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News 2011

Latest Market News 2011

posted August 5, 2011

Farmers' Costs to Attend Toronto Markets

Vendor sales can range from $100/market for small-scale city-based vendors to several thousand per day for larger produce farms at peak season. In general, it is not considered economically viable for a farmer to come into the city for sales of less than $1,000, but many farmers have made investments in developing customer bases at small or new markets in Toronto where sales are lower, counting on longer-term success. While higher sales numbers can sound like a lot of profit, here are some things to bear in mind:

For produce farms, production costs (seeds, fertilizers and soil amendments (organic or conventional), irrigation equipment, machinery & repairs, temperature-controlled storage/washing/packing facilities, insurance, interest on farm loans, on-farm labour for cultivating, planting, weeding, harvesting, etc.) make up about 70% of the final price of produce at market.

For meat farms, sales volume is generally lower than for produce, and production costs are somewhat different, for example: a year of labour, fencing, shelter, veterinary and feed costs to raise calves to maturity, shipping and butchering costs ($45/animal plus approximately .45/lb to cut and wrap), staff to stay behind feeding animals. In the end, the total is again about 70% of the retail price at market.

So, for each $1,000 in sales, a farmer has $300 to cover all 'going-to-market' costs. These include:

1) Time (not including harvest, washing and packing in crates): in addition to market hours, 1.5 to two hours loading and unloading the truck on-farm, on average two hours travel at each end, plus 1.5 setup and .5 cleanup at the market, so a 4 hour market takes approximately 12 hours labour for two or more people. (Estimating the cost to the farm of having the farmer absent at peak season is harder.)

2) Gas and vehicle wear & tear: current estimates for a truck are .75-$1/km travelled, so for even the closest farms, over $100/market in travel round-trip. For farmers coming in from Niagara/Prince Edward County and other areas farther from Toronto, costs are substantially higher.

3) Equipment and supplies: tents, tables, signs, weigh scales, hand trucks, other display equipment, coolers and ice if needed, baskets, bags

4) Fees: markets charge about $25/week in table fees (or sometimes more) to each vendor to cover insurance, permit fees, some promotion, at-market equipment and manager/support staff time. Most farms also pay an extra premium on their own insurance to cover them at market.

Markets typically run for about 22 weeks, though some continue through the winter, with lower sales volume. Whatever the farmer earns at peak season must cover their expenses for much longer, and provide a buffer against crop failures; as well, for every top-notch day (eg/ peak of strawberry season) there will be slower ones, including days when inclement weather results in poor customer turnout but expenses must still be covered.

Why do they come? Farmers may work out an overall plan (participating in two markets in different parts of the city by dropping product and family/staff at one and attending the other, balancing production for a CSA (weekly box share program) with sales at markets, using direct sales as an alternative to the collapse in opportunity that occurred following mad-cow fears, combining deliveries to stores or restaurants with a trip to market...) that helps to reduce the risks and makes attending markets more viable. They also value the direct feedback, interaction and promotional value of markets. However, after calculating their expenses, it is easy to see that farmers must manage all aspects of their operations expertly to make a profit, and any trend towards higher costs would make it impossible to earn a living.

Toronto Farmers' Market Network, August 2011

From Lorenz Eppinger, Greenfields Organic Farm: Please send to your federal MP and pass on to others before Feb 8.

(This letter came from Arnold Taylor, President of the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate. He has been a major supporter of two Saskatchewan farmers' plight against the major corporation Monsanto.)

I strongly urge you to vote in favour of Bill C-474, an Act respecting the Seeds Regulations (analysis of potential harm) on February 9, 2011 and to speak during the debate on the bill on February 8, 2011. The text of the bill is as follows:

An Act respecting the Seeds Regulations (analysis of potential harm) Her Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate and House of Commons of Canada, enacts as follows:
1. This Act may be cited as the Seeds Regulations Act.
2. The Governor in Council shall, within 60 days after this Act comes into force, amend the Seeds Regulations to require that an analysis of potential harm to export markets be conducted before the sale of any new genetically engineered seed is permitted.

Bill C-474 is needed in order to protect all farmers, organic and non-organic alike, from the market impacts of genetically engineered crops. Had Bill C-474 been in place prior to the release of genetically engineered canola, we might still be able to grow certified organic canola on the Prairies, and Europeanís might still be purchasing Canadian canola and canola meal. All flax farmers might have been spared the millions of dollars of losses caused by the GE Triffid flax contamination crisis. Canadian alfalfa growers are very concerned about losing their best export markets as a result of the contamination that would surely happen if GE alfalfa is approved for sale in Canada, as it recently was in the USA. Market losses that would result from contamination if GE wheat were introduced would be in the billions of dollars. Future genetically engineered crops are predicted to contain industrial traits for biofuel feedstocks and drugs for pharmaceutical crops. Contamination of our food plants with these traits would most certainly damage, or even destroy markets for Canadian food crops.

Canadian farmers should be protected from market impacts of GE contamination of their fields and farms so they can contribute to providing the kind of wholesome, non-genetically engineered food that the public at home and in our export markets are increasingly demanding.

Please stand with Canadian farmers and consumers and support this important bill.


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