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Quebec farmers demand more support

April 26th,2024 | News

A line of tractors, trucks and other farm vehicles cruise up Valley Drive on April 17 en route to downtown Gatineau, where they converged with close to 100 other west Quebec farmers to pressure elected officials to put more support and funding in place for the agriculture sector. Trevor Greenway photo

Quebec farmers are angry. 

Close to 100 tractors, trucks and other vehicles converged on downtown Gatineau on April 17 to pressure elected officials to reform its programs and budgets after they say financial forecasts for 2024 will see Quebec farmers net $66 million in total, working out to just $2,300 per farm. 

More than a dozen of those producers rolled through Wakefield and gathered at the community centre on April 17 before meeting two other convoys en route to Gatineau. 

“We’re sick and tired of not being heard,” says local Union des producteurs agricoles (UPA) president Cheryl Layer, a fourth-generation farmer who runs Alcovia Angus in Alcove. 

“We’re getting squeezed from every group. We’re environmentally squeezed. We’re financially squeezed with inflation, and the government has cut our funding for all of our programs, and in the budget we are the lowest on the totem pole – we got less than a billion dollars.”

In its 2024-25 Quebec budget, tabled in early April, the CAQ government announced $380 million over five years to support the agriculture sector. However, producers say that number falls well below what they need. 

Last summer, farmers in the Hills, like Ferme Sage owner Stan Christensen, were left vulnerable by “chaotic weather,” and many expect another problematic year with projected drought after a mild winter and a lack of winter runoff. 

“Despite the fact that we have some of the best prices we’ve had for cattle ever, the costs have gone up so much that it’s just making it difficult to make ends meet,” says Christensen, referring to increased costs in equipment, vehicle maintenance and other expenses. 

One factor hampering farmers’ ability to thrive in a complex landscape is all the regulations they must adhere to, say farmers. Christensen, who won an environmental stewardship award through Les Producteurs de bovins du Québec (PBQ) for land management on his Val-des-Monts farm, says he and other farmers are drowning in paperwork. 

“There are so many restrictions on how we do things,” says Christensen. “We have to have a specialist to sign off on everything we do, and it’s become a real challenge. We want to be able to go out in the morning and feed the cows, we don’t need to have a permit to do it.”

Farmland prices increasing

According to Layer, farmland in the Outaouais has increased by more than $7,000 an acre over the last few years. Add this to the increased machinery, livestock, feed and labour costs, opening up a new farm is no longer viable for young farmers. 

“If you can buy the farm, you can’t afford the machinery,” says Layer. “Or if you have the machinery, then you have got to rent a farm, and there is nothing to rent.”

In its 2021 census, Stats Canada recorded around 190,000 farms nationwide – down from around 245,000 in 2001. In Quebec, farms rose 1.6 per cent to 29,380 from 2016 to 2021. However, in the Outaouais, the UPA says that the region has lost 55 per cent of its farms since 2012. 

Ivan Hale has run Hale Farms out of Wakefield since 1985, and says that farming has become increasingly difficult over the years due to the “unpredictability” in the industry, both in terms of climate change and rollercoaster prices. He says that during the Farmers’ Market in Wakefield last year, the farm advertised prices on their meat but ended up losing money because prices fluctuated drastically throughout the summer. The farm couldn’t come to grips with increasing prices after customers had been used to paying a specific price throughout the summer. He says the farm won’t be advertising prices on their packages this year, so that they can adapt throughout the year. 

“By the end of the summer, the costs had gone up so much that we were losing money on every package,” says Hale, gathering with fellow farmers during the protest. “We couldn’t change the price. So this year, we’re selling our meat with no prices on it because we were afraid that we may have to adjust the prices as we go along.”

He says that some local farmers also have part-time jobs to make ends meet. 

“Any of us can run a pretty good business if we know what the circumstances are in the environment and what we’ll get for our labour at the end of the day, but when you don’t know…” he finishes with a shrug. 

Liberal MNA for the Pontiac André Fortin, who was at the April 17 protest, says that farmers lost 80-85 per cent of their yields last year due to severe weather events. He argues that if the CAQ government doesn’t get serious about supporting Quebec’s agriculture sector, local farms will continue to die – and with it, local, fresh food. 

“I’ve done a few across the province of these – these farmer protests – and to me, it seems that the government is not addressing the urgency of the situation,” says Fortin, adding that Agriculture Canada projects that farmers will lose 86 per cent of their crops this year due to high interest rates, inflation and climate change. “They’re not grasping the fact that a lot of farmers are struggling to figure out how they will get through this. I don’t know a lot of people who would stay in their jobs when they get an 86 per cent decrease in salary.”

Fortin is urging the CAQ government to reform its La Financière agricole du Québec program, the province’s insurance program for farmers, so that producers can receive compensation for the losses they endured last year. Fortin says the insurance program “needs to be fixed.”

Gatineau MNA Robert Bussiére sent the Low Down a statment on the protest, explaining how his CAQ government created an emergency fund through agriculture finance, which “can generate up to $167 million in liquidity.”

“I am very sensitive to the reality and the concerns of the farmers in the constituency,” wrote Bussière.  “I am aware of the many hours of work and the efforts that they must invest day after day.”

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