Federation of Agriculture continues to hold out hope for future
Tough times for a struggling industry
AMHERST - Although it has known nothing but crisis in the last decade, the CEO of the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture feels there's a future for the industry.
"Farmers have always had an undying belief that a seed will become a crop, that an embroyo will become a calf and an egg will become a chicken and that there will be a market for that crop, that calf and that chicken," Laurence Nason told members of the Amherst Rotary Club on Monday. "That is why, despite the setbacks and market transformation we have seen in the recent history of our industry, most farmers retain some sense of optimism and continue to invest in the community."
However, he added, that optimism is starting to run out as a series of crisis and challenges have severely hampered farmers' ability to retain a competitive position while continuing to develop sustainable production systems.
"Farmers as individuals, or collectively as an industry, are no longer capable of maintaining the level of investment required to meet the challenges the industry faces," Nason said.
The challenges are plentiful and it's making it increasingly difficult for farmers to stay in business and to attract new farmers. Nason said net cash income is declining while net farm expenses are increasing.
"Nova Scotia farm businesses are sinking into debt faster than other Canadian farm businesses," Nason said. "Debt load in Nova Scotia has increased by 238 per cent since 1995."
In 1998, farm debt surpassed farm receipts for the first time and the gap has continued to grow. At the same time, credit is getting harder to get. Coupled with new regulatory regimes, market structures, shifting public values, new technologies, land-use issues and increasing energy costs these are tough times for farmers.
The federation, he said, has been facing those challenges through a lengthy planning process that asks what's the problem, what choices can be made and which choices are best. That planning process was completed last year with the provincial government being presented a model the federation feels will propel the industry into the future.
As optimistic as farmers are about controlling their own destiny, Nason cautioned it's going to take public support.
"Without a renewed public commitment, Nova Scotia's primary agricultural sector will continue a period of decline that will negatively impact jobs, the economy and jeopardize the food security enjoyed by all Nova Scotians," he said.