Friday, 17 February 2017

Growing Forward

Growing Forward

By: Ryan Young

It’s not often I get to write about positive moves from our government, but I am very happy to do just that when the opportunity arises. After all, if I am going to be quick to criticize the blunders, I also need to highlight the positives that occasionally come our way.

Yesterday, Premier Ball announced that the government will be making 64 000 hectares of crown lands available for agricultural development in 62 areas of interest. Like most announcements made by this government, the details are slim, but no matter which way you look at it, increasing our agricultural capacity is a good thing.

This is a move the industry has been calling on government to make for years, and with the high cost of importing food getting higher all the time, we really need a comprehensive plan to strategically develop this long-neglected sector. This announcement is certainly not that, and neither is the initiative in The Way Forward to increase our food self-sufficiency by at least 20% by 2022. That is a bold target, but one that can easily be achieved by planting up the acres, but planting up the acres wont work unless there is a comprehensive plan to guide the growth of this industry. What we really need is a strategy that fully assesses both the growing potential and the consumer market, and targets resources accordingly. Ideally that would include a mix of traditional farming, along with green-housing and hydroponics.

The Harris Center at Memorial University released a report by A. James Quinlan in 2012 titled: “Building Agricultural Capacity in Newfoundland and Labrador.” The report gives a good overview of the historic levels of agriculture and the sharp decline in the number of farms after Confederation, as well as a number of recommendations on how to improve our capacity.

Some of the major recommendations given in the report include: establishing an agricultural college on the west coast of the island, sponsoring students to study agriculture programs out-of-province until we have an agricultural college, changing the way subsidies are delivered to support more small scale farming, facilitating livestock inspection and slaughtering for small scale producers, and creating a program that will offer business and marketing guidance to small scale producers.

These are some great recommendations and I know that if I took the time to contact the agricultural associations in the province, that I would get even more great ideas to write about. There are lots of ways that we can improve our agricultural capacity, but we need to stop looking for small step solutions and start looking at the bigger picture. No single program is going to solve all of the problems, but if we have a clear idea of exactly what type of growth we would like to see, we can create a series of interconnected programs that work together instead of standing alone. By doing so,  we increase our chances of stimulating some real growth in this sector.

Developing a partnership with a place like UPEI might be a great start to adding some new, highly skilled farmers to our local workforce. Eventually we would be able to do the training ourselves, perhaps as an offshoot of Grenfell College or maybe in a place like the Codroy Valley. If we are going to get serious about expanding this industry, we need to be able to support it with a qualified workforce.

We can hope that the government will continue to invest in agriculture and to continue to make even more land available to those who wish to utilize it, especially for new participants to the industry. Agriculture really is one of the few industries where we have a huge potential for growth, if managed correctly. So far, the Liberals seem to be listening to what they are being told by the people who know the industry the best, and if that continues we might very well see some positive growth in the near future. In order for that to happen, a real plan will be needed. In the meantime, lets enjoy a small step in the right direction for a change.

You can link to the Harris Center report here:

No comments:

Post a Comment