by KRISTIAN PARTINGTON
Like so many people before him who chose to forge careers off the land, Sean McGivern understands that it’s not an easy life. As a 31-year-old farmer he’s also well-positioned to comment on the particular challenges facing the young people in today’s agriculture industry.
“We need to look at some of the issues around supply management,” he says. “It’s very much impossible to get young people into agriculture unlike it was 25, 30 or 40 years ago when better systems were set up.” He also says there is a “lack of smart regulations” governing the industry which can hurt up-and-coming farmers more than those who are more established in the industry.
In order to address the unique challenges facing the next generation of farmers the federal government hosted the first meeting of the National Future Farmers Network in Gatineau, Quebec on November 16 and 17.
“The future of agriculture lies in the hands of young and beginning farmers and we need to find more ways to help them take the reins of the farm business," said Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz says in a news release issued Nov. 16. "While this group faces many unique challenges, this Network will give us another opportunity to hear first hand about how we can help maintain and grow this important sector."
Joe Dickenson, a 30-year-old farmer from Brigden, Ontario who attended the conference as the Ontario/Quebec representative of the Canadian Young Farmers’ Forum, said the meeting was a “really good first step.”Among the 45 invited participants he said “there was a lot of fantastic discussion going around the table . . . and it was clear that the minister was there to hear us and support us.”
He said this initial meeting was focused on the top common concerns facing young farmers from across the country: access to capital; farm succession and access to land being some of the main points of consideration. No matter where in the country representatives hailed from, he said, “there were generally very consistent messages all around.”
(Sentence updated) Dickenson, who is also an Ontario Federation of Agriculture board director, noted he’s not holding out any hope the meeting will result in immediate solutions to the problems he and his peers face. “We’re going to have to see what comes out of the report . . . and I think we really need to continue the dialogue.”
McGivern, who shares many of Dickenson’s concerns, agrees that dialogue is necessary. He’s disappointed in the network, however, because he feels all of the pertinent voices were not heard. He’s a coordinator with The National Farmer’s Union, which has a permanent youth caucus and a young farmer as a voting member of the board and his group was not invited to the meeting in Gatineau.
“We’d like the opportunity to tell our own story and be part of the solution to correcting some of the problems,” says McGivern. “Then we see an event like this where they hand-pick people who seem to be buddy-buddy with the government.” He’s happy issues facing young farmers are raising attention but he said the network, at least in the first meeting, is only getting “a one-sided opinion.”
By the time of this posting, a media spokesperson from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada had not responded to questions submitted by a Better Farming reporter.
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada spokesperson Céline Falardeau, says in a Nov. 22 email that participants to the National Future Farmers Network were chosen “to ensure representation from all sectors of the industry. Participants were recommended to us by provincial farmers’ federations and associations, as well as by our provincial and territorial partners.”
She says participants were “present on an individual basis and solely in his or her capacity as a producer.”
Representatives from farmers’ associations, the financial sector, and government agricultural departments were invited to observe the session. The NFU “was informed of this formula and did not indicate any interest in being among the observers,” she says.BF