By Brandy Harrison
BURLINGTON — Small-scale chicken farmers who can’t afford the steep cost of marketing board quota have a new option: they can raise between 600 and 3,000 chickens per year for a local market without quota.
Until now, the limit was 300 non-quota birds under the Chicken Farmers of Ontario’s (CFO) small flock program, recently rebranded as the family food program. About 15,000 farmers are registered with the program, aimed at personal consumption and limited farmgate sales, with the average farmer raising about 65 chickens per year.
The artisanal chicken program fills the gap between 300 birds and commercial production, which requires a minimum purchase of 14,000 units of quota.
It’s been on Sean McGivern’s wish list for years.
“We weren’t expecting to see anything of that magnitude,” says the Grey County farmer and past-president and director of the Practical Farmers of Ontario.
For three years, the Practical Farmers of Ontario has led the charge to get the limit raised to 2,000. The CFO rejected its request twice. The lobby group is now dropping an appeal to the OMAFRA tribunal.
McGivern, who used to be a small flock grower, will wait and see how the first year plays out.
“I’ll talk to producers who went through the process and see how they made out,” he says, adding that he’s concerned the paperwork burden of on-farm food safety compliance will be overwhelming to small producers.
Farmers in the artisanal program won’t need quota but will pay a production licence fee of 20 cents per chick in addition to CFO and Chicken Farmers of Canada levies. There is also a $1 per bird penalty for overproduction that exceeds approved bird numbers by more than four per cent.
The program doesn’t define local markets, but it could include sales at the farmgate, farmers’ markets, restaurants, butchers, or retailers.
“We look to the innovative and entrepreneurial spirit of farmers out there to discover those niches for themselves. Consumer demands are changing very rapidly in Ontario,” says Michael Edmonds, director of communications and government relations with the CFO, who expects program interest to build over time as farmers pinpoint those markets.
Chickens must also be sold at or above the minimum live price.