Farmers gather at AGM, voice concerns over struggling agriculture industry
Industry in crisis
TRURO - Nova Scotia farmers' operating margins are shrinking, debt loans are growing, farmers are getting older and there are less of them.
"I believe we are in a crisis situation in primary agriculture," Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture president Richard Melvin wrote in his annual report.
"High debt loads, narrow to negative operating margins, and an aging farm operator population set the stage for a virtual meltdown of agriculture, as we know it, if we do not take corrective action on an immediate (one to two year) basis coupled with a longer term vision."
The federation's annual two-day general meeting concludes today in Truro.
On Tuesday, the future of the industry was discussed by many of those attending. The story is similar to past years, but time is running out.
"There's got to be something done to put more money in the farmers' pockets or they're not going to be here," Stewiacke dairy farmer Havey Whidden said. "If a lot of things don't happen to improve the situation on a lot of farms we're going to lose a lot of farms in the next little while."
The sectors that are hurting the most are pork and beef.
Melvin said the federation is trying to chart a course for a better future, while recognizing time is not on their side.
"We have to move at lightning speed in comparison to the way we normally conduct business in terms of planning and policy and strategy," he said.
"These things sometimes can take years literally to go from an embryo of an idea to something that's implemented. We don't have that luxury at this point."
Some in the crowd are interested to see what a majority NDP government can do to assist the farming community.
"What we have to ask them is, 'Are you willing to stand up for agriculture? ... Are you willing to change things so the primary producer can survive in this province?'" said Cumberland County's Doug Bacon.
Premier Darrell Dexter and Agriculture Minister John MacDonell addressed the crowd but no new funding was announced. The department is working on a 10-year strategy for the industry and MacDonell even talked about adding "a handful" of staff to his department.
"It's going to be tough. It's going to be a major sell to treasury, but look, our department took a big hit in 2000 when minister (Ernie) Fage cut extension services, (and) we've had no great jump in funding here," he said.
"This is not going to bankrupt the province to add additional staff for this and it's dollars well spent."
MacDonell said he is optimistic for the industry's future, adding he has had positive meetings with the retailers and restaurant association about buying local products.
"There's one thing that people in Nova Scotia do three times a day and that's eat," MacDonell said. "We have a ready market and we want to be promoting high-quality, healthy food at a reasonable price."