New Report shows half of B.C. agriculture jobs now in dairy and poultry
(NC) We spoke with Al Sakalauskas, who represents the province's dairy, poultry and egg farmers (BCDEPI), about the big shift
PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP just released a study that shows poultry and dairy farms now account for nearly half of all agriculture jobs in British Columbia, up from one in four in 2007.
Q: This is quite a swing. What is driving it?
A: Two forces are at work. The overall B.C. agriculture sector has shed 9,400 jobs between 2007 and 2011. In the meantime, dairy, poultry and egg farms have added 3,350 positions, for a total of 31,726. As a result, these producers now represent 45 per cent of all agriculture jobs in the province.
Q: Why is dairy and poultry doing so well and the rest of the industry not?
A: Farming is a tough business with boom-bust price swings. Dairy, poultry and egg producers avoid this instability through a system of supply management, which involves farmers working with industry and government to set production levels that meet demand, avoiding both shortages and over-production.
Q: Isn't it hard to predict how much food British Columbians are going to eat?
A: Actually, consumption of eggs, dairy and poultry products is very stable. Plus, we revisit targets every few weeks.
Q: Some critics say supply management causes consumer prices for dairy, chicken and eggs to be higher than they should be. What do you say to that?
A: Retailers decide the prices consumers pay. These prices can vary a lot depending on how much retailers think they can charge. Supply management sets the prices farmers get for their products. Processors typically spend more on packaging the food than the farmer gets for producing it.
Q: The same critics argue we should open the border to imports from foreign eggs, dairy and poultry producers. Why not do that?
A: We would not be competing on a level playing field. B.C. farmers working under supply management don't get a nickel in government subsidies while U.S. producers get billions of dollars each year directly from the government.
Q: What about the size of the farms?
A: Virtually all farms under supply management are family run. Let's look at table eggs. The average sized flock in B.C. is about 19,000. In the U.S., 87 per cent of total egg product is from factory farms with more than 1 million hens. Sixteen producers have more than 5 million hens, so one of these massive factory farms can supply B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan with all its eggs.
Q: So what is wrong with larger farms?
A: Market research shows that Canadians overwhelmingly want their food produced from local family farms, not from factory farm in Iowa or Pennsylvania. As for quality, supply management sets and monitors unrivaled food safety and environmental standards.
Q: Any final thoughts?
A: As the PwC report shows, dairy, eggs and poultry farmers directly add $1.6 billion a year to provincial GDP – underpinning $5.6 billion in total output -- and employ 31,000 people. Supply management has proven to be an absolutely vital foundation for B.C.'s agriculture sector.
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