Water is rising on farming industry

Darrell
Darrell Cole
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In recent years, farmers have seen more downs than ups and many are struggling to survive: Ferguson

At age 61, Dan Ferguson has seen a lot of ups and downs in the farming business since he started in the industry 25 years ago. Recently, though, there have been a lot more downs than ups and Ferguson is beginning to feel as though people don't appreciate the efforts of farmers like him.

Water is rising on farming industry

At age 61, Dan Ferguson has seen a lot of ups and downs in the farming business since he started in the industry 25 years ago. Recently, though, there have been a lot more downs than ups and Ferguson is beginning to feel as though people don't appreciate the efforts of farmers like him.

"These last few years have been so difficult for us, but truthfully I don't know if anyone else knows or cares," Ferguson said while sitting at the kitchen table of his Middleboro farm. "People see in the news about government programs and think everything is OK when in fact we're all struggling to keep our heads above water."

Ferguson moved to his farm in 1972. The early years were good and his operation grew. Tough times would come and go on a cyclical basis, but the loss of feed freight assistance, the closure of Hub Meat Packers in Moncton, drought and the closure of the U.S. border because of BSE all hit when the industry was supposed to be entering a good period.

Since 1999 many farmers have been scratching to survive one setback after another. Some have sold their herds and left the industry while others, like Ferguson, have attempted to hold out praying for better times.

For Ferguson, that wait will come to an end next year when he sells off his cattle and sticks to raising sheep.

The future of the beef industry demands on whether farmers get a decent return on their product and whether they can market their beef to retailers in the region who have gone outside Atlantic Canada and outside the country to purchase meat because it's cheaper.

"As it stands right, if nothing changes, I don't see a lot of future for the industry except for the few part-timers who can subsidize their hobby," Ferguson said. "I'm not sure anything can happen fast enough for me in the beef industry. I have to do something else."

Ferguson is in the situation this year that he doesn't have the money to buy fertilizer for his land. He will buy lime, only because he can't operate without it.

"This is not an easy place to farm and maybe we shouldn't be farming here. I've reached the point where I have to lime or not farm," he said.

Adding to his difficulties is the fact that the price he receives for his product is basically the same as it was 20 years go at the same time as other costs - like insurance and fuel - have skyrocketed.

Ferguson is in the enviable position in that his loans to the farm loan board have been paid off, but while he has thought about retiring he refuses to do so because the farm is his home and he continues to hold out hope things will turn around.

"As long as there's any hope of being able to run my farm like I'd hope to I'll stay. The return on beef has been so low for so long that I just can't justify it anymore," he said. "The beef industry used to be cyclical and you could live with it because you knew good times would come. Lately though it has been one bad year after another."

Ferguson does not fault the public for not knowing the plight of farmers because they would never know theres' a crisis when they walk into the grocery store and see fully stocked shelves. He does wish they would ask where their produce and meat products are coming from.

While it would be improbable for governments to close the border to agriculture imports, he feels it's up to government to come up with some other value to keep them in business.

"We are maintaining a provincial asset and we're not getting any of the benefit from it. It's about maintaining the beauty and the scenery of this province. It's about maintaining the security of the food," Ferguson said.



dcole@amherstdaily.com

Geographic location: Middleboro, Moncton, U.S. Atlantic Canada

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Recent comments

  • bud
    January 18, 2010 - 10:48

    this whole farming feature is a one-sided joke.

  • me too
    January 18, 2010 - 10:48

    There's a lot more people than farmers fighting to keep their head above water. I mean come on...does anyone really appreciate what anyone does anymore. There's a lot of people that work their butt off and barely get by. Not worth any pages in the newspaper though...I don't mean any disrespect, but a lot of people in other industries don's even get help from the government at all.