PEI’s Best Family Farm story tells human side of Canadian agriculture and trade policy failings

At the beginning of June, the Best Acre Farms of Tryon, Prince Edward Island, went public with their heart-wrenching story. They are on the brink of losing their potato farm as creditors seek foreclosure. The Best family has turned to the crowd-source funding site, Indiegogo, to raise awareness of the situation and to raise thousands of dollars to prevent a mortgage sale scheduled for July 3. If they do not make it, the family will lose the life’s work of three generations – and the future of a fourth generation.

The Bests operate the last family-owned potato farm in their district. Other such farms have succumbed more quietly. Statistics Canada shows that the number of PEI potato farmers has been declining for many years as realized net farm income has been erratic with an overall downward trend. At the same time both debt and average farm size have increased.

The 2011-12 Agriculture and Agri-food Canada Potato Market Review update on PEI says, “The number of contract growers continues to decrease as the industry rationalizes.” According to NFU Region 1 (PEI) Board member Randall Affleck, “so-called rationalization just puts all the risks of production onto farmers who have no control over prices. It is a trend that works to eliminate family farms. Yet the federal government encourages it under the banner of increasing competitiveness.”

“Credit terms are calculated on the basis of everything going right every
year, which keeps farmers on a financial knife-edge.” Affleck continued.
“One bad year can throw a farm into a downward spiral. Next year the farm
has to make up the losses from previous years, earn enough to pay this
year’s bills and pay the lender accumulated interest and principal. Yet the
value of the potatoes grown by the Bests and other PEI family farmers in
good years and bad has fueled the growth of several large food companies
and the expansion of chain grocery stores that sell PEI potatoes across
Canada, and into the USA and Europe.”

“The value of their potato crops allows the Bests to hire local workers, pay
for their supplies, inputs, machinery and fuel locally, and to pay taxes to
support schools, hospitals and other public services,” said Edith Ling, NFU
Women’s District Director (PEI). “The Best family’s willingness to take on
the financial risk has provided great value to many others. For fairness, we
need major changes to the way our food system works so that families like
the Bests can keep on producing the food we eat in a way that spreads the
inevitable risks among all who benefit,” she concluded.

Donations to help the Best family farm can be contributed at any branch of
Bank of Nova Scotia – acct. # 307830019186 or TD Canada Trust – acct. #
56836108480 as well as through Indiegogo at
http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/saving-best-acre-farms .
The NFU was formed in 1969 through the merger of the Saskatchewan Farmers Union, the Ontario Farmers Union, the Farmers Union of B.C. and the Manitoba Farmers Union.

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