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Public 'detached' from where food comes from, minister says

Ian Richardson welcomes the support the provincial government has been giving the agriculture industry, but said awareness of the industry has to reach the everyday consumer more effectively .

The young man from Larch Grove dairy farm in Cormack was one of several farmers who attended a news conference at Humber Valley Resort Monday, when Natural Resources Minister Kathy Dunderdale detailed how the provincial government intends to spend money budgeted for the agricultural industry.

National Resources Minister Kathy Dunderdale and Len Moores, chief executive officer of the province's Forestry and Agrifoods Agency, detail provincial spending at a news conference at Humber Valley Resort Monday. - Photo by Gary Kean/The Western Star

Little Rapids - Ian Richardson welcomes the support the provincial government has been giving the agriculture industry, but said awareness of the industry has to reach the everyday consumer more effectively .

The young man from Larch Grove dairy farm in Cormack was one of several farmers who attended a news conference at Humber Valley Resort Monday, when Natural Resources Minister Kathy Dunderdale detailed how the provincial government intends to spend money budgeted for the agricultural industry.

"Farmers have really fallen away from being connected to the people who are buying our food," said Richardson. "I don't think, as a country right now, Canadians really appreciate where their food comes from. If we don't start to get consumers on our side to support us, we are going to soon get ourselves in a situation where Canadians can't produce the food we need to support our country.

"I'd hate to think, after travelling the world and seeing where food is produced in other parts of the country, that we would have to someday rely on having to buy our foods from South America or some place like that."

Producing food locally also means better quality and a safer product, he added.

Melvin Rideout of Rideout's Farms in Cormack, who also happens to be second vice-president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Agriculture, said only 10 per cent of this province's agricultural land is being used.

"We need a lot more work done on actually promoting ourselves," he said. "Once the public wants Newfoundland-grown agriculture, then that's the game right there. We can supply all the food we need, but it's a matter of having the consumer onside. It's no good to produce it if the consumer is not going to buy it."

Rideout said spreading that message is helped through things such as school tours or young adults working on farms to help get themselves through college.

Dunderdale, who had been hosting meetings with her counterparts from the rest of Atlantic Canada, couldn't agree more that public awareness is integral in strengthening the agricultural industry.

"That was part of the discussion we had this morning," she said of the talks with her fellow ministers. "We're talking about a strategy we could use in Atlantic Canada, but we also see the need to press this at the federal level. We have really become desensitized and detached from where we get our food and what we do with our natural resources, generally."

Meanwhile, Dunderdale provided some details of how the $32.8 million budgeted for the agrifoods development branch - an increase of $11.2 million - will be spent this year.

The spending includes $2.95 million for the rapidly developing cranberry industry to provide for increased plant propagation, site development and specialized equipment; $1 million for research and development activities focusing on developing new and improved crops and livestock systems; a $10-million farms loans guarantee program to help farmers secure capital from financial institutions to expand their operations and become more competitive; $5.4 million for an Aleutian disease-management program, and $1.2 million for new positions for the branch, as well as for positions and services that were previously funded under the federal/provincial cost-shared agriculture policy framework (APF).

In Budget 2008, the provincial government is continuing its $4-million investment in the provincial Agriculture and agrifoods development fund to assist in the development, diversification and expansion of large-scale agricultural projects.

This is the program that assisted in the development of a new egg-grading facility by Newfoundland Eggs Inc. on Roaches Line, the expansion by Brookfield Dairy Group into a premium ice-cream line and the establishment of a cheese processing facility at Central Dairies.

Another $2.6 million has been earmarked for the province's 40 per cent share of the growing forward continuity agreement, which is the transition agreement between APF and the next generation of agriculture programming.

Organizations: Little Rapids, Humber Valley Resort, Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Agriculture Newfoundland Eggs Inc. on Roaches Line Brookfield Dairy Group

Geographic location: Cormack, Atlantic Canada, South America Newfoundland

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