Industry in crisis

Jason Malloy
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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."

Organizations: Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture

Geographic location: TRURO, Nova Scotia, Cumberland County

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Recent comments

  • dave
    March 01, 2010 - 14:40

    i would like to spend a couple hundred bucks a year on local produce but the county is going to take that money out of my pocket to build an arena - oh well, they know best don't they.

  • Samuel
    March 01, 2010 - 14:39

    Farmers should look into Organic Farming; there is certainly a premium price commanded for food raised naturally, as it was originally intended.

    We've become addicted to cheap food, which is not cheap in the long run at all.
    Cheap food is made with carcinogenic chemicals and genetically modified organisms. Increases in cancers of all kinds are the result, which means expensive health care and drug costs
    (which ultimately fail to halt the cancers anyway). Cheap food ain't so cheap.

    Another option is for people to manage their food needs themselves: raise a few chickens, have a small breed milking cow, plant a garden and store vegetables in a root cellar.

    Support small farmers, or maybe even become one yourself!

  • It's a shame
    March 01, 2010 - 14:39

    It's sad to see local framers struggling. Just look at Jim Lorraine's operation in North River. If people would pay a decent price for home grown meat and produce, the Riverbreeze market might able able to turn a profit.