How prairie farmers can learn from Quebec

Farmers on the Prairies could learn a thing or two from producers in Quebec.

After attending a farm writers’ conference in Quebec City, touring a number of Quebec farms and hearing a presentation from Daniel-Mercier Gouin, chair for the analysis of ag policies, at the University of Laval, some of the differences in Quebec agriculture became abundantly clear.

Just 15 percent of the nation’s farms are in Quebec, while 26 percent are in Ontario and 46 percent are on the Prairies. Farming is a relatively small contributor to the Quebec economy, but taxpayer support for producers is unprecedented.

Forty percent of Quebec farm receipts come from the supply managed industries — dairy, poultry and eggs. By comparison, the number is only three percent in Saskatchewan.

You might think the North American Free Trade Agreement renegotiation would be generating anxiety within the dairy sector that dominates Quebec agriculture, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. Supply management has long faced pressures from outside and even from within the country. Over the past 40 years, despite many predictions of its imminent demise, it has kept rolling.

Just 15 percent of the nation’s farms are in Quebec, while 26 percent are in Ontario and 46 percent are on the Prairies. Farming is a relatively small contributor to the Quebec economy, but taxpayer support for producers is unprecedented. | Paul Yanko photo

The unification of Quebec dairy farmers was instrumental in the federal Conservatives electing Andrew Scheer as their leader over Maxime Bernier, who ran on a platform of ending supply management.

For producers not in a supply managed industry and for the growing number not in Quebec’s long-standing cost of production program called ASRA, farm support programs are still far more robust than those in rest of the country. This affects pork and maple syrup producers as well as vegetables and cranberries.

The Quebec government funds a top-up program for AgriStability called Agri-Quebec Plus to cover farm margin drops not covered by the national program. For Agri-Invest, the Quebec top-up called Agri-Quebec provides a much more lucrative nest egg.

Quebec obviously values its farmers and has maintained agricultural spending even as other budgetary items have seen cuts. This support also extends to the regulatory authority provided to the ag sector.

The Union de Producteurs Agricoles is the official voice of farmers and all 42,000 Quebec producers are obliged to contribute. While there’s no doubt internal dissension from time to time, the UPA is an extremely effective and well-financed lobby.

Quebec also allows for mandatory marketing organizations within many commodities, providing a level of supply and price control that’s rare in the rest of the country.

Collective action in Quebec extends to activities such as livestock traceability, where its ATQ system is far more sophisticated than what we have in the rest of the country. The next steps are to apply the same traceability functions to fruits, vegetables and crops.

Quebec agriculture is certainly distinct. Supportive taxpayers and the collective actions of producers have combined to keep the sector viable despite a number of competitive disadvantages.

Just think what might be accomplished on the Prairies with a bit of that Quebec attitude.

Kevin Hursh is an agricultural journalist, consultant and farmer. He can be reached by e-mail at kevin@hursh.ca.

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