by Emily Leeson
It’s been a busy year for Alex MacDonald of Campbellton, P.E.I., and it doesn’t look like life is going to slow down anytime soon. MacDonald, who is set to walk down the aisle with his fiancée Julia McInnis on Oct. 14, has been busy setting up P.E.I.’s newest dairy farm, Milky Way Farms. On Sept. 1, MacDonald welcomed 40 cows into the barn he’d spent the spring and summer renovating and preparing for their arrival.
MacDonald grew up on a dairy farm but knew that he’d have to branch off with his own business if he wanted to stay in the industry.
With the help of the Dairy Farmers of P.E.I. (DFPEI) new entrant program, which assists one successful applicant each year with a daily quota loan, MacDonald has been able to realize his ambition. In doing so McDonald, McInnis, and the Milky Way cows are bucking the trend in P.E.I. where the number of farms reporting dairy cows has declined by more than 16 percent in the last six years.
Started in 2007, the DFPEI new entrant program is aimed at assisting those with an interest in dairy farming but without the financial means or opportunity to get started in the industry. By loaning out daily quota (the amount of kilograms of butterfat a registered quota holder may produce each day), the DFPEI is hoping to entice more new farmers into the business and help get them started. To date, the DFPEI has had 15 new entrant producers begin the program; seven are still active participants.
With the price of daily quota currently at $24,000 per kilogram in P.E.I., the DFPEI loan gives new producers a significant boost over that financial hurdle.
The program’s application process involves presenting a five-year business plan for a dairy enterprise that intends to use at least 24 kilograms of daily quota. Financing for the new business needs to be in place. Once selected, a “new entrant” must begin obtaining daily quota, with the program matching the amount to a maximum quota loan of 16 kilograms.
The quota loan is granted for a maximum of 10 years. Starting in the 11th year, it is retired at a rate of one kilogram of quota per year. During that period, program participants are granted a similar rate of priority access to daily quota on the P.E.I. Quota Exchange, enabling them to eventually take ownership of their full working quota.
New entrants can choose to obtain their initial quota through the monthly P.E.I. Quota Exchange or by acquiring an existing dairy farm.
In December 2016, MacDonald was approved for the new entrant program. In January, he met with Smith Gunning, a local dairy farmer who was considering retirement. Though neither was entirely ready at that moment, the two agreed to get in touch again if Gunning decided to sell. By mid-spring, MacDonald got word that he’d be able to buy Gunning’s cows and quota, so the real work in preparing for the beginnings of Milky Way Farms could begin.
The bureaucracy of the deal was surprisingly simple. “When Smith agreed to sell and I agreed to buy, he had to sign the quota transfers and I had to sign it, and it had to go in front of the Dairy Farmers of P.E.I.,” explained McDonald. “They had to say that it was a legitimate sale – that Smith is selling his quota to an up-and-coming farmer, and they just had to approve the transaction.” The whole deal went through smoothly.
MacDonald was able to secure the purchase of a 100-acre farm just about a mile away from where he grew up and he spent the next few months renovating his new barn with the help of his brother, who is set to take over their parents’ dairy operation. Their to-do list over the summer was certainly more than a Post-it note’s worth.
MacDonald rattled off the summer’s work: “We put all the windows and doors in the barn, painted the inside of the barn. I had to pour cement, put the stands in, the stalls, drill them all into the concrete and bolt them down, put the pipeline up, put the bulk milk tank in, vacuum pump. It was a long summer!”
Though he’d been hoping to get the farm started by Aug. 1, a little more time was needed. “I was a little slower getting my barn renovated, so it took a little longer than I thought,” said MacDonald. “We were also late with our cropping. I was working back and forth with my brother. He put his crop in, we put mine in. We did his silage, we did my silage. So we were busy.”
With the wedding now approaching, MacDonald isn’t looking to take any time off. The wedding schedule is going to work around the milking times, and McInnis has given her OK for MacDonald to head out to the barn to oversee the chores himself. “She was fine with the plan,” said MacDonald, laughing. “She said as long as I don’t expect her to help me.”
But the two do plan on spending a lot of time together on the farm from here on out. While McInnis maintains a full-time job off the farm, she works morning shifts and regularly helps out with the evening milking.
“She didn’t grow up on a farm,” said MacDonald. “She’d never been around a farm when I first met her four years ago. She wouldn’t come in the barn. She was scared of the cows. But she’s come a long way.”
In this case, the DFPEI new entrant program has helped along one new farmer and one very, very new farmer.