Plenty of Island voices at beef farmer meeting

Manitoulin Island beef farmers had the opportunity to meet with industry representatives, delegates and government officials, including Algoma-Manitoulin MP Mike Mantha, third from left.

Nickolas Martin voted in as youngest delegate on the cow-calf committee

TORONTO – Manitoulin Island beef farmers were well represented at this year’s Beef Farmers of Ontario (BFO) annual general meeting in Toronto with a large number of producers having made the trip down to represent the group and Martin Farms’ Nickolas Martin being named as a representative on the cow-calf committee.

“I was an advisory councillor last year already and I got voted in again at our local (cattlemen’s) meeting in January. Jordan Miller had talked me into running for the cow-calf committee on the provincial level, and I got voted in,” said Mr. Martin, who was up for the position against other producers with strong reputations.

The first meeting of that committee will be in April. Its purpose is to discuss issues pertaining to the cow-calf industry in Ontario, identify ways to get cow-calf producers a higher profile and increase educational opportunities related to their field.

“For example, we used to have a cow-calf roadshow and we turned it into more of an educational weekend. Like last year, we had a ranching for profit workshop with (California ranching specialist) Dave Pratt and some local farm tours,” said Mr. Martin.

He is a part of what might be described as a farming renaissance among the younger generation—although there have been years of concerns that younger farmers were not getting into the business, a new wave of young farmers has begun to get involved in the industry.

Mr. Miller, a Kagawong-area beef farmer and a director-at-large for BFO, said he was confident that Mr. Martin was the youngest advisory councillor currently in the province. Mr. Martin has just turned 24.

“It seems like there’s a generation gap there. It doesn’t matter if you look at the Manitoulin (cattlemen’s) meeting or at the provincial level, it seems everyone is either grey-haired or around my age,” said Mr. Martin.

Mr. Martin, Mr. Miller and a number of other young Island beef farmers took part in a youth delegate reception for producers between the ages of 18 and 40. Roughly 35 young producers were in attendance at that meeting which discussed topics about the challenges faced by young beef farmers in Ontario.

Mr. Miller said this was the biggest representation of Island farmers at the meeting since he began attending the gathering.

“When we started going, we were always sharing tables with other small counties. Now we have a whole table of members and we can vote as a unit, which gives us a greater voice in influencing issues in favour of the North,” said Mr. Miller.

The strong numbers are greatly aided by a very supportive and nurturing environment on the Island, he said. He credited John McNaughton (president of the Manitoulin Cattlemen’s Association) and Brent Best (secretary) for their years of attending this conference, representing the Island and developing relationships with producers.

“We’ve got a number of (young) guys interested and keen and I think one of the coolest things about Manitoulin is the old guard is very quick to encourage and support us and put us into roles where we can gain experience. You hear about some districts where it’s always the same representation and there’s people there who won’t allow younger people to step in,” said Mr. Miller.

The biggest issue shared at the meeting was processing capacity in Eastern Canada and how producers could get their products to market in the most efficient way possible. The announcement in November 2019 that investors had bought the Manitoulin Island Community Abattoir and would continue to run it as the Limestone Island Abattoir was a significant bonus to Island producers on this issue.

“We’ll be one of the only abattoirs in Ontario that has the capacity to take more cattle,” said Mr. Miller. “This will give us more encouragement to do more local products and services when we have the abattoir in our tool bag, rather than having to take our animals to auction and taking whatever price we can get.”

Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Mike Mantha was in attendance at the AGM, something that was very much appreciated by Mr. Miller.

“He showed up at our banquet and sat at a table with us and Algoma producers, and he heard us out,” said Mr. Miller. “I heard that there were less MPPs there than usual at the banquet, so it felt good for me that my MPP came and listened to us about what we’re dealing with and what we hope will come in the future.”

Manitoulin’s strong representation on this stage will mean continued advocacy for Northern agricultural issues and more voices bringing Island issues to the fore.