by SUSAN MANN
Practical Farmers of Ontario president Sean McGivern vows the organization will continue fighting to convince Chicken Farmers of Ontario to increase the number of meat birds farmers can raise without quota.
McGivern says he received a letter by email Friday night from Chicken Farmers denying the Practical Farmers’ request to increase the number of birds to 2,000 from 300 and to allow farmers to sell their product beyond the farm gate. The decision was made after Practical Farmers attended a Chicken Farmers’ hearing Dec. 20 to present its request.
“We thought this was probably how they were going to deal with us,” says McGivern. But “we’re 100 per cent confident this was the wrong way for them to deal with us because this is going to create a lot more media attention.”
Chicken Farmers representatives couldn’t be reached for comment.
A Jan. 18 letter addressed to McGivern and signed by Chris Horbász, Chicken Farmers’ director, policy and external relations, says “in objecting to the small flock program on the basis of it being insufficient for commercial purposes, PFO (Practical Farmers of Ontario) has essentially misinterpreted the point of the program.”
The letter concludes: “Mr. McGivern chose to adopt a confrontational posture in stating that if the PFO request was declined, then Directors would be evidencing no respect for small farmers. However, the local board did not take this into account in considering the merits of the PFO submission.”
McGivern says Practical Farmers will file an appeal with the Ontario Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Appeal Tribunal.
“I just really feel small farmers are being abused and taken advantage of by the system and our organization is not going to stop” pushing for changes, he says.
Practical Farmers has met with Chicken Farmers of Canada about its request and plans to talk by phone with federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz. The group also plans to present a related petition with more than 800 signatures to Ontario Agriculture Minister Ted McMeekin and to the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission.
McGivern says they have a good case because “we’re not asking for anything different than what farmers in other provinces are already allowed to do.”
He was referring to rules in other provinces that enable farmers there to raise a much higher number of meat birds without quota than their Ontario counterparts. He says Ontario’s amount under the small flock program is the lowest across Canada.
The small flock program was introduced in 2007 after extensive negotiations between Chicken Farmers and the Ontario Broiler Hatching Egg and Chick Commission, which coordinated amendments to permit hatcheries to sell up to 300 chicks a year to non-quota holders. Before the small flock program began, Chicken Farmers’ regulations stipulated farmers could only raise 100 birds quota free annually and only for home consumption.
Until the small flock regulation was enacted in Ontario, farmers couldn’t market chicken produced without quota.
There are about 13,000 small flock growers in Ontario and about two-thirds of them have 50 birds of less. Chicken Farmers says its statistics show the majority of small flock growers produce chicken for their own consumption.
McGivern says Practical Farmers doesn’t have any way to confirm the information on small flock sizes. “A lot of people we talked to said they’re only raising 25 or 50 chickens right now because it’s not financially viable to do it. If they could do a larger number (of chicken) and make it more feasible, then they definitely would.”
McGivern says Chicken Farmers’ rules are so restrictive small flock growers are prohibited from advertising their chicken for sale, which makes it difficult for growers to sell their chicken.
Chicken Farmers says in its six-page letter to McGivern that the small flock grower program is functioning appropriately and achieving its established purpose, “namely to permit persons to produce and, if they desire, to market at the farm gate a limited number of chickens per year without the requirement of obtaining quota.”
Chicken Farmers small flock regulation continues to be in harmony with the hatching egg and chick commission’s regulations on chick sales and to parallel Egg Farmers of Ontario exemptions to farm gate egg sales, the letter says.
“The number of registrants of small flock growers has remained relatively stable since the inception of the program and the magnitude of the numbers strongly indicates that the program continues to present a worthwhile avenue for interested persons,” the letter says. In addition, the purpose of the small flock program wasn’t to create a commercially viable alternative avenue for chicken production and marketing “such that it would have a displacement effect for commercial chicken production and marketing.”
As part of the commercial chicken production and marketing system which requires farmers to hold a minimum of 14,000 quota units, Chicken Farmers has in the past granted exemptions to the minimum amount of quota rule, the letter says. “Particularly in the context of servicing niche or specialty production markets, such as organic production.”
Moreover, a new entrant program allows a successful applicant to obtain up to 10,000 units of quota in conjunction with acquiring 4,000 units on their own, the letter adds. The board-allotted quota must be replaced on a specific schedule with quota the new entrant buys. Chicken Farmers has committed 20,000 units of quota annually to the program. The first recipients are to be announced this year.
As for other provinces’ rules and their bird numbers for quota free production, Chicken Farmers says each province has its reasons for the level of quota-exempt production it allows. Chicken Farmers didn’t design its small flock program to parallel other provinces. Instead it determined the small flock program it developed was appropriate for Ontario and that “continues to be the case.” BF