A two-day workshop for young farmers in mid- November was so successful that a followup meeting will be held in Winnipeg in February, says Jean-Pierre Blackburn, the minister of state for agriculture.
“We will follow up there with responses to the issues that the young farmers raised this week,” Blackburn said in an interview. “We heard a lot from them and we will think about what they had to say and plan what steps we could take after that meeting.”
The first National Future Farmers Network workshop brought together 45 young farmers mostly recommended by the Canadian Young Farmers Forum. There were also representatives from national farm organizations and government departments. Blackburn said he hoped more young farmers could get involved in the process. He hopes to get them involved in the design of Growing Forward 2.
Among the issues that will be discussed further in Winnipeg are the financial, credit and marketing aspects of entering agriculture, Blackburn said. “Many young farmers aren’t aware of all the help and information that’s available from government.”
The exchanges at the workshop were important for the observers, he said. “Government has to understand how to meet the needs of the people who will feed the world’s growing population.” His department has established a website www.youngfarmers.ca to try to answer those questions.
Officials from government departments observed the workshop so they could have first-hand exposure to the issues facing young farmers, he said.
Blackburn didn’t directly address a complaint from the National Farmers Union about being excluded from the workshop, but said farm groups were welcome to observe the meeting.
Kalissa Regier, NFU youth president, said her organization didn’t know why it was left out of the meeting. She said round tables Blackburn held across the country last year “appeared to have a strong presence from industry and stakeholders of large agribusiness. They also seemed to neglect the voices of young farmers who concentrate on alternative production and marketing models and small-scale, locally focused producers.”
Ron Bonnett, president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, said when Blackburn first proposed the November workshop, his organization pointed out the long-standing role of the Canadian Young Farmers Forum and it became involved in the planning of the meeting. He complimented Blackburn for his leadership on the issue and for giving young farmers the opportunity to share experiences and frustrations.
Blackburn said he was confident the participants in the workshop will stir up interest in the future farmers’ network and get more people involved in it. “Everyone will then be aware of the innovative and promising solutions discovered by young and beginning farmers, in order to further energize and modernize the sector.”
Leona Dargis, who runs the family cattle and grain farm in northern Alberta with her sisters, said the network has helped her in the process of taking over the operation and given her friends across the country. “We can share our views and experiences with each other.
“We need a hand up getting into this business and we appreciate the opportunity the network gives us,” she said. “I am appreciative to be able to have an influential voice in creating positive change towards a dynamic future for the Canadian agricultural industry.”