Report paints bleak picture of N.S., P.E.I. farming economies
A report from a Maritime research group warns of tough times for the farm economies of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, including individual farmers going deeper into debt, as jobs and wages that sustain rural communities continue to vanish.
October 9, 2008 By Canadian Press/Brandon Sun
October 9, 2008
HALIFAX – A new report paints a bleak picture of the farm economies of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. The report released Thursday by GPI Atlantic says the jobs and wages that farms provide to rural communities are in danger of drying up. The Nova Scotia-based research group adds that local farmers are going deeper into debt as their income no longer covers expenses.
The report says the cost burden includes wage payouts that have more than doubled in the last 35 years, and the increasing prices of fuel and fertilizer. The fact that Maritimers are consuming increasing amounts of imported foods only exacerbates the problem.
The report contains a litany of woes, such as a sharp reduction in the number of people employed on farms – including a record low number of jobs in Nova Scotia.
Since 2001, jobs in agriculture have dropped by 36 percent in Nova Scotia, from 7,300 to 4,700. On the Island, the report says the sharpest job loss occurred somewhat earlier, falling from 6,100 in 1986 to 3,900 today, also a drop of 36 percent.
And the proportion of young farmers in both Nova Scotia and P.E.I. is now at its lowest level in recorded history.
"As farming becomes less viable, it's also less attractive to young people," said Jennifer Scott, the report's lead author. "What young farmer is going to take on a huge debt and go into an occupation where you can't make ends meet?
"The sad part is that this is leading to an exodus of talented young people from rural communities, which in turn reduces the resilience, strength, diversity and vitality of these communities."
GPI found that currently, only seven percent of Nova Scotia farmers and nine percent of P.E.I. farmers are under age 35, while 45 percent of Nova Scotia farmers and 39 percent of P.E.I. farmers are 55 or older.
The report notes there is some hope in the fact there's a growing demand for healthy, locally produced food.
The research group found a dramatic increase in the number of farmers' markets, both locally and throughout North America.
"This is ironic," said Scott. "Just as local farming is unravelling, Canadians and Maritimers are increasingly interested in buying locally grown food.
"This raises the challenging question: Do we have the capacity to meet the demand and to produce the local food that people want?"