Gov’t plans expanded farming in Atlantic Canada

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — Thin, rocky soil doesn’t deter farmers on The Rock.

Agriculture, although far different from that on the Prairies, has a long history in Newfoundland and Labrador, and the provincial government thinks it also has a strong future.

Expansion plans for the sector announced earlier this year would more than double the amount of land dedicated to farming.

That includes potatoes, vegetables and growing more feed for livestock.

Agriculture minister Steve Crocker said that 158,000 acres of crown land would be made available.

The plan is to increase food self-sufficiency to at least 20 percent by 2022. Currently, the province produces just 10 percent of its own food.

“You’re setting the bar high, but there is no doubt you will reach your goal,” said federal Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay during a recent stop in the province to announce funding for a risk assessment project.

The Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Agriculture will administer the $365,291 project and consult on production, financial, labour, market, transportation and climate change risks.

The results will form the basis for future programs.

President Merv Wiseman said there is excitement around agriculture in light of the province’s announcements, and the federal dollars come at the right time.

He said the association will use the money to better understand what farmers need to manage risk so they can revitalize the rural economy and increase food self-sufficiency.

“Over the years, there has been an awful lot of downloading of pubic-good issues on the farming community,” Wiseman said. “We haven’t resisted that, but trying to manage in the face of what you can do economically in a viable kind of way at the farming level is not an easy thing to do. So, if we don’t understand the complexities around that and be able to build a plan to mitigate against that, then we have one hand tied behind our back.”

Newfoundland’s food security issues arise from its climate, soil and location.

The province has only a two- to three-day supply of fruits and vegetables available if there is a problem somewhere in the supply chain because 90 percent of those products are imported.

The island’s 27 dairies import most of their feed, and it’s at least a 12-hour drive by truck to the more populated Avalon Peninsula once it arrives by ferry at Port aux Basques.

Factor in poor weather and the drive can take longer.

Growing more livestock feed on the island would also be an economic gain for producers.

According to the 2016 Census of Agriculture, farm acreage is a mere 100,000 acres operated by 407 farms and taking in gross farm receipts of $130 million.

Dairy, poultry and egg operations account for much of the income.

The expansion plan would take place in 62 designated agricultural areas selected after a consultation. Right now, only 19 areas contain agricultural land and only .9 percent of the province’s land is suitable for farming.

Wiseman said the province now has to engage with current and potential farmers to make the plan work.

“How do we clear that land?” he said. “Where do we find the investment? How do we address the environmental issues?”

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