Nova Scotia

Vast majority of Nova Scotia farms have no succession plan: census

According to the 2021 Census of Agriculture, only about eight per cent of farms in Nova Scotia have a succession plan. The province also has the country's oldest farm operators with an average age of 58.2 years.

According to 2021 figures, number of farms in Nova Scotia decreased by over 20% from 5 years earlier

Richard Melvin inspects his romaine lettuce crop. He said he's concerned that over 90 per cent of farms in Nova Scotia don't have a succession plan. (Mark Crosby/ CBC)

Richard Melvin has spent a lot of time thinking about the future of his farm.

He grows fresh vegetables like cauliflower and romaine lettuce on his farm, which is about 200 hectares. Over time, he's made a succession plan, outlining the details of how his farm will be passed on.

But Melvin, who is 67, is in the vast minority.

According to the 2021 Census of Agriculture, only about eight per cent of farms in Nova Scotia have a succession plan. The province also has the country's oldest farm operators with an average age of 58.2 years.

Melvin said these statistics are concerning.

"It tells us that in a span of five to 10 years, there's going to be a significant retirement or transition of our existing farmers into retirement, which is going to leave a massive gap in our human resource capacity to run these farms," he said.

Melvin's farm grows vegetables like cauliflower, green onions and romaine lettuce. (Mark Crosby/ CBC)

Melvin said that older farmers often can be in denial about aging and having to pass on the farm to the next generation. There may be awkward conversations about family dynamics and the financial viability of the farm.

It can be a messy situation if a farm operator dies without a succession plan.

"The family that's left behind is left with a can of worms of legalities and tax issues and probably interpersonal dynamics that are hard to sort out," Melvin said.

"It puts everybody in an even more stressful situation than they really should be in."

Philip Keddy agrees that finances are one of the biggest challenges for farmers when making a succession plan. 

As a produce farmer in the Annapolis Valley, he's seen first hand how farmers' profit margins are becoming narrower and supply costs are going up.

Philip Keddy said inflation and the rising cost of supplies makes long-term planning on farms even more difficult. (Submitted by Philip Keddy)

"Until there's some stability around price and returns to the farm and farmer, it's hard for them to visualize their kids maybe being part of that operation," Keddy said.

"And maybe that's why you see such older farmers staying on the farm that long is because the younger generation doesn't see the return coming to the farm and they're not as willing to step into that role as quickly."

He said the farm industry knows that succession is a problem. In the 2021 census, the total number of farms in Nova Scotia decreased by over 20 per cent from five years earlier.

"Sadly, we're going to lose a lot of farmers in the next 10 years with no succession plans at all. And we're not going to get those farmers back. So we're aware, but we don't know how to fix the larger problems at hand," said Keddy.

Tim Marsh is the president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture. He has a farm near Newport. (Mark Crosby/ CBC)

Tim Marsh, president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture, said succession plans go a long way to promoting communication in farming families.

"Probably one of the best things that farmers can do is talk to the next generation from Day 1 and be open and honest with how the farm is doing," he said.

Marsh said there are resources and online tools available to help farmers with the sometimes long and confusing process of making a succession plan.

"Don't be afraid to ask for help," Marsh said.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Victoria Welland is a reporter with CBC Nova Scotia. You can reach her at victoria.welland@cbc.ca

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