As the National New Farmer Coalition began to analyze the results of a survey conducted among new farmers across the country, Ayla Fenton said one statistic stood out loud and clear.
Even though the industry is seen as having trouble attracting new entrants, 68 per cent of the 1,500 respondents said they did not grow up on a farm. Fenton, who is the NFU national youth vice president, was one of the keynote speakers at the annual NFU maritime regional convention held recently in Milton. The NFU is the lead partner in the coalition, which was formed last year, patterned on a similar organization south of the border.
Fenton said 15 per cent of the respondents grew up on the same farm they are now working, while a further 17 per cent grew up on a farm but are now working on a different farm. She said this paints a very different picture than the one usually associated with the next generation of agriculture. As well, the majority of new farmers are female-- 57.6 per cent as compared to 41.1 per cent male and 1.3 per cent other.
"This should have tremendous implications when it comes to government policy," she told the meeting.
The majority of those new to the industry said they were self-taught, either through farmer to farmer mentoring or on-the job training, rather than formal schooling.
The results showed 73 per cent of those surveyed said they were farming ecologically, with the majority either certified organic or following organic practices. The majority of new farmers surveyed were distributing their product through direct marketing.
Like their more established peers, Fenton said new farmers face significant financial challenges-- 60 per cent described their farm income as insufficient and 19 per cent were content with the idea of having to rely on some form of off-farm income. Fenton said only 21 per cent of the respondents were the deriving all of their income from the farm.
"The most significant challenge identified was the lack of access to financing,' she told the meeting. "Some of the other areas identified include low profitability, affordability of land and the lack of extension courses."
When asked what things were working in industry, the new farmers pointed to such things as equipment sharing, direct marketing and the farm workshops and fields days. One of the major areas cited for improvement was the need for improved agricultural infrastructure like scale appropriate butcher shops.
Fenton said the coalition is now analyzing the information on a province-by-province basis to determine if there are major variations across the country. Then, they plan to develop a policy document that will be presented to both industry and governments.