People who purchase small-scale, locally produced poultry at markets in southwest Winnipeg should expect to see fewer chickens on shelves this year, market advocacy group Direct Farm Manitoba warns.
Phil Veldhuis, chair of Direct Farm Manitoba (DFM), says the new Annual Specialty Quota Program (ASQP) brought in by Manitoba Chicken Producers (MCP) will force small-scale farmers raising over 30,000 kilograms of chicken a year to either claw back production or jack up prices to cover new costs.
With the introduction of the new ASQP — meant to increase the availability of speciality products such as organic chicken, pasture raised, Silkie, and kosher — exemption permits traditionally held by chicken farmers have been cancelled by the supply management board.
Farmers who had been producing 60,000 kilograms of chicken a year, for example, will have to scale back by half or pay fees, Veldhuis explained.
"Some of those people are participants in the St. Norbert Farmers’ Market and they’re either having to pay more to produce the same amount and the tariff is about 25 per cent that they’re being asked to pay," Veldhuis said. "So I think most of them just won’t produce it.
"It’s tough to know whether the consumers will follow them on that or not — it’s a pretty big premium."
DFM has appealed the cancellation of special exemption permits and the ASQP to the Manitoba Farm Products Marketing Council, Veldhuis said, which will decide in the coming weeks to grant the appeal, dismiss it, or to have hearings.
Erin Crampton, owner of Crampton’s Market (1765 Waverley St.), believes the new quota program will increase the cost of Manitoban chicken her store carries by about 20 per cent, if it’s available.
The seasonal market in Waverley West carries fresh, sustainable, antibiotic-free chicken raised in Manitoba and organic chicken from Ontario. Crampton said if the quota program is implemented as is, there is a good chance the market would no longer receive fresh roasting chicken on a weekly basis or carry frozen chicken pieces from producers in Manitoba.
"We would probably have to bring in products from Ontario if we were wanting to sell sustainably raised chicken," Crampton said. "The cornerstone of our business is local food first so it would be absolutely heartbreaking."
Crampton is hoping the MCP will review the ASQP and hold further consultation with existing producers in an effort to maintain mid-level production.
"Unfortunately, (Manitoba Chicken Producers) didn’t collaborate with those existing producers to ask them what they needed to have the industry grow," Crampton said.
"There’s a huge trickle down effect and it’s so important for people to let the government and the Manitoba Chicken Producers know that they didn’t get it quite right, and maybe go back to the table and have a chat with the people who are affected."
According to Crampton, who is a former member of the Manitoba Farm Products Marketing Council, there is room in the market for specialty, small-scale, and large-scale producers alike.
"We think there’s enough space for everyone and (large scale producers) need to share a little more," she said.
Executive director of MCP Wayne Hiltz did not provide a phone interview but responded to questions over email regarding the impact of the ASQP on consumers.
"The information provided to us indicates that farmers markets are being served by producers growing less than 1,000 chicken per year. These producers are exempt from our regulations and therefore should have no impact," Hiltz wrote. "Manitoba Chicken Producers set the minimum live price by which a farmer can sell chicken at their farm gate… Manitoba Chicken Producers do not regulate from whom retail stores or restaurants must purchase their chicken, or the price that direct marketers (above 999) sell their chicken (other than above the minimum live price)," he continued.
Marilyn Firth, executive director of the St. Norbert Farmers’ Market, said chicken will likely continue to be a hot commodity under the ASQP. However, the market’s main concern is that in the long run, small farmers will be hesitant to get into the chicken business and the main processing plant producers use will struggle with less volume.
"The market in many ways is an incubator for farmers and businesses to get started," Firth explained. "We’re concerned that when there are barriers to entry — and they sound like they are getting stronger — that smaller producers won’t even attempt to get into it because they can’t see a pathway to growth."
"As a province we want to be supporting smaller producers — there are fewer and fewer people getting into farming, and farms are tending to get bigger and bigger. But there is a demand for the kind of product these smaller farmers produce and that’s important to recognize."