Young farmers worry about future

Amber Nicholson
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Young (Prince Edward) Island farmers say changes must be made to justify the risk of entering today's weakening agricultural industry.

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[Stanley Bridge, PEI]—Young (Prince Edward) Island farmers say changes must be made to justify the risk of entering today's weakening agricultural industry.

As part of a national tour, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food visited Stanley Bridge on Thursday (May13) to hear the concerns of Islanders on the future of farming.

"How can we possibly expect young farmers to join the agriculture industry if current farmers are looking to get out?" asked PEI Federation of Agriculture executive director Mike Nabuurs.

"The reality is we are all getting to the edge of the cliff."

Nabuurs was among several Island organic, dairy, beef and hog farmers who presented problems and suggested solutions to the committee.

The consensus among farmers was that changes need to be made immediately or farmers will not survive. 

PEI Young Farmers President Maria Smith said the PEI agriculture industry is "heading down a bad, bad road."

She told the committee if something were not done soon she would have no choice but to quit farming and stick with her day job.

Young farmer Mathieu Gallant agreed with Smith. He said young farmers want to farm, but they are being left no choice.

"I'm just a 25-year-old farm kid working at home trying to make a living off it," Gallant said. "I want to stay home, but there's no money to be made."

A common issue brought up amongst farmers was importation laws. Currently, products that are imported into Canada do not have to meet the same standards that Canadian farmers are required to meet.

Ontario MP Larry Miller said if anything comes out of the committee's tour he hopes it will be to change those requirements. He said it is a "no-brainer" that importers should have to meet the same requirements as Canadians.

Organic farmer Sally Bernard spoke on behalf of her family and the National Farmers Union.

"My family is increasingly uncertain of our future," Bernard told the committee.

She suggested the implementation of Domestic Fair Trade, something the NFU has been looking into. Based out of the United States, DFT is a movement that encourages a relationship between farmers and consumers.

"It would create a link between consumers and where the food comes from," Bernard said. "The system serves to revitalize a sense of communication."

Young farmer Morgan Smallman is seeking financial assistance. He suggested low interest loans or grants to help beginning farmers get started.

"I've been to university, I carry a debt load from university and I want to farm," Smallman said. "Why can't there be a program to encourage that?"

Cape Breton MP Mark Eyking said on behalf of the committee that he was saddened to hear about the Island's farming struggle.

"You drive through PEI and see the beautiful red soil, but we're learning this morning there's a dark side to the agricultural industry."

The committee is consulting with farmers on how to better share information, promote the farming profession and provide training. It also wants to know how government can improve what it does to keep young farmers in the industry.

Organizations: House of Commons Standing Committee on Agriculture, PEI Federation of Agriculture

Geographic location: Stanley Bridge, Canada, Farmers Union United States

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