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Small-scale chicken quota changes stir controversy

Manitoba Chicken Producers has launched a new annual specialty quota program in hopes 
of developing new markets for specialty poultry products in the province

Manitoba Chicken Producers is changing the guidelines for small-scale producers.

It’s moving to an annual specialty quota program it says addresses the reality that the chicken market is becoming more specialized, and will give consumers access to Manitoba-grown birds.

“At the end of the day what we want consumers in Manitoba to have access to is safe, fresh product in whatever option is their preference,” said Wayne Hiltz, executive director of MCP. “Right now, some of these markets are being sourced through frozen products from other parts of the country and we would rather have people eating fresh, Manitoba-produced chicken.”

MCP launched a new annual specialty quota program on Sept. 23 that aims to offer Manitoba consumers more choice in specialized markets, such as Silkie or Taiwanese birds, kosher, halal, and certified organic chicken.

“Traditionally, we have grown different sizes of birds, roasters, Cornish and broilers, but these specialty productions don’t really fit in that model because the size of those markets is smaller,” Hiltz said.

And so, the new program has been established as a response to consumer demand.

“Consumers dictate what the market is and we see the solution to be partnering with small producers to deliver that,” Hiltz said.

In comparison to other provinces, Manitoba’s traditional chicken market has a higher ratio of consumers purchasing fresh over frozen products and MCP hopes to develop similar buying habits within these specialty markets.

“We are already providing fresh product to Manitoba consumers, just not necessarily in all the options they want it,” Hiltz said.

Lukewarm reception

In some cases however, this market has been filled by local producers directly marketing to Manitoba consumers, says Phil Veldhuis, president of producer group Direct Market Manitoba.

He says it’s good MCP is trying to accommodate specialty and small-scale producers, but doubts the new rules will accomplish this. In fact, he says the proposal is generating a lot of concern from his members.

“Several producers currently serving the specialty market will have their access to market significantly reduced as a result of these measures,” Veldhuis wrote in response to the announcement. “These producers have been working under long-standing marketing permits to serve customers their market choice for farm gate and specialty purchases. Even if they successfully applied for the new program, their exemptions would limit their production to a third of the previously permitted annual production.”

He added that annually awarding market access isn’t a guarantee strong enough to justify new or young farmers making investments or accessing financing.

“While conventional producers can count on their annual production quota and the value that quota has in the marketplace, smaller producers will not have the same stable access to value despite the fees they will pay not the quota system,” Veldhuis said.

Other issues include the lack of approved processing facilities and the reality that the only one currently open in the province is actually threatened by these measures because it makes the future of the current producers it serves uncertain.

Veldhuis said direct marketing any food product takes time to establishing a trusting relationship between farmer and customer, and said implementing changes over such a short time frame would make the incremental growth that small producers excel at impossible.

“However well intentioned, we believe this program will have the opposite effect and will hurt small and specialty chicken producers,” Veldhuis said, calling for a full consultation with affected small-scale producers before changes to the current system are made.

Entering the market

MCP wants to partner up with producers who are not currently involved in traditional chicken production, who may be looking to complement their current farm or are looking for an opportunity to do some direct marketing.

Producers interested in applying cannot be currently registered with MCP, they must have proof of ownership of land and buildings suitable for raising chicken and must also comply with all of the requirements of the national on-farm food safety and animal care programs.

Once registered, producers will be asked to submit a business plan that must outline the proposed specialty market, the name and location of the hatchery supplying the chicks, the name and location of the processing facility, how and where the chickens will be raised and sold.

All chicken raised by a specialty producer must be slaughtered and processed in a federally or provincially inspected facility.

“We will be giving out quota allotments of 10,000 kilograms for the year, so depending on what size of bird you are growing that would give you a range between 2,000 to 5,000 birds, depending on the weight of the bird,” Hiltz said.

All new products produced through this program will also be a part of MCP’s on-farm food safety and animal care program audits.

“Producers should expect the same audits and protocol as those who produce traditional chicken products,” Hiltz said.

Long-term goal

MCP is unsure what to expect in terms of producer interest in specialty products, but the organization says it is committed to taking the time to develop these markets.

“It is definitely a long-term relationship we are looking to establish in order to service these markets locally and if it takes us a few years to get there, we are prepared for that,” Hiltz said.

MCP also expects it to take time for consumers to take note of the new buying opportunities and adjust their purchasing patterns.

“If someone is looking to buy a niche product and had the option to buy it locally, as opposed to frozen from Montreal, it would be an easy choice,” Hiltz said. “But first we have to get it produced, let that person know it is available and where, and all of that takes some time and market development.”

About the author

Reporter

Jennifer Paige is a reporter centred in southwestern Manitoba. She previously wrote for the agriculture-based magazine publisher, Issues Ink and was the sole-reporter at the Minnedosa Tribune for two years prior to joining the Manitoba Co-operator.

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