Fuller confident in future of supply management system

End of an era | Longest-serving farm leader steps down

David Fuller decided to “step out of the limelight” last week by resigning after 13 years as chair of Chicken Farmers of Canada.

However, he left behind some strong messages.

Fuller, Canada’s longest-serving contemporary national farm leader, urged the chicken industry to reform itself by dealing with provincial complaints about inadequate quota allotment and to remain vigilant in defending supply management.

He called on the federal government to plug loopholes in chicken import rules.

And in the face of critics’ warnings that the federal Conservative government is not committed to protecting supply management, Fuller explicitly refuted the claim.

“I tip my hat to minister Gerry Ritz and to the Conservative government for their unfailing support to the chicken industry and supply management,” he wrote in his last chair’s report.

Fuller’s departure led to fulsome tributes from leaders of the chicken industry.

CFC executive director Mike Dungate called his retirement the “end of an era” for the national chicken system.

Fuller, who farms near Canning, N.S., presided over the industry during more than a decade of world trade negotiations at which supply management protectionism was a constant issue.

His term in office also featured federal-provincial negotiations, tensions in the supply managed system, the 2004 avian influenza debacle and subsequent growth of the industry as it became the largest Canadian meat protein consumer choice with more than one billion kilograms produced each year.

The one billion kg mark was memorable because it showed an industry growing while other meat protein sectors were not, Fuller said in a March 21 interview.

“Whenever you are in a growth mode and when you look around and see your fellow commodities have their markets shrinking, it has absolutely been a highlight,” he said.

“It says we’re doing something right and the opportunity, I hate to say it, to take more market share away from them would be absolutely perfect.”

Fuller said another highlight of his 13 years as CFC president was the organization’s decision to contribute to food banks and other community initiatives, including strong support for the Ottawa food bank where CFC offices are located.

The 2002 federal-provincial agreement for the long-term future of the chicken industry was a key moment, he said. And he leaves the federal scene certain that the supply management system will remain intact despite an avalanche of recent criticism from academics, media commentators and trade liberalization economists.

“I have all kinds of confidence that we can safeguard supply management,” Fuller said in the interview.

“We have been assured by the people that matter most, which is not the media but the government of Canada that negotiates the (trade) deals …that they will continue to protect supply management,” he said.

He returns to a farm that is one of the largest chicken producers in the province and that now has a stake in a new poultry processing plant opening this year in nearby Kentville, N.S., which will take his birds and guarantee a market for a shrinking Nova Scotia industry.

The 1950s immigrant from England with his parents now takes pride in the fact that his daughters and their families will carry on the Fuller family tradition of farming in the fertile and historic Annapolis Valley area west of Halifax — the site of Canada’s first grain production.

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