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NL Votes 2019: Ag sector wants government to improve access to industry

Merv Wiseman, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Agriculture, was in St. John’s on July 18 with then-provincial Land Resources minister Steve Crocker and federal Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay to announce a new risk-assessment project for this province’s farmers. Wiseman spoke with The Telegram about risks increasing due to climate change.
Merv Wiseman, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Agriculture. - Ashley Fitzpatrick

With a provincial election looming, many issues are up for consideration in various sectors.

Merv Wiseman, President of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Agriculture (NLFA) says what they want to see, going forward, is action.

Wiseman referenced the Agriculture Sector Work Plan put forward by the current government in 2017. NLFA was a partner on the plan, providing input to government, along with other industry stakeholders. He said the 43 actions listed in the plan are reasonable and some are issues the industry has known about for years. But the next government – whichever party is at the helm – has to move forward with them.

“Now we have to execute,” he said. “Executing the plan and how we’re going to get there, achieve the goals and targets; and it’s really what we would like to see from whatever government that happens to be there.”

He said parts of the plan have moved forward but others need to be worked on now. To realize the potential of the industry in this province, he said, one of the first things they need is a farm development loan board, which most provinces have.

There was one in the province for a long time but it was dismantled in the 1990s. Wiseman said it would fill some of the funding gaps that exist now in the commercial farming industry.

“I really point to young farmers, new entrants, having to have a lot of equity just to get a business going,” he said. “Most young farmers don’t have that. A loan board would be essential in complementing what is already out there.”

He said some current provincial programs need to be simplified, including those around agrifoods. There are assistance programs out there, he said, but the criteria can be so strict and cumbersome, a lot of people don’t qualify who should.

From an NLFA standpoint, he said, they want to see a funding framework for the industry to have groups, such as themselves, lobby government on behalf of the industry, among other things. They would like legislation that would mandate government to collect fees for things like farm identification, having a group at the table with government, and different registration levels in the industry.

“If we could get some of this addressed, it would go a long way to help meet the goals and objectives the industry has set for itself. I believe that, likewise, government has to sit in parallel with that. It’s easy to put plans together but bringing them to fruition, investing in these plans, it’s the crux of it all and that’s where we need to progress.” 

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