A cry for local chicken

To the Expositor:

Taste of Manitoulin, our new festival starting June 8 and going to 17th this year, is designed to increase tourism in the shoulder season and promote local Island businesses. We are promoting our local culture, Island-made products and foods. As a member of the organizational executive for this festival, the writer is compelled to further the cause of one of our participants.

Max Burt and his wife Joanne run a farm that also houses a small, provincially inspected abattoir in the Gore Bay area. They produce local foods on Manitoulin Island. The Burt family has encountered significant roadblocks to expand local chicken production. Years of precedents have highlighted southern producers and processors for nearly all of Ontario’s poultry production. In 1965, the CFO, (Chicken Farmers of Ontario) developed what seems to be a paternalistic, protectionist policy that excludes Northern farmers as a group.

While maintaining the status quo to protect farmers who were given their quotas is understandable at the inception of organized poultry production, it seems less needed, and even counterproductive at later stages. Although the writer is not well versed in the history of marketing chicken, it seems to me that most businesses do not demand that a potential entrepreneur buy into a cartel prior to starting their new operation. In some cases where smaller producers need to join together to achieve ‘economy of scales’ production and pricing, this could be an advantage. However, when it serves to protect only the biggest producers and exclude new entrepreneurs, it seems counterproductive for the consumer who wishes to buy local chicken from a small, northern producer.

The policies created by the south for the south, 46 years ago, have excluded almost all Northern farmers who wish to buy into this system. In conversation with Mr. Burt it was established that last year, 42,591 chickens were processed in northern abattoirs. This is according to OMAFRA, (Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food and Rural Affairs). This represents .34 percent of our Northern consumption. This will feed northerners for about one day a year. Mr. Burt indicated that the last quota allotment of 6,500 units was free to nearly 1,100 southern producers. This represents an extra 40,000 chicken for each farmer and this is close to the ‘entire’ production of the North.

The inception of the new festival has shed a stronger light on these kinds of issues. Many Manitouliners are expressing an interest in getting their food, including poultry and meats, from a local source on a regular basis. At this time, only 300 chickens can be grown by a producer with no quota allocation, and these cannot be actively marketed. The current cost of one quota unit (11.6 kg of live weight per annum) is $120. This sum excludes profitability for Northern farmers. Mr. Burt has indicated that this rate has changed over the years and is higher now.

In the next month a new CFO policy is being written for new ‘entrants’ into the chicken production market with no ‘Northern’ consultation. In addition to production quotas, there is the extra barrier of a ‘processing quota,’ which further increases the potential cost. During a call placed to the CFO, on March 8, 2012, it was confirmed that the current system is dealing with the ‘global’ picture and that it is running smoothly at this time dealing with both food safety and security. New producers must go through the lengthy application process to be part of this system.

It seems that this current application process might benefit from further revision to allow more entry for, smaller, Northern producers while protecting the investments of the current quota holders. It is anticipated that greater local production will bring more competitive pricing and a healthier product. If enough of us send a letter, (rather than an email which does not carry much weight), to Minister Ted McMeekin, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, we may be able to urge the ministry to revisit this restrictive regulatory structure and find a way to include more Northern farmers in the poultry production business.

Note: On March 6, 2012, the CFO (Chicken Farmers of Ontario) released information that may facilitate some participation for new entrepreneurs. The link on the website is not detailed enough, at this time, to assess if this will make a substantial difference to our area. This document can be viewed on the CFO website under ‘New Chicken Farmer Entrant’s Program’.

If you wish to send a letter, here is the address for the minister:

The Honourable Ted McMeekin

Minister of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs

77 Grenville Street

Toronto Ontario

M7A 1B3

Phone: 416-326-3074 and Fax: 416-326-3083

You could also let Mr. Burt know your thoughts on this matter:

Max Burt

1295 Tenth Line

Gore Bay, ON

P0P 1H0

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter and to consider helping to make our island more open to local food production.

Petra Wall

Spring Bay