Agriculture and technologies, the existential dilemma of the Hutterites

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Agriculture and technology , the existential dilemma of the Huttérites

David Hofer worries that technology will become indispensable in the management of his land.

The Hutterite colonies thrive, especially in the agricultural industry. However, this religious sect faces a delicate choice. The technology, essential for their large-scale agricultural activities, puts their unique way of life at risk. Visit to an Alberta community where cameras are not welcome.

Like every lunchtime, in the colony of White Lake, south of Lethbridge, the whole community gathers to eat in the refectory. The room is divided in two, the women on the left, the men on the right.

Everyone knows their task. They cook and do the dishes. They have dinner, then go to work. The clothes worn are made on site and the meals are made with products from their farm.

More than 80 people live in houses stuck one after the other, and are part of 19 Anabaptist Christian families whose main language is German.

They are unique, says John Lehr, professor emeritus of geography at the University of Winnipeg, who has studied nearly 40 colonies. It is the longest-lived community society in the world.

Some colonies allow smart phones only to its officials. Others, more progressive, give it to teenagers from 15 years old. Internet access is then very limited.

Following the precepts of their religion dating back to the 16th century, the Hutterites all live in community, withdrawn from the world, have only one community bank account and have one main activity: agriculture.

David Hofer, secretary and treasurer of the colony, is among the senior members who have the right to an all-terrain vehicle to get around. Wheat, potatoes, pigs or chickens: the farm covers 8000 hectares.

If their clothes look like they belong in ancient times, their tractors and harvesters follow the latest trends.

You can't run a farm without a computer or phone these days. This helps us better understand the state of our land and easily communicate with each other if there is a problem at the other end of the colony, says David Hofer.

The White Lake settlement spans 8000 hectares.

They may want to live outside society, but their agricultural activities are linked to the global market. Their potatoes end up in Korea and McDonald's. Their chickens and pigs are sold in major grocery stores. They experience the same difficulties as other farmers.

We have to work harder than before and diversify, says David Hofer. His colony began growing corn and lentils to offset the rising price of fertilizer, gasoline, and electricity.

Even though their figure business is down 15% in 10 years, this community is doing well, financially, like most settlements, according to Simon Evans, an adjunct professor of geography at the University of Calgary who wrote an article in 2019 on the importance of hutterites in agriculture.

Hutterite agriculture in Alberta is thriving. This trend is expected to continue over the next two decades. There will be more colonies and they will be bigger, writes Simon Evans.

According to provincial agribusiness organizations, Hutterites produce 80% of the eggs, 40% of the pork, 25% milk and 20% Alberta chicken.

Hutterites make up only a fraction of 1% of the population, but they have more than 4% of the farmland, says Ian MacLachlan, professor emeritus of geography at the University of Lethbridge. They are very successful in running agricultural businesses.

One ​​of the reasons for this success is because of their unique operation. From the age of 15, Hutterites in Alberta leave school and go to work. No one receives a salary, but all are fed, clothed and housed for free until they die.

They work for the good of their community and the glory of God. Everyone's respect is earned through the work ethic. It's an efficient, dedicated and flexible workforce, says John Lehr.

We're like one big family, says Peter Hofer, plot manager for potatoes. I have only known agriculture in my life, but I love it. We all work towards one common goal: to support our children and the colony.

Following the Ten Commandments to the letter, Hutterites don't like to have their picture taken. They avoid idolatry.

This workforce doesn't take vacations, isn't unionized, and flies under the radar of Employment Standards, the body responsible for compliance with working conditions in Alberta.

It is not free labour, assures David Hofer. We take care of them, we build housing for them. Houses cost more to build than 10 years ago.

Are they therefore more profitable than other farms? No, according to Scott Dickson, accountant of nearly 280 colonies in the country at the firm MNP. He points out that Hutterites must always put money aside in order to open new communities. When a settlement reaches 150 people, the rule is that another is created to accommodate half of them.

Like all farming operations, profits decrease over time, says Scott Dickson. Land is becoming more expensive to buy. Their return on investment is low, from 2% to 4% in good years.

To face competition, the colonies invest massively in modernized tractors, a necessary evil. The presence of computers and the Internet in some colonies does not bode well for their future, according to John Hofer, pastor and leader of White Lake Colony.

I am very afraid of the excesses that technology can have on our young people. The devil hides there and tries to remove them from our way of life, but I pray everyday to protect them, says the patriarch.

At 85, John Hofer is proud to belong to a religious group that is still present despite the persecutions experienced in Europe and the United States before immigrating from the United States to Canada in 1918.

David Hofer, his son, shares this fear. Young people can spend too much time there and find anything there instead of working in the fields. One day, technology will take over the world, he fears.

The Hutterites have nevertheless learned to adapt to globalization. Colonies are branching out into new industries, such as making high-end doors or windows, sectors that require less land to buy.

According to Patrick Murphy, of the Gameo website , and George Tschetter of Hutterites.org, their numbers continue to grow in Canada, where the majority of them live. Half of Canada's 40,000 Hutterites carry on their traditions from Alberta lands.

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