‘Tsunami of cost increases’: Nova Scotia farmers grapple with soaring inflation

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As Tim Marsh gazes out over the fields in front of his farm in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley, he worries about what the future holds for his industry.

Marsh said input costs over the past six months have been unprecedented, with farming necessities like diesel, fertilizer and herbicide costing exponentially more than last year.

“The price of any of these major imported inputs just skyrocketed,” he said. “Nearly double the fuel bills…fertilizer [is] double, if not triple. »

Marsh is not alone. Farmers and consumers across the province are feeling the pressure from Canada’s inflation levels, which have reached a high of 31 years.

Marsh has farmed 303 hectares of land for over 20 years. As president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture, he knows all too well the struggles of others in the industry.

“I know a lot of producers who are literally waiting until this fall to see where their books end up and whether or not they can continue for another year,” he said.

“I’m very worried. I’m not going to say there’s going to be a huge exodus, but I imagine there will be fewer farmers around this time next year.”

Marsh raises cattle on his farm near Windsor, NS. (David Laughlin/CBC)

David Newcombe is the 10th generation to operate his family farm in Port Williams. He said his farm spent about $10,000 on an average order of herbicides last year. This year, that price has risen to $30,000.

“Things can’t go on as they are,” Newcombe said. “You know, inflation has to be brought under control, and that’s something that’s not up to me at this point.”

David Newcombe has been helping on the family farm since the age of six. Now he is the barn manager. (Dylan Jones/CBC)

Amid concerns about farm costs, Nova Scotia faces another crisis. Feed Nova Scotia said last week that its food banks experiencing significant demand due to rising food prices.

The organization’s president, Nick Jennery, said the number of new food bank users each month in the Halifax and Cape Breton regional municipalities is almost double compared to typical months. Families of five or more use food banks 30% more often than single people, he said.

Marsh said farmers are very worried about the cost of food.

“Farmers don’t want to pass on, you know, very high prices to consumers,” he said. “Especially the most marginalized and low-income members of society, we have compassion for them.

“We donate different things to food banks now, but it’s only a short-term solution. We need everyone to be able to afford food.”

Food prices are expected to rise further

Richard Melvin is a fifth-generation farmer in Canning, Nova Scotia, growing vegetables like cauliflower, romaine lettuce and green onions.

He said he had hardly planted this year due to cost concerns.

Richard Melvin says he hopes for more government programs to help farmers recoup their costs. (David Laughlin/CBC)

“In normal times, we’re used to dealing with inflation of 1-2% a year,” Melvin said. “This year, everything we touch is up 10, 12, 15, 20, 25 percent. So it’s kind of like a tsunami of cost increases that we’re dealing with.”

He said he expects his farm, Melvin Farms Ltd., to be in the red this year. And the only way to try to recoup losses is to try to raise his prices when he sells to wholesalers who, in turn, sell to stores like Sobeys and Loblaws.

“We have to, unfortunately, spend most of that through [in our pricing] because we work on very tight margins, even in a normal year, a one or two percent margin,” he said.

But Melvin said it was a difficult time because there is no guarantee wholesalers will pay the highest prices as farmers do not have contracts and prices can change weekly.

Marsh says in 2020 he paid 50 cents a liter for the diesel he needs to run his farm equipment. Now he pays $1.50 a litre. (David Laughlin/CBC)

Marsh said that at one time Nova Scotia farmers produced most of the food consumed by locals, but now less than 30% of food in stores is locally grown.

Marsh said wholesale prices are being driven lower by the global nature of the market. He said things like berries from South America are priced lower than locally grown produce.

Global market

“[The wholesaler has] the global market to buy,” he said. “If a producer needs to increase a few percentage points to cover their costs and a wholesaler can determine that they can make more money by buying it elsewhere, they will pass the price.”

Marsh and Melvin said they believe the best way to solve this problem is for consumers to demand local produce in their grocery stores.

Melvin mentioned provinces like Quebec that promote locally grown foods through smart marketing and clear labeling.

“We need to have more people asking for help locally,” Marsh said. “But at the same time, most people can’t afford to do anything other than shop by price. So we feel that. I think that’s really a trap for a lot of people.”

Melvin grows crops like romaine lettuce, pictured here. (David Laughlin/CBC)

Marsh suggested a fair trade model, which is often used for chocolate and coffee produced in South America.

“In many cases, the consumer no longer needs to pay. They just need a better slice of that retail dollar to get back to the actual primary farmer.”

Last week, the provincial government said it was looking for ways to help cope with rising costs and inflation in addition to existing insurance and loan programs offered to farmers. On May 26, Nova Scotia Agriculture Minister Greg Morrow hosted his counterparts from across Atlantic Canada to discuss agricultural issues, including rising costs.

So far, the province has increased funding from $350,000 to $550,000 for a program to help farmers with the cost of transporting limestone, which is used to neutralize soil acidity on farmland.

The province, through the Nova Scotia Farm Loan Board, also spent $1.1 million to purchase 125 hectares of land in Cape John, Pictou County, for cattle ranchers to use as pasture. communities, potentially freeing up more farmland for agriculture.

“Animals need to be fed”

Newcombe said he was concerned about the financial strain on farmers and consumers, but he plans to continue.

“Animals need to be fed…and crops need to be planted. So hopefully as things move forward, we’ll start to see increases on the revenue side for our products that we sell,” he said. -he declares. .

“We’ve been here for 10 generations. Hopefully we can do another 10 at least.”


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