At the beginning of the year I had the pleasure of attending a weekend event in Alix, Alberta, hosted by the Alberta chapter of Young Agrarians. There were a number of very interesting speakers, but a young couple from British Columbia really stood out. Tristan and Aubyn Banwell manage Spray Creek Ranch near Lillooet, BC. They presented on a number of different topics, but the one that really got me thinking was about their on farm abattoir facility. They spoke of an on farm license to butcher that they were able to get through the provincial government that allows them to butcher a limited number of animals for direct marketing into their region.
Since 2011 in British Columbia it has been possible to apply for, and receive, a small on farm processor license. These class D and E licenses come with some restrictions (you can slaughter a limited amount of meat, how you sell the meat that you slaughter is restricted, the region that you sell in is restricted and with a class E license there cannot be professional slaughter services available within a two hour drive of your farm), but what they do is enable smaller producers that are looking to direct market, or even just sell to their neighbours, the ability to do this.
Currently in Alberta it is incredibly difficult for most small farmers to access a provincially inspected abattoir. The only processing facility available in our province right now for farmers looking to direct market is Pigeon Lake Poultry Processors. This leaves a very large gap in our ability to get small scale, local chickens and turkeys into the hands of the consumers. Especially if you are a fair distance away from Pigeon Lake. I have heard of a few producers that will truck their chickens down to Pigeon Lake from as far as Grande Prairie. Realistically, you would either need to be processing a very large number of chickens, or mark your prices up so high that there would be very few people willing to pay the exorbitant prices, to make the journey worthwhile.
There has been so much talk lately of how we should be buying locally raised and grown food. Farmers markets in the last few years have been teeming with consumers looking to meet the farmer that they are purchasing their food from. An increasing number of producers are looking into direct marketing as an option to insulate themselves from potentially volatile market prices. We are starting to see more of this in beef, pork, vegetables and fruit. Yet direct marketing chicken continues to be unachievable for most producers. By bringing in legislation that allows direct marketers to butcher animals on farm in small numbers, in localized regions, and sell that meat to a certain sector, we would allow room for competitiveness in the industry and could potentially add another avenue for smaller producers to make a profit in an industry that has been gradually pushing out the little guys.
It is very encouraging to listen to farmers like the Banwells speak of how they have been successfully using this model in British Columbia. A system like this could make a large difference in the profitability of small farms in Alberta. It would also make it easier for people new to agriculture to get their foot in the door, as small animals such as chickens do not need the land base that our current agricultural systems require. Having conversations around this is the first step towards change, so let’s start having these conversations!
Gateway Research Organization