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Farmers don't get much bread from bread

Survey finds share of profits often small

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/8/2011 (2194 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

SPARE some change for a Prairie farmer?

Turns out, every loaf of bread you buy does just that: About five per cent of the price tag on grain products such as bread -- a dime or two, at supermarket prices -- winds up in the pockets of producers, according to a new survey that seeks to teach Manitobans about the "farmer's share."

"The hope is that (consumers) will become more aware about the farmer's share in the value chain and the need to improve the portion which is returned to the farm gate," said Keystone Agricultural Producers president Doug Chorney, unveiling the Farmer's Share project at a Forks Market press conference on Monday.

This is the fourth year that KAP, a Manitoba farm advocacy group, has banded together with its counterparts in Alberta and Saskatchewan to commission the report. The survey checks prices on common grocery items against how much farmers make for selling their produce up the food-supply chain.

This time around, the report took special aim at finding the share specifically for Prairie farmers. Instead of evaluating prices at one grocery store, as was standard in previous years, report author Alma Kennedy surveyed three. And instead of including produce that isn't grown in Manitoba -- such as peaches or lemons -- the retired University of Manitoba agricultural researcher zeroed in on the costs of hearty Prairie fare, such as potatoes, onions, oatmeal and meat.

The result are numbers that are "more relevant" to Manitobans, Kennedy said. "(It shows that) the dollars you spend, more goes to the farmer if you buy groceries from nearby, with minimal processing," she noted.

There are myriad factors that go into retail food costs, from the cost of transportation to the cost of processing raw ingredients into a shelf-ready form.

This year's farmer's-share results show a big spread in what percentage of the price tag goes back into the farm: Dairy farmers, who sell most of their products close to home with minimal processing, earn about half the retail price of a jug of milk.

But grain farmers, whose produce is often shipped long distances to be milled and eventually baked into bread or pasta, get only a fraction of that. Chorney hinted closing that gap -- for instance, by attracting some new processing plants for grain-based foods -- could help ensure consumers' money stays with Manitoba farmers. "More value-added processing in the market area would be advantageous," he said. "We certainly hear from our membership that they're interested in (that)."

True, the report doesn't delve into the deep and muddy waters of farm finances: For instance, it doesn't include data about the profit margins of the types of agriculture surveyed. Nor does it say much about how the flooding has wiped out years of income for many farmers in southern Manitoba and the Interlake, or how the Canadian Wheat Board impacts prices on grain.

But whittling out that type of data isn't necessarily the point of the project -- or of the associated transit-ad campaign, which features a picture of a chunk of bread with a tiny bite missing. The real goal of the report, Kennedy said, is to get the public thinking about where their food dollars wind up.

"What this shows is if you buy, for instance, oranges, Prairie farmers aren't getting any share," she said. "If you value farmers and value control over quality, you might make choices that can bring that share up. And if you can do something to help farmers, please, do it."

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Read more by Melissa Martin.

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