More food, more jobs: N.L. government hopes to boost employment on farms

The provincial government says it can increase food self-sufficiency and double employment in the agriculture sector with its The Way Forward plan.

Plan laid out Monday at summit in Wooddale also aims to improve food security

Premier Dwight Ball gets some hands-on experience in agriculture while visiting kids on a field trip to an agricultural fair in Grand Falls-Windsor on Monday. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

Premier Dwight Ball says his government is planting the seeds to increase farming jobs and the province's ability to grow vegetables to improve food security.

The Newfoundland and Labrador government is aiming to double the number of jobs, and the amount of locally produced crops, through The Way Forward plan on Agriculture, which was laid out Monday in Wooddale.

The plan estimates that a series of 43 initiatives, which include redeveloping old pasture lands and providing at-cost seedlings of certain crops to farmers, could add the equivalent of 500 full-time, year-round jobs.

There's a very simple question that we need to ask ourselves — can we feed ourselves? — and today we cannot do that.- Premier Dwight Ball

Because farming is seasonal work, and not everyone would work full-time hours, the provincial government estimates that those initiatives will mean work for about 1,300 more people each month in direct agriculture production.

"If you tell that to someone in rural Newfoundland and Labrador, they will say that's a lot of jobs," Ball told reporters following the central Newfoundland summit. "This is direct employment, there's indirect employment that goes with that."

Along with land redevelopment and seed subsidies, the agriculture document also lays out the provincial government's plan to lease already-cleared Crown lands to farmers, and to attempt to change supply management rules to allow commercial egg production in Labrador.

The plan also includes some previously announced steps, such as the addition of 64,000 hectares in the pool of Crown lands available to farmers.

Merv Wiseman, the head of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Agriculture, called it a "game-changer" for local farmers.

"This kind of plan is inspiration for them, because … you've got to go out every morning, early in the morning. You work all day, seven days a week, you need a little extra punch to get things going," he said. "This is doing it."

Premier Dwight Ball answers questions from reporters alongside Health Minister John Haggie, Fisheries and Land Resources Minister Gerry Byrne and Merv Wiseman, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Agriculture. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

Jason Card, a spokesperson for the Premier's Office, said the majority of the iniatatives would not carry any additional cost.

He said some are "improvements to business processes and public services" while others "will be achieved through a combination of realigning existing priorities … as well as cost recovery from industry."

Food security

Alongside the employment boost, the provincial government also hopes to increase the amount of locally produced food eaten in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Hospitals in the province will be buying crops from local farmers to serve to patients. That initiative is designed to get healthier food to people in hospitals, and a steady stream of money to farmers.

According to Gioia Montevecchi, a project manager at Food First NL, only 10 per cent of the vegetables eaten in the province are grown here — and there's only a reserve of two to three days if the supply chain gets cut off.

"If we think about communities for example in northern Labrador that are isolated and are only reachable by plane or boat," she said.  "If something happens like an extreme weather event or a mechanical issue on the boat ... What it means is that these communities are not able to get the food that they need to sustain themselves."

Ball said people in the province are "not satisfied" that so much they eat is not locally produced. His government's goal is to increase the percentage of locally-grown food consumed in the province — outside of egg and dairy production — from 10 per cent to 20 per cent.

"There's a very simple question that we need to ask ourselves — can we feed ourselves? — And today we cannot do that," he said. "But today we've laid the foundation and the framework that will put Newfoundland and Labrador in a position to do a much better job in answering that very basic question."

About the Author

Garrett Barry


Garrett Barry is a CBC reporter based in Gander.