by SUSAN MANN
A Gore Bay area farmer whose appeal to be exempted from supply-managed chicken marketing regulations was rejected by the Ontario Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Appeal Tribunal, says he doesn’t know what his next steps will be.
Max Burt says he now realizes the tribunal was not the right forum to air his concerns, many to do with how Chicken Farmers of Ontario, the provincial supply-managed marketing board, has treated northern Ontario producers.
During the Nov. 1 hearing in Sudbury, Burt told the adjudicators that the supply management system and Chicken Farmers’ policies have created barriers to developing chicken production in Northern Ontario, including:
• Omitting island farmers from the public communications in 1965 about the process to apply for chicken quota;
• Requiring new entrants to buy a minimum of 14,000 units of quota
• Such high quota prices that it’s prohibitive for new people to enter the industry;
• Chicken Farmers failing to tell Northern Ontario farmers to apply during the 1986 chicken lottery;
• Chicken Farmers’ attitude that commercial chicken production isn’t viable in Northern Ontario; and
• Chicken Farmers’ requiring new entrants to complete an on-farm food safety program that would cost Burt $1,000 if he bought quota.
Burt, who also operates a processing facility and an on-farm store, says quota prices added to his production costs would increase chicken prices “beyond what my consumers could afford to purchase it for.” The average income of northern Ontarians is 60 per cent of southern Ontarians, he explains, noting their living costs are also higher.
The decision had recognized Chicken Farmers’ policies to permit quota holdings as low as 500 units for specialty markets and to allow registered chicken growers to produce up to 300 chickens a year without quota. Including Burt, there are twenty registered chicken growers on Manitoulin Island, each growing up to the Chicken Farmers’ 300-bird annual limit.
Burt counters that the birds these growers produce would at most amount to 2.25 per cent of the island’s consumption. “We certainly want all this local food but nobody really rolls their sleeves up and starts saying how we’re going to do it,” he says.
While Burt lists these items as barriers, the “real essence of his case is the cost of quota is unaffordable to him,” the Nov. 8 tribunal decision states.
Chicken quota is currently valued at $100 to $105 per unit and Chicken Farmers policy requires producers to hold a minimum of 14,000 units, former Chicken Farmers chair John Maaskant testified at the hearing. That means a farmer wanting chicken quota today must invest $1.4 to $1.47 million to buy quota.
In the tribunal’s view affordability can’t be the basis for it to grant Burt an exemption to the regulations. If it used affordability as an exemption criterion, that would render Chicken Farmers’ existing exemption policy meaningless, the decision states.
Burt had also argued that his father, Edward Burt, had eligible chicken production during the qualifying period of 1964-65 when the supply management system was being established for broiler chickens, those birds under 5.5 pounds. He asked to be granted 2,040 units of chicken quota based on his father’s historic chicken production during the qualifying period.
All qualifying farmers received one free unit of quota for each square foot of production barn space, the decision states, and adds that Edward Burt failed to explain why he didn’t apply for quota at any time since becoming aware of the chicken quota system in the mid-1960s. BF