Montreal

Why the number of dairy farmers is declining in Quebec's Chaudière-Appalaches region

Due to an evolving agriculture industry, more than 200 farmers in the area have given up milk production since 2010.

Due to changing agriculture industry, more than 200 farmers have given up milk production since 2010

Louis-Gilles and Guylaine Lapointe had to sell their dairy farm in Saint-Magloire. (Marc-Antoine Lavoie/Radio-Canada)

Over the past six years, more than 200 dairy farmers gave up milk production in the Chaudière-Appalaches region alone.

The situation is worrying the agriculture producers' union (UPA), who attributes the problem to financial difficulties, lack of succession and NAFTA trade negotiations between Canada and the Trump administration in the United States.

Between 2010 and 2016, the number of dairy farms in Chaudière-Appalaches went from 1370 to 1196, according to data from the Quebec Federation of Dairy Producers.

"As soon as a village loses an agriculture business, it's one family less," said James Allen, the president of the Chaudière-Appalaches UPA.

He said that if the price of milk goes down a bit, it puts the financial security of the business at stake.

Louis-Gilles Lapointe was the 5th generation to manage the family farm. (Marc-Antoine Lavoie/Radio-Canada)

Longstanding dairy families affected

The owners of the Guylou farm in Saint-Magloire, about 100 kilometres southeast of Quebec City, are among the 30 producers in Chaudière-Appalaches who gave up milk production in the last year, according to a UPA estimate.

Seeing their retirement crumble under the weight of debts, Louis-Gilles and Guylaine Lapointe had to sell everything, even their house.

"It was the family farm. I was the fifth generation — that's the hardest part," said Louis-Gilles.

The Lapointes had about 50 dairy cows, a little below the Quebec average of nearly 60 cows.

"We would have needed over 100 cows to stay afloat," said Louis-Gilles.

Succession was supposed to be a sure thing for the Lapointes. Their son Marc-André Lapointe is passionate about agriculture and was anxious to take over his parents' business.
The president of the Chaudière-Appalaches UPA, James Allen. (Marc-Antoine Lavoie/Radio-Canada)

But the financial state of the family farm was too fragile to make the transition.

"We're mourning. When you've worked all your life to take over the farm, it hurts your heart," he said.

But he said he's happy that the sale of the family farm to Groupe Mario Côté, an agriculture giant, allowed his parents to retire.

Marc-André Lapointe also believes that to be successful, farmers must now develop management skills.

"People won't be able to be agriculture producers for much longer," he said. "They will have to be a manager of a company. You always have to be better."

More and bigger farms

According to Allen, the UPA chapter president, dairy companies in Quebec are more indebted than in other provinces.

He said he believes that the new generation of producers who are graduating from college or university will be in a better position to grow their businesses.

Despite the loss of several Quebec dairy farms, milk is still a lucrative and growing industry.
Farmers who sell their production quotas allow others to grow. (Marc-Antoine Lavoie/Radio-Canada)

"The group of Quebec farmers with 100 or more cows grows every year," Allen said.

He added that he does not have a concrete solution for how the UPA can stabilize the number of farms in Quebec.

But the Chaudière-Appalaches UPA has taken a first step — implementing a program to support businesses searching for labour in the region.

With files from Radio-Canada

now