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Farmers challenging politicians

A recently formed advocacy group for farmers is challenging politicians to ensure food safety as well as reduce land-use restrictions on farmers wishing to sell land to urban developers.

May 13, 2009  By Halifax Chronicle Herald

May 13, 2009

Nova Scotia needs a policy that will ensure food safety and security for generations, says a recently formed advocacy group for farmers.

"Farmers are at a tipping point," Linda Best, a spokeswoman for Friends of Agriculture in Nova Scotia, said Tuesday. "Unless things change, we’re going to lose more farmers, and we can’t afford to do that because our food security is at great risk. It’s basically now or never."

Even large farmers and those under supply management are "under the gun," she said, with about 47 percent having to supplement their income by working off the farm or having a family member take another job.

Ms. Best said in some recent years, including 2006, the net farm income in Nova Scotia was negative.

Farmers in Kings County recently voted to keep land-use regulations that protect agricultural land from residential, housing and industrial development. But the vote was close, dividing the farm community almost in half.

Some farmers want the restrictions lifted so they can sell their land for development and use it for their retirement or reinvest it back into their farms. In some high-development areas, farmers can get much more for their land if they sell it to developers.

Kings County, one of the most heavily farmed areas of the province, is the only region in all of Eastern Canada to have restrictions on the use of farmland to prevent it from being gobbled up for non-farm uses.

But there is a growing lobby to have those restrictions lifted or to establish some kind of land trust where farmers are paid to keep their land in agricultural production.

Richard Melvin, a vegetable producer near Canning who is the president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture, said in a recent interview that the province should invest $50 million during the next five years to protect agricultural land, similar to a land trust model in Maine.

"If farmers can’t make a living off farming, they have to find some other way of keeping the farm or getting themselves out of debt," said Ms. Best.

She said the single most important issue right now is ensuring farmers get a proper return for their efforts.

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