by SUSAN MANN
Representatives of Chicken Farmers of Ontario insist that applications for new specialty chicken production licences will be treated equitably, despite a Grey County producer’s claim that he received his licence two months before the program was announced.
“No one knew about what was in the (Chicken Farmers of Ontario) policy until it was announced yesterday (Thursday),” says Michael Edmonds, Chicken Farmers communications and government relations director.
The new policy launched by the organization that represents province’s supply-managed chicken producers calls for issuing the right to grow specialty breed chickens in the form of a licence to qualifying growers.
The right is only for the successful applicant and, unlike quota, it can’t be traded, transferred or rented out, says Mike Philp, the organization’s specialty breeds team leader. Nor can it be pledged as security for a loan and it has no financial value attached to it, he adds.
The breeds in the program, Frey’s special dual purpose and silkie chickens, are processed without removing their heads or feet. They are popular with Ontario’s growing ethno cultural consumer communities, the organization’s release says.
Licenced farmers must produce a minimum of 5,000 birds of either one breed or the other per growing period. “The idea is any barn will only have one of those breeds in,” Philp explains, noting that the specialty birds take two to six more weeks than traditional white rock birds to produce.
The organization has given applicants in Ontario until Sept. 16 to apply to produce chickens starting in the A-128 growing period (Dec. 28 to Feb. 21, 2015). There are other application deadlines throughout the first year of the program and then people will only apply annually.
However, Enos E. M. Martin of Grey County, who for the past five years has annually produced 60,000 to 70,000 silkies a year for the Asian-Canadian market, says he was issued a license to produce specialty breed chickens about two months ago.
The licence is in effect until Dec. 31, 2018, he says.
Martin says he was approached by Chicken Farmers of Ontario officials and had his first meeting with them in April or May. “They called me and they asked me to meet them.” After that meeting, the officials wanted to go to his farm and look at the birds.
“They came out and looked at my birds and that was basically when they asked me for a cheque for $100 for the licence,” he says, adding he got the specialty chicken producers’ licence by mail. “I’m not aware that I actually filled out a licence application.”
Philp says all producers in the program will eventually have to obtain two licences — one from the provincial organization and another from Chicken Farmers of Canada’s (CFC) specialty production program — and Martin received the national licence first. Once applicants are accepted into the provincial program, they too will have to apply for the CFC licence.
The national organization passed its specialty production policy in November 2013.
He adds that Martin still has to apply to the provincial program for licencing.
Philp confirms that representatives from the provincial organization would have likely visited Martin, but it would have been to conduct background research to develop the policy. “We found a number of participants who were already producing silkies and we met with a number of these individuals,” he says.
Philp says Chicken Farmers is looking at existing producers applying to the program “because they are looking to put some increases in as well.” Nevertheless, no applicants are receiving special treatment — Martin included.
“We’re being very careful to allow everybody the opportunity to apply,” he says.
It’s the Chicken Farmers board that will make decisions on who gets the right to produce the specialty breeds.
Philp says currently only 0.3 per cent of Ontario’s total production of 200 million chickens a year goes to serve the specialty breeds market, while “we believe it can increase substantially from there.”
Indeed, some of the market currently is being supplied by British Columbia, which supplies frozen product. A small quantity also comes from the United States, he adds.
“We’re looking to get to a point where there is sufficient chicken for those markets,” says Philp.
Philp says Chicken Farmers currently doesn’t have a total maximum amount of kilograms it will be granting to farmers under the program. “What we’re trying to do is meet the needs of the Chinese and other East Asian-Canadian communities.”
Chicken Farmers also doesn’t know how many applicants it will get. But “we hope that over a period of time that we get in excess of 100 farmers” of both new and existing farmers in the specialty breeds program.
Since it was released this week, ‘we’ve had a number of questions,” from potential applicants, he says, and a lot of positive interest.
Yet two other organizations have raised issues about the new policy as well.
John Slot, general manager of the Ontario Independent Poultry Processors, questions the decision to align the policy with the national organization’s, which Chicken Farmers states in a news release was one of the motivations behind the policy’s development.
It’s not imperative for the two policies to be aligned, he asserts. “Ontario can develop any kind of policy it wants.”
Slot says the independent poultry processors, the Association of Ontario Chicken Processors (AOCP) and Chicken Farmers worked to develop a specialty chicken policy almost two years ago but it was never implemented because AOCP launched an appeal to the Ontario Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Appeal Tribunal.
The group feared the kilograms of chicken needed for the specialty birds would come from their allocations. The AOCP withdrew its appeal earlier this year saying its concern would be addressed.
In turn the Independent Processors, who want the earlier policy proposal implemented, launched its own appeal to the tribunal. The appeal is scheduled to be heard Sept. 15 and 16 in Guelph.
Edmonds says the policy the tribunal is looking at has been overridden by the new policy “so at this point we can’t tell you what will happen.”
Sean McGivern, president of Practical Farmers of Ontario, questions how Chicken Farmers will ensure the head and feet are left on the birds and that there is adequate infrastructure, such as a number of chick suppliers, for farmers wanting to grow them.
Philp says Chicken Farmers’ field representatives will be doing inspections and audits to ensure the specialty birds aren’t funneled into the conventional chicken market. With the specialty breeds program “we’re looking to reaching out to distributors and retailers. Part of understanding the demand is understanding where these products are currently stocked.”
About infrastructure needed to support farmers, Philp says the industry is currently small. But “the industry is aware of us looking to increase the volumes,” he adds.
Back in Grey County, Martin says he remains skeptical of the approach.
“I think I’m going to have to make a lot of changes and spend a lot of money to come up to something they’re actually going to be satisfied with for the long term.”
For example, Martin says he has his birds at 10 different farms across southwestern Ontario and pays those farmers a fee per bird to feed them for him. Martin says he provides the feed and they’re his birds.
“That will not be allowed any more.” BF