Government help needed for agricultural industry, say farmers

Monique Chiasson
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STEWIACKE - The future of agricultural lands in Nova Scotia is in serious jeopardy, many local people believe.
Farmers are "essentially not allowed to make money but to support the public," said Truro farmer Jim Lorraine, one of about 100 people at a public meeting last night in Stewiacke to discuss the future of agricultural land in Nova Scotia. The province has about 29 per cent of its land dedicated to agricultural purposes. There are roughly 9,000 hectares of agricultural land in Colchester County; 8,000 of it considered "good" land. However, cleared farmland has declined steadily. Between 1951 and 2001, Canada lost 16,100 square kilometers of farmland - equal to three Prince Edward Islands - to building up areas, transportation and utilities.
Lorraine suggested the provincial government offer more help to the faulting industry. He added attracting more young farmers would help sustain the industry as well.
Stewiacke dairy farmer John Vissers said another way to help the industry is to have the agriculture minister responsible for only that portfolio.
"Politicians have too much on their plates ... we need an agricultural minister solely for that purpose" instead of holding multiple portfolios.
Wild blueberry farmer Mark Austin is concerned the value of farmland is becoming solely based on dollar output.
"Farm sustainability, energy costs, rural cultural aspects (and) aesthetic value of farmlands" are just as vital, the Old Barns resident said.
East Hants dairy farmer Willy Versteeg said "beleaguered" farmers can't be expected to "bear the cost" of the faltering industry.
Versteeg believes a food tax and setting food policies can help.
"We need provincial rules and policies that are achievable and measurable," he said, suggesting the government set specific related farming targets that be achieved within a set amount of time.
Others disagreed with the food tax suggestion, fearful it would be an opportunity for the government to reap more revenue without direct benefit to farmers.
Other ideas included finding a way to keep people from migrating from rural areas and having more say on how free trade affects local farmers.

Geographic location: STEWIACKE, Nova Scotia, Colchester County Canada Old Barns East Hants

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  • Jim Lorraine
    March 01, 2010 - 14:39

    The purpose of last nights meeting was to discuss whether or not the provincial government should put in regulations to limit the use of farmland to agriculture purposes only thereby, drastically reducing the potential value of farmers land. I argued against this in support of letting farmers decide if they wanted to sell building lots or not as a way to retire with some dignity. Essentially, the government should not dictate to farmers how they choose to sell their land. It should be a free market decision. I went on to point out in 2001, beef farmers were making money for the first time in several years, markets were at an all time high, we were finally going to make money and we were excited! Then, the processors in Canada went to the Federal Government and explained that the input costs for beef products were far too high, consumers could't afford them. The Federal government then decided to double the amount of import quotas which i believe equated to 100000 more tonnes of beef from offshore countries allowed into Canda in order to lower Canadian consumers food costs. This basically took away Canadian beef farmers ability to make money but helped Canadian consumers household finances. Essentially, we were not allowed to make money! My closing remark last night was, if the provincial government is going to enact a policy such as land preservation, thereby limiting farmers ability to survive in retirement then the taxpayers will have to compensate them for this in a per acre payment for taking away our rights. Again, I believe in letting the market forces decide rather than imposing new regulations at a considerable cost to society! If this policy is enacted, I believe it has potential for young people within farm families to say no thankyou to farming, which would be hard on NS consumers pocketbook.