February 10, 2015 - Last week the Thunder Bay and Area Food Strategy joined 20 regional food organizations and farm businesses in asking the Chicken Farmers of Ontario (CFO) and other industry leaders to include them in industry growth consultations.
Under a new national agreement, Ontario will be expanding chicken production over the next few years by an additional 72,000,000 live kilograms of chicken. Consultations to date have been held only in southern Ontario and largely with existing chicken farmers.
Ontario chicken farmers raise over 200 million chickens a year, valued at over 780 million dollars before it leaves the farm. There are over 1,000 independent chicken farmers in Ontario with only one farmer growing chicken in northern Ontario.
In Ontario (and across Canada) chicken production works under a marketing system known as "supply management." Supply management matches production to demand to ensure that farmers receive a fair price for their product. Farmers are only able to raise chickens if they purchase quota from the CFO. Quota is often in high demand and the CFO's industry consultations will help determine how new quota is allocated.
Farmers are able to raise up to 300 meat birds without purchasing quota. However, supply management's system makes it very difficult for new entrants to pursue chicken farming. One of the main reasons is that purchasing quota requires significant capital investment. New chicken farmers must buy a minimum of 14,000 quota units. At $85 a bird, that works out to $1.14 million just for the license to raise chickens. More options are called for that would create a bridge between the 300 bird exemption and the 14,000 quota to be part of supply management. The Thunder Bay and Area Food Strategy will be calling on the CFO to create more options for potential chicken farmers while stressing regional economic development so that production in the north can eventually meet local demand for poultry.
The CFO responded to a request for consultation with northern Ontario communities and has scheduled a videoconference on February 11. While the consultation was put together in haste and invitations sent out with only a few days notice, it is encouraging that industry leaders are finally looking north for comment.