Canadian Agriculture 2015 – British Columbia
Sylvia Fredenslund was invited by CAFA (Canadian Association of Farm Advisors) to hold a lecture at the recent “Ag In Motion” agricultural exhibition in Saskatoon Saskatchewan, about her experiences with the crisis in the Danish farming and handling problems in that respect. This is the final in a series of four articles of her experience while she toured across Canada.
Before going to British Columbia I have to finish my visit in Calmar, Alberta, just south of Edmonton, where I visited a dairy farmer Johann ter Borgh, who immigrated to Canada from Holland 20 years ago. As all Dutch milk producers in Denmark family ter Borgh also have Holstein. They run a farm with 300 cows and about the same number of cattle. The family consists of father, mother and three children aged 18 to 25 years. Work all day throughout the year and from early morning – all meetings at 5:00 a.m. – and work untill late evening – everyone works until. 21:00 p.m., where the two oldest sons go home to their own houses for both to come again the next morning at. 05:00. 365 days a year. I do not think we can bring even the most dedicated Danish farmers to do that much.
The family had just completed construction of a new shed and a new milk rotary for up to 50 cows at a time. It took 1 hour to milk 300 cows and they are milked morning and evening. It is an impressive sight to stand up on a “viewpoint” and watch the milking of 50 cows simultaneously. The old parlor was used for milking medicated animals and cows not giving milk and calvers. The oldest son had developed a system so that this milk was automatically passed over to a third barn, calf barn, where it was pasteurized and given to the calves. The system saved some workflows and nothing went to waste.
As a dairy farmer in Canada is guaranteed a minimum price per liter of milk equal to the total average cost of production – that is inclusive of salaries to the farmer and the return of the production – negotiate price twice a year. Canadian farmers can even trade quotas among themselves, at certain times of the year.
There was not as big concerns about the abolition of milk quotas which were in Saskatchewan.
But there were concerns about the next generation of acquisition of the property. The parents work a lot but are well aware that the young generation cannot and will not work as much – but what is the alternative when it is not possible to find labor for agriculture in Canada? Generational change is a subject that is very focused on across Canada much more than it is experienced in Denmark. In British Columbia, I visited Adrian Spitters, who has his own consulting company, which advises farmers and families about generational planning. It is a process to start very early – early 40s – and most should find young farmers outside the family to take over, firstly, Canadian farmers are not quite as child rich as in Denmark and secondly, there is generally not the same family ties and traditions to take over the farm as there are in Denmark. Here signs Dutch families out clearly from other Canadian / American families. The Dutch families I visited had the same traditions as in Denmark – maybe this is a special European way of doing it?
In British Columbia, the climate is somewhat warmer and in the southern part of the region are valleys with very good agricultural land. But unlike the other regions I visited, there is in British Columbia scarcity of land, which is also reflected in the fact that Vancouver, which is the region’s capital, is the world’s most expensive city to live in. This is partly due to the expensive land prices , 1 ha of agricultural land is good up to 550,000, – kr. – it is expensive – extremely expensive – and this means that there is no large space-consuming crop in the region. Just as there are not many cattle and pig production in this region. However, they have Canada’s largest chicken producers here. I visited among other things, Canada’s largest organic chicken producer “Oranya Farm”, which is located in Fraiser Valley on the opposite side of the Rocky Mountains than Calgary.
Oranya Farms owned by Corry Spitter, who is Dutch after coming from Opa Spitters, who immigrated to Canada from Holland in 1954. Corry and his four brothers have grown up on a small farm on Nicomen Island. In 1989 bought the Corry family farm. Corry wanted to try something new and established the first chicken production, which has grown to be Canada’s largest organic chicken farm. Jordan, son of Corry and general manager of the farm has grown up on the family farm and continued farming tradition traces back to the 18th century. A relationship which is very important in Canada which is a very young country and when a company can muster traditions and ownership back to “time immemorial” – the 18th century, then it is something they markets itself on.
In addition to chicken production the agricultural production in southern British Columbia contains of less extensive land production – berry production, here we find almost all Canadian cherry and blueberry production. The productions that require a lot of labor in the season is almost only delivered by mexican and phillipine employees. They come to Fraiser Valley every April and return home in October and so it goes, year after year – it is largely the same people coming back only replaced by a “generational change”, the workers now send their sons instead.
Just as we in Denmark have seen and heard about farmers who have Eastern European workers living in squalid conditions and poor pay and working conditions, this is also the case in British Columbia, but since it is virtually impossible to find Canadian workers to berry picking, so it increases farmers’ interest in establishing proper conditions for employees otherwise they simply get no employees. It is the state that sets quotas for the number of foreign workers and there are no trade unions or employers’ organization in the Canadian agriculture as we see in Denmark.
To counter the lack of manpower in berry production two previously berry growers were started cultivating hops for beer production. In Canada, this is new initiatives. There has grown hops 100 years ago, but production stopped because of some harsh winters with frosts and has not really come back until 2015. Knowledge and production machines were picked up in Germany since Canada does not have that knowledge longer.
Generally I experienced British Columbia with a very heated – probably overheated – economy, with continued rising land prices, labor shortage, virtually no unemployment and a price index much higher than in any other part of Canada. The situation is similar in many respects to what the Danish agriculture experienced in 2007 and beyond. There are also many people from organizations and consultants who are trying to “shout farmers up” and try to establish a realistic approach to what agriculture can carry in relation to land and production prices. Against this background and following our experiences in Denmark I am fortunate that 2 Canadian agricultural organizations have invited me to come and talk to some Canadian farmers in June / July 2016. Meetings where the opportunity for contact and direct dialogue between Danish and Canadian farmers are present. I am therefore looking for Danish farmers who have the desire and courage to go on a trip to Canada in 2016.