Small Alta. producers can keep their off-quota turkeys

Agricultural Products Marketing Council rejects request to reduce off-quota turkeys in province to 100 from 300

The group that regulates Alberta’s crop and livestock commissions has rejected a proposal from the Alberta Turkey Producers to reduce the number of birds that some farmers are allowed to raise.

The turkey board requested in May the reduction of off-quota birds from 300 to 100. Off-quota turkeys aren’t part of the supply management system and can be sold directly to consumers from the farm.

The Agricultural Products Marketing Council rejected the request last month, arguing the turkey board failed to make a good case for the change, said Norine Moore, chair of the council.

“We felt they weren’t making a really compelling argument for us to reduce the exemption for them,” she said. “They also had not done any kind of consultation with the non-quota producers that were going to be affected by it.”

Non-quota turkey farmers and the National Farmers Union were pleased with the marketing council’s decision.

They argued the change would have harmed business, and that keeping the numbers the same allows the industry to remain attractive for others to raise turkeys.

“I’m very much a proponent of supply management, but there has to be a balance in order to support smaller producers,” said Mandy Melnyk, a farmer who raises off-quota turkeys near Waskatenau, Alta. “We have to be able to make a living.”

The turkey board had previously argued the reduction in off-quota birds would create a level playing field and ensure more producers are following food safety standards.

However, it currently has no plans to go back to the marketing council and propose a similar change in the future, said Maryann Urbanowski, the organization’s acting executive director.

“The Alberta Turkey Producers board respects the decision of the Agricultural Products Marketing Council and considers the matter closed,” she said in an email.

Glenn Norman, a director with the National Farmers Union representing Alberta, said keeping the numbers the same lets new farmers, who tend to have smaller operations, remain competitive.

“I think supply management is one of the better systems going, and the off-quota system in place doesn’t hurt it,” he said. “The current rules benefit small farmers and they are important when it comes to supplying local food in the country and in Alberta.”

However, he said the off-quota system could be improved.

He said a small number of producers are abusing the system, where some farms might be dividing bird numbers among family members so they don’t have to pay quota.

“Most producers aren’t doing this, but I do hope they find a solution to address it,” he said.

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