Manitoba is acting on the recommendations for improving the working environment of small-scale farmers and processors, says Agriculture, Food and Rural Development Minister Ron Kostyshyn.
Last week he and other MAFRD officials were at the St. Norbert Farmers’ Market to introduce the two business development specialists being reassigned in the department to work with these businesses.
The minister also repeated his pledge to implement the other recommendations in the 65-page Advancing the small scale, local food sector in Manitoba — a path forward.
The report was released in January and followed a year of consultations by a task force Kostyshyn assembled last spring, prompted by growing concern among small farmers and processors over regulatory compliance and enforcement issues.
Kostyshyn said last week he remains committed to seeing the report’s findings enacted because the sector holds so much potential for business development and an expanded food-processing sector.
“We realize the importance of locally grown food and processed food and opportunity for business to develop,” he said.
The report called for the creation of two positions within the MAFRD department to work solely with small farmers and processors. Business development specialists Jeff Eastman and Jayne Kjaldgaard are the two MAFRD staff now assigned to the roles.
Phil Veldhuis, chair of the Farmers Market Association of Manitoba (FMAM) and also a member of the task force said he’s also confident the government is sincere. Members of the task force recently met with Kostyshyn and other MAFRD officials to discuss how the province plans to move forward.
“I’ve learned that you can always tell fairly quickly after you’ve been to a minister’s office whether or not they’re really behind you,” Veldhuis said. “You either kind of get a ‘we’re working on it’ or you get action and commitment to action. They’re committed to doing the work,” he said.
Cypress River-area chicken producer Brad Anderson also attended the minister’s meeting and felt upbeat about what he heard.
“I’m looking forward to the next couple of months to see what rolls out. We’ll see what happens, but I feel good about it,” said Anderson, a member of a farmer direct-marketing group called the Harvest Moon Local Food Initiative that was told their off-farm chicken sales contravened regulations last spring.
The province is now developing online resources focused on business development and food safety for the startup processor, and has posted on the MAFRD website a list of permitted community kitchens to rent, Kostyshyn said.
A new manual for food-processing entrepreneurs on the steps to starting a business is also expected to be released this fall.
Dr. Wayne Lees, who facilitated the task force, said the province needs to act quickly.
“The small-scale food-growing and -processing industry is expanding and it’s important, if we’re going to deal with these small-scale producers and processors, that we have a framework so that they’re treated fairly and they can realize their business goals.”
One of the things Anderson said he’ll be watching most closely is what comes from discussions beginning between the Manitoba Farm Products Marketing Council and the province’s supply-managed sector to look for options for small farmers to operate.
Options are to be presented to the MAFRD minister by next spring, according to a government press release.
Anderson said that while he’s glad to hear Manitoba Egg Farmers has agreed to triple its non-quota limit of laying hens — from 99 to 300 — he’d like to have seen the limit even higher, to around 500. Discussions around raising quota limit need to include people directly affected, he said last week.
“The important next step is for the marketing boards to sit down with small-scale producers and invent a creative way to include small-scale seasonal production in the quota system,” he said.
The 65-page report included 21 separate recommendations to help foster an improved operating environment for the small-scale producer, including improved extension and technical supports, increased promotion of local food, and revisiting caps on non-quota production for commodities such as eggs, poultry, milk and root crops. Supports for processors additionally include more help navigating what is seen as a regulatory environment geared towards the capacity of much larger-scale businesses.