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Do you love pastured and/or free-range chicken? Read on!

- by Kalynn Spain

Have you ever wondered why you can buy a whole chicken at a farmers market, but not a cut product such as chicken breasts or wings? The answer is that chicken is a food product that is highly regulated for both health and economic reasons.

This system is called supply management. It is meant to ensure a fair and consistent return to farmers. This helps them meet the costs of producing safe and healthy food. Supply management is run by the Manitoba Chicken Producers, and is regulated by a board appointed by the provincial government.

The number of meat chickens one farm can produce is controlled by the Chicken Producers. Large producers are given a quota of birds they can produce. Even the smallest of these farms produce at least 100,000 birds per year. These chickens are delivered live to large processors who prepare them for retail sale. Small farmers who raise no more than 999 are exempt from the quota system, but must carry the costs of preparing the birds for market.

Until now there has also been a middle category granting exemptions by application for producers who serve special markets. In some cases, farms have relied on these exemptions for generations.

Recently the Manitoba Chicken Producers Association announced that they were changing the way in which the small exemption holders would be allowed to raise different categories of meat birds.

These changes mean that some exemption producers will have to limit their production to less than 1/3 of their former sales, which will threaten the viability of their farm. Alternatively, they can pay significant ‘administrative’ fees assessed by MCP under this new program.

Farmers raising small numbers of birds (under 999) as well as these exemption holders fill an important demand from consumers who want to buy birds directly from the farmer, either at the farm gate or at farmers’ markets. These farms also fill demand for specialty birds such as larger roasting birds, Halal etc. These new regulations threaten the viability of their farms and thus limiting consumer choice.

Direct Farm Manitoba met with Mr. Wayne Hiltz, CEO of Manitoba Chicken Producers to express the concerns raised by the exemption holders as well as the many questions from farmers raising under the 999 limit. Mr. Hiltz agreed to attend a meeting held on November 1st to answer questions and clarify the new program. While significant concerns were raised with various aspects of the program, Mr. Hiltz committed to bringing the feedback back to his Board and that they would ‘try to be flexible’.

Subsequently, DFM formally appealed the new Specialty Quota Program along with the impacted exemption holders, asking that MCP suspend the new program, consult with impacted farmers and make changes that create or maintain viable small scale chicken producers in Manitoba.

On December 12th, 2016, Direct Farm Manitoba was advised that the appeal has been rejected and no changes will be made to the Program. Direct Farm Manitoba intends to appeal to the Manitoba Farm Products Council in the hopes that they will move to maintain a sustainable market for small scale farmers to raise birds in high demand by the public such as pastured chicken.

Direct Farm Manitoba is pushing forward to the next level of formal appeal with the Manitoba Farm Products Council immediately. If you like getting your chicken from your local farmer, we need your voice!

1. Write or Call the Minister of Agriculture
Hon. Ralph Eichler
Phone: 204-945-3722
Fax: 204-945-3470
165 Legislative Building
450 Broadway
Winnipeg, MB R3C 0V8

2. Write or Call the Deputy Minister of Agriculture
Deputy Minister's Office
Dori Gingera-Beauchemin
Phone: 204-945-3734
Fax: 204-948-2095

3. Write or Call Wayne Hiltz, Executive Director of the Manitoba Chicken Producers
Tel: 204 489 4603
Fax: 204 488 1163

4. Write or Call the Manitoba Farm Products Marketing Council
Patty Rosher
Director, Boards, Commissions, and Legislation
(204) 945-0630