The Gleaner
Agriculture

Farmers take a stand over a worrying future

The voices of teachers, nurses, and healthcare professionals have been joined by those of the province’s farmers, who took to the streets to demonstrate in front of the Quebec National Assembly on December 6.

“We are at the heart of the solution,” proclaimed more than 1,000 farmers, who came in buses from across the province to send a clear message to the government that the current situation is untenable.

Faced with rising input and labour costs, as well as significantly higher interest rates and disastrous weather in 2023, many of the farmers present at the protest explained that the current model is no longer working, and that government programs need to be updated to better support the province’s farms.

“We have just transferred the farm to our son,” said Hinchinbrooke-based dairy farmer Jason Erskine. “We have just completed a big project for the future. We are invested in the farm for the long haul with significant capital to grow the business. I want to see him do well!” he exclaimed.

“Costs usually go up each year, and we invest in our farms by buying more efficient equipment, specializing, etc. to increase productivity, and it eventually balances out. With high interest rates, we can’t do that anymore. People say, ‘well, you’ll just have to spend less,’ but if we stop investing and increasing our productivity, prices will go up,” Erskine explained.

Michael Kessler, the new owner of Willkess Farm in Hinchinbrooke, agrees. “I am part of the next generation in terms of taking over the farm. They have already cut a lot of subsidies – what worries me is that they don’t realize how important we are. They think that whatever they do, we won’t make too much noise, but agriculture needs a future, so they can’t forget us either. No farmers, no food,” he said.

According to the Union des Producteurs Agricoles (UPA), which organized the December 6 march, the federal government’s budget for agriculture has fallen by 18 per cent over the past ten years, while support has dropped from 1.47 per cent to 0.98 per cent in Quebec’s overall budget. Over the same period, producer indebtedness has risen by 115 per cent.

 

Over 1000 farmers including Éric Leboeuf and Jason Erskine of the Haut Saint Laurent UPA syndicate travelled to Quebec City on December 6 to demonstrate in front of the National Assembly The farmers were calling for more government support and recognition PHOTO Ian Ward

 

Hinchinbrooke game producer Éric Leboeuf said he certainly feels this pressure. He took part in the march “in solidarity with the next generation of farmers, and to call for help in the face of climatic changes.”

A member of the Haut-Saint-Laurent UPA syndicate, Leboeuf also took part in the UPA’s annual congress, which was taking place concurrently with the demonstration. He says he is particularly concerned about the future for young producers.

“We are passionate about agriculture,” declared Julie Bissonnette, the president of the Fédération de la relève agricole du Québec, in front of the National Assembly. “We are resilient and determined young entrepreneurs. We should, however, be able to make a living from our profession. The financial and administrative pressures are enormous and weigh heavily on our shoulders. For the sake of the future of food production in Quebec, it is imperative that the government provides greater support for young farmers and makes them a priority of the province’s bio-food policy.”

At the conclusion of the march, UPA leaders presented a manifesto to André Lamontagne, the Quebec minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who spoke a few hours later at the UPA congress. “There is not a morning that I get up, and there is not an evening that I go to bed, where I am not thinking about you all, or where I don’t try the next morning to do the best I can for all of you,” said Lamontagne.

For his part, Jason Erskine hopes that the government will take concrete action before it’s too late. “This was a proactive march. Things aren’t so bad that we’re at an impasse, but the trajectory we’re on is worrying. You can see where it’s starting to fall apart.”

Note: The journalist is also a volunteer member of the board of directors of the Haut-Saint-Laurent syndicate of the UPA.

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