Here in South Bruce, there may be nothing we feel more strongly about than farming. Whether you’re a farmer, grew up on a farm, worked on a farm, or just marvelled at the perseverance of your farming neighbours, most of us have a fondness and a deep-seated respect for farms and farmers.
First off, farmers feed cities. The tremendous efficiencies they have developed in agricultural production has helped to ensure that we all enjoy an affordable supply of excellent food.
Farmers are risk takers and smart business people. Many of them started from very humble beginnings, with 100 acres and a barn mortgaged to the hilt, and have “pulled themselves up” by the proverbial bootstraps.
Farmers tend to work all the time. They don’t get weekends off, and the workday doesn’t end at 5PM. It ends when the weather changes, or when the crop is in, or when the cows are milked and put to bed. And there still may be chores to do after that.
Farmers work in a dangerous, high-stakes business. It’s not enough that their injury rates are higher than almost any other business. At any point during the year, a simple change in the weather – a late frost, a heavy rain that floods freshly-planted fields, a 6-week summer drought, too much rain during Fall harvest – can wipe hundreds of thousands of dollars off the balance sheet in a heartbeat.
Farmers care about the land. Farmers will argue, debate and disagree about various methods – feedlot vs. pasture, parlour vs. tie stalls, angus vs. simmental, organic vs. conventional, moldboard plowing vs low-till, GMO or no-GMO. But I have yet to meet a farmer who didn’t consider himself or herself a steward of the land, or who didn’t think he or she was doing the best he or she could for the land and the animals.
The proposed DGR in South Bruce has been carefully planned for more than a decade, and we’re told that if the process goes ahead, the careful planning, approvals and further checkpoints will continue for at least another 13 years before a shovel ever hits the ground. That may seem like a long time to some of us, but not to the area’s farmers. Some of them have personally been farming the land for 50 or more years. Some were born and raised on the very plot of land that now hosts their operation. Some are the proud heirs in a lineage of 4 or 5 generations of ancestors who farmed the land, going back well into the 1800’s. Farmers have long memories.
When I was a boy, my elder brother went into partnership with my dad and eventually took over the family dairy farm. That was OK with me – I was academically inclined, so I went away to school and got a job in a different line of work. Eventually, I found my way back here to South Bruce and worked in the nuclear industry, where I learned a lot of scientific mumbo-jumbo, and I learned about nuclear waste.
From my vantage point, the plan for the DGR looks (please pardon the expression) “rock solid”. In typical nuclear-industry fashion, they have designed layer upon layer of protection, to make good and sure the nuclear waste gets put away for good, and never gets out. And in my informed opinion, it won’t. Not for a million years.
But right now, some of our farming neighbours are worried. What’s this DGR project going to do to land prices? What will it do to the cost of labour? How much farm land are they really going to take out of production? Will there be a “nuclear” stigma around farm products from South Bruce? Will I lose access to important markets? Will the DGR eventually expand to take over my farm? I’ve spent decades building up this operation, and sunk everything I have. It’s been my family home for generations. Will I be able to pass it on to my children?
I like to think that in South Bruce we know what it means to be neighbours, and we stand together as neighbours.
I believe the DGR is the right thing to do for South Bruce, for Ontario and for Canada. But if we lose a single farm, if a single farmer is forced to give up his or her land unwillingly for whatever reason, I say that would be a dismal failure, and we should not allow it to happen. That’s why I call on the NWMO to ensure that their plan protects each and every farmer, and keeps them farming the land, feeding the cities and prospering, for as long as the rain falls and the sun shines and they choose to keep farming. As residents of this beautiful farming community, we should demand nothing less. And within that context, I continue to encourage all my fellow residents and land-owners of South Bruce – farmers and non-farmers alike – to be part of the solution, and support the DGR in South Bruce.