Innovation key, but so is small-scale, diversified farming


Automated milking systems, data-collecting drones, solar panels, wind machines — the innovations cropping up in agriculture are as endless as the chores on the farm. These innovations, as Niagara Region staff learned last week, are key in keeping farms relevant in a society that is ever changing.

Innovation may be a key to success, but it’s not the only one.

During a tour of Ravensbergen & Sons Ltd. Grenhouse in Smithville last week, one stop on a tour of area farms organized by the Niagara North Federation of Agriculture, West Lincoln Mayor Doug Joyner made the comment that farmers need to either “go big, or go home” if they want to succeed. But bigger isn’t always better.

There is a role for the small farm (and the United Nations would agree) but government regulations handcuff their abilities to truly feed their local economies.

Quebec’s Jean-Martin Fortier has proven that small-scale, organic farming can be a profitable venture. Fortier and his wife Maude-Helene Desroches gross more than $140,000 a year on their 1.5-acre Les Jardins de la Grelinette farm which feeds 200-plus families.

Fortier is able to go about his farming with very little red tape. There are few restrictions on vegetable growing but for those who want to focus their efforts on livestock, there are many hurdles in their path.

The amount of animals a farmer is allowed to raise is controlled by a quota system. Quota, if you are unfamiliar with it, is a pretty big expense for someone just getting their feet wet in the farming industry. It’s basically a licence issued by the various governing bodies — Chicken Farmers of Ontario, Dairy Farmers of Ontario, Beef Farmers of Ontario etc. — that allow a farmer the privilege of producing and marketing a certain amount of livestock.

A farmer who wants to raise meat birds, for example, must have at least 14,000 units of quota. Buying those units comes with a hefty price tag: $1.75 million.

That doesn’t mean they can’t produce broilers. They can produce 300 a year — nowhere near enough to earn a living, even if they sell out of all 300 birds at a price of $5-plus a pound — without quota. The Turkey Farmers of Ontario has an even bigger stronghold on the market. Non-quota holding farmers can raise a maximum of 50 a year — that’s why it is so hard to find a free-range, organic bird for your Thanksgiving table.

The Chicken Farmers of Ontario have come up with a few new programs to help meet the demand for local food. The Artisanal Chicken program is one of them. This new program would allow farmers to raise between 600 and 3,000 chickens through a production license. Eligible farmers won’t have to buy quota, but they will have to pay a 20-cent per chick fee for their annual license and levies of 3.6 cents and 1.2 cents per chick to the both the CFO and Chicken Farmers of Canada respectively. There are also rigorous regulations farmers will have to meet under the program.

The former Small Flock program, which enabled farmers to raise a maximum of 300 chickens without quota, has been renamed the Family Food program.

The Local Niche Markets program is also new this year and gives options to produce between 6,000 and 60,000 chickens annually. Farmers entering this program are required to have between 1,000 and 10,000 units of quota.

These programs open up new opportunities, but not enough to support the growing number of men and wonen who want to make an income off their land. Government intervention in agriculture has led to a dependence on monoculture and chemical sprays. The focus on bigger has limited our access, for the most part, to better food.


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