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N.L. has lost 51% of its farmland in the last 20 years — by far the most in Canada

For the previous 20 years, Newfoundland and Labrador has been shedding farmland at a fee practically seven occasions the nationwide common, in response to Stats Canada knowledge.

The quantity of land being farmed within the province has dropped 50.7 per cent since 2001, far outpacing each different province within the nation. That quantity is alarming, in response to Sylvain Charlebois, professor and director of the Agri-Meals Analytics Lab at Dalhousie College.

“That could be a very, very excessive share,” he mentioned.

Charlebois’ issues transcend Newfoundland and Labrador, and into the remainder of Atlantic Canada. Nova Scotia, for instance, has 28.4 per cent fewer acres being farmed. New Brunswick is simply behind at 28.3 per cent, and Prince Edward Island is at 21.8 per cent.

Agriculture is an costly business, and working at a industrial scale requires large upfront prices. Whereas larger provinces like Alberta and Saskatchewan have been extra profitable at attracting traders in agriculture, Charlebois mentioned the Atlantic provinces have struggled.

A man wearing a black turtle-neck shirt, a blue suit jacket, glasses and a headset with a microphone
Sylvain Charlebois, director of the agri-food analytics lab at Dalhousie College, says farms in Atlantic Canada have struggled to draw traders. (TJ Dhir/CBC)

“I spoke to many traders throughout the nation and there is little curiosity in investing within the Atlantic as a result of the return on funding simply is not there,” he mentioned. So the Atlantic provinces want to determine a approach to extract extra worth from their farmland, particularly in Newfoundland and Labrador, he added.

Aaron Rodgers, who manages O’Brien Farm in St. John’s, has just a few theories on why the province is main the pack on misplaced farmland. For one — farming is de facto, actually laborious. Rising at a bigger industrial scale is unimaginable for the overwhelming majority of farmers, and competing domestically is hard.

“It is a troublesome business to be in. It is dangerous on the native facet, which is unlucky,” Rodgers mentioned. “Very, very, little or no of what we develop will get exported. Nearly nothing, proper? So it is all staying on the island and competing on a [local] scale with [global] merchandise. It is simply laborious.”

Newfoundland and Labrador had 643 farms reporting knowledge to Stats Canada in 2001, and simply 344 in 2021.

Aaron Rodgers, director of the non-profit O’Brien Farm in St. John’s, says a provincial plan to assist farmers is an effective step, and there must be work accomplished on the municipal stage as nicely. (Henrike Wilhelm/CBC)

Rodgers mentioned age can be turning into an subject for current farmers — the common Canadian farmer is 56 years previous — and there are vital monetary and regulatory hurdles for younger individuals who need to begin farming.

Then there’s geography. Farmland adjoining to city centres has been evaporating around the globe, as cities sprawl outward. Potential new farmers should look additional and farther from house to search out land.

“In North America and Europe, farmers are very a lot growing older out and on the similar time we have created this technique the place we have pushed smaller, localized farms additional and additional out due to improvement.”

What may be accomplished?

With the intention to defend agricultural land, Charlebois mentioned governments want to speculate extra in issues that may improve the worth of the land. One such factor can be precision agriculture — a way of farming that makes use of networked sensors to acquire knowledge and maximize effectivity with inputs like water, fertilizer and pesticides.

Newfoundland and Labrador has made strides in supporting farmers, with its Method Ahead on Agriculture plan in 2019.

That plan established a objective of doubling Newfoundland and Labrador’s meals self-sufficiency by 2022. It is unclear how a lot progress has been made. CBC has requested to talk with Derrick Bragg, the minister chargeable for agriculture, for a standing replace.

Rodgers mentioned the provincial plan was an essential step in acknowledging the limitations to entry for brand new farmers, and mentioned there are packages by the Canadian Federation of Agriculture which have helped with key points.

He mentioned quite a lot of essential work needs to be accomplished on the municipal stage as nicely.

“The grassroots facet of it has to come back from folks inside municipalities that say, ‘I perceive agriculture can generally be soiled or smelly and never precisely what I would like in my yard however it’s essential for decreasing the dangers of a meals system collapse.'”

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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