Darrel H. Plaunt was an agricultural economist who took advantage of his intimate knowledge of small farm management to build a national data collection and management system based on individual farm records to provide sound financial decision making throughout the industry.
He was instrumental in the creation and development of CANFARM while at the University of Guelph from 1962 to 1969. He then persuaded provincial and federal governments to establish a Small Farm Development Program to aid the kind of farm he had known as a child. Building on these two initiatives, he inspired the creation of the National Farm Level Data Base, and provided farm data models to assist in creating effective and efficient policy and program development. Finally in the early-90s he inspired Project 75. With this, Agriculture and Agri-food Canada hired 45 new agricultural economists who learned how to use these tools and spread throughout the industry to lead various sectors to take advantage of them.
Animal and Crop Science had long been major programs at universities in Canada, but farm management lagged far behind. Funding was inadequate. Dr. Plaunt sought and found funding for farm management research and instruction. Agricultural Extension Agents, Farm Credit Canada, and the banks gained excellent new data and models upon which to base their work. CANFARM gave farmers a program to aid their record-keeping, and gave the financial advisors much better information to assist those farmers in their application of sound farm management practices.
Dr. Plaunt moved from Guelph to Ottawa to become director of Farm and Rural Development, a federal-provincial program. His background growing up on a marginal farm in New Liskeard gave him the broad understanding needed to assist small farmers to re-finance, modify or improve their farms, or if necessary, make the transition to non-farm employment.
Federal policy and programs had been developed based on aggregate data. Dr. Plaunt recognized in the late-80s that the farm level data with which he worked from CANFARM could be used to dramatically improve the impact of such policies on the kind of farms he saw in the Small Farm Development Program. What was needed was a Farm Level Data Base. Utilizing the quantitative analysis skills he had gained at Purdue in the mid ‘70s, he led in the establishment of the Farm Taxation Data Project, the Farm Finance Survey, and the Commodity Cost of Production Data, all of which have been key tools for policy analysts in Canada since the early ‘90s.
These kinds of programs are now used widely in the OECD and much of the pioneering work can be traced back to Dr. Plaunt. His Project 75 ensured that there were 45 well-trained agricultural economists to implement the benefits of the FLDB not only at AAFC where they were hired, but elsewhere as they spread out through the industry.
Those who worked with Dr. Plaunt point out that he could never have accomplished so much had he not had the enthusiasm, passion, persistence, humanity, empathy, and unassuming nature they saw in him.