The provincial government has laid out plans to improve food security in Newfoundland and Labrador by 2022, but farmers in the Big Land say a lack of government support is stifling their agricultural aspirations.
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Tom Angiers is a ninth-generation farmer who operates Spruce Meadow Farms and Petting Zoo in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. He says Labrador has massive untapped agricultural potential and the government should give farmers the support they need to grow the industry.
"The industry could be huge. The problem is, as individuals, we can't create an agricultural industry. The department of agriculture is supposed to do that," he said.
'The industry could be huge.' - Tom Angiers
Angiers points to his recent struggles obtaining land to expand Spruce Meadow Farms as an example of the bureaucratic obstacles Labrador farmers face. After applying for a 320-acre parcel of land and paying to have an environmental assessment completed — a process that took nearly a year and cost him thousands of dollars — the department awarded him only a fraction of the land.
"We were approved for, you know, just the same way Voisey's Bay got their environmental review approved. And then at the end of the day they said, 'No, we're just going to give you 50 acres,'" he said.
He recently received another 30 acres in the same area, bringing the total to 80, or about one-quarter of of his initial 320-acre application.
"It seems like every time we try and go forward, they throw an obstacle in our way that's going to cost us money, that's going to take years out of our lives, and to make sure the industry can't exist," he said, noting the additional space will barely be enough to rotate his crops properly.
Leased land a sore spot for farmers
Access to agricultural land has long been a sore spot for farmers in Labrador because of what they say was an unfair advantage given to farmers on the island portion of the province.
Historically, farmers could be granted land by the provincial government as long as they developed it for agricultural use. However, the policies changed in 1977 so land is now leased from the government, not granted, and therefore never becomes the farmer's property.
Farmers in Labrador argue the local agriculture industry was virtually non-existent during the granted land era, and therefore they never had an opportunity to benefit from the added security of owning their farmland.
Meanwhile, many Newfoundland farmers still operate on mixed properties of granted and leased land.
"There's a lot of frustration with land use issues as it pertains to Labrador agriculture. It's not a new issue but it's something we're addressing," said Des Sellars, who owns Nature's Best Farm in Happy Valley-Goose Bay and sits on the board of the Lake Melville Agricultural Association.
'What's needed is a change in direction and approach to farming.' - Des Sellars
Sellars is part of a provincial committee tasked with making recommendations to government on how to enhance local agriculture and mitigate the economic risks associated with operating a farm, including the high cost of transportation into and out of Labrador, as well as a lack of infrastructure. He's scheduled to present these concerns at a risk assessment workshop in Happy Valley-Goose Bay on Aug. 18.
While Sellars hesitated to provide specific details of his upcoming presentation, he did say it will "address real issues and make real proposals for improvement."
"What's needed is a change in direction and approach to farming, or otherwise everyone's going to be disappointed," he said.
Back on Spruce Meadow Farms, Tom Angiers views the granted land issue as another example of the provincial government controlling natural resources without giving the people of Labrador their fair access to it.
"Why can't we be treated the same? Why are we — it's like a colonial mentality: 'We just want the resources out of there but we don't really want you guys to succeed or thrive at anything.'"