like a pipe dream), is to claim back previous year tax dollars, since it's the savings from all my years of corporate work that are paying all these farm start up expenses now.

My goal for organic vegetable production is to gross $20,000 in vegetable sales for each acre in production. For this to be possible, I need to manage my land over the long-term for health and fertility so that I can grow high quality vegetables at a good volume, and I need to be efficient in my production and marketing to maximize the prices of my vegetables. I am not growing a supply managed product, or acres of a single crop, or selling to wholesalers. I don't, and in fact, can't, buy crop insurance, or hedge on future prices by selling forward contracts. I have no need for any heavy equipment beyond my rototiller (which is the Ferrari of rototillers... really...BCS is a Ferrari brand). In the long term, the only inputs I'll be bringing onto the farm will be seeds, as I will be addressing any fertility issues with growing green cover crops/manures, as well as applying composted sheep and goat manure from the flock that will eventually be here. Reading the farm tax guide and realizing how much in there doesn't apply to me in the least, because I am not practicing what I term 'industrial' farming, makes me want to lash out like a teenager. It's like the government doesn't consider me to be a farmer at all.

What's better for Ontario's long-term food security? Many small to medium scale farmers where each farm can grow enough food to feed hundreds of families each year? A handful of large corporations who export the monocrops they grow in Canada to the rest of the world? Large food processors who statistically inevitably kill people with their food products because of their large factory scale? Imported food from other countries with lower environmental and human rights standards than our own country, and that has to travel large distances to get to us? Of course not any one of these by themselves is the solution, but it seems to me like Canada has all its food eggs in the basket of just a few large corporations. With so little diversity in the food production arena, a glitch in production for just one of these corporations means Canadians could be without food. And what are these possible glitches? High oil prices? Listeriosis? Salmonella? Contaminated fillers? Hmmm...wonder if those happen that often ;P

I went to a few government workshops this winter, trying to figure out where all the candy money is, if it even exists. I met a lot of struggling industrial farmers in the process and drove by many acres of land used for export grain production or cattle grazing, or in the hands of 'cottagers'. Grain growers make net a few hundred dollars per acre in good years, and cattle have been netting zero or less for a number of years. And these products aren't even really feeding Canadians anyway as they're mostly for export. What would it take to grow vegetables for the local market instead? Manual labour, and lots of it. That most maligned of all forms of labour.

Our society currently values white collar jobs and looks down on manual work. Coming from the white collar world I can absolutely state that I am healthier and happier farming my own land than spending 8 to 10 hours a day at my computer, buying take out food for lunch while shopping with co-workers and drinking a Tim Horton's double double on a regular basis. My intellectual labour all those years went to increase the profit of already rich people. The big raises and bonuses never really went to the average white collar worker, but rather to upper management. And so the divide between top and bottom increases, and all the white collar workers scurrying in the middle income range complain about their jobs, bosses and commutes...but it's all worth it because they make good money that pays for their lifestyles. Can you imagine if our society valued the labour of farming at least at the same level as your average white collar office job? Where farmers didn't have to work an off-farm job to be able to afford to grow the food that white collar workers buy from the grocery store? Maybe the number of small scale farmers would start growing instead of declining at a rate that means there will only be a handful (and by a handful, I'm guessing maybe 500 in all of Ontario, and that might be generous) of small scale farmers left in the next 10 years. Kids...ask your parents if they'd support your move into farming...disgruntled office worker, consider if you'd rather work in a field than in an office if that were economically feasible?

Well, I guess this is my teenage lash out at the government...or society...or at manual labour snobbery...or at large agribusiness. I don't really have much bite in the end ;P But that's ok, because if everything goes to hell in a hand basket one day, I've got food, water and shelter. Hopefully I won't have to defend it against white collar hordes ;P