It was with much curiosity that I read Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Allan MacIsaac’s Report on Agriculture in PEI for 2016 with the headline, “Banner Year for Agriculture on PEI”. Curiosity because the top headline in the same paper indicated that blueberry producers were struggling with overproduction issues. Having previously heard of these overproduction issues at a regional level and from individual growers and associated bee keepers, I was surprised to note a great hurrah-for-blueberries arising in the midst of Minister MacIsaac’s speech, for the not insignificant increase in yields that Island producers have seen recently.
It is shortsighted of the government to use yields as the sole measure of agricultural success. Just as we are asked to judge our schools by their fiscal prudence and turn a blind eye to all of the other factors that make up a healthy environment that allows children to thrive and grow in all sorts of other measurable and some not so measurable ways.This government continues to expect us to pick one distracting metric and ignore all the others.
Minister MacIsaac would have us believe that big yields alone are a strong indicator of the health of the agriculture sector and we are expected to ignore the health of the markets, ecological health, the health of the farmers and farm workers and the sustainability of pushing our soil, water and air quality to the brink of failure. Surely a comprehensive look at agriculture over an entire year would consider yields, but as only one part of a larger organism. A wider view would consider the number of farmers and successions to the next generation, as well as new farmers joining the community. A closer look would surely consider some of the challenges facing farmers and report on efforts to reduce those. A thoughtful report would consider farm receipts but also recognize those smaller scale farmers selling direct to customers via bustling Farmer’s Markets and direct marketing programs such as food baskets and CSAs, who truly feed the perception of agriculture on PEI and who could serve as the greatest ambassadors for the sector. With much of agriculture on PEI claiming an image problem and struggling to earn ‘public trust’, one would hope that the Minister might take the opportunity to promote something other than yields, only serving to justify the perception of many that other factors are being overlooked in favour of pushing the soil and natural resources past what is sustainable for everyone to share.
I have to wonder, with new diseases in the essential honeybee colonies and more land being clear cut to further increase production, what the blueberry producers felt as they also read of the Minister’s “banner year”. Let’s hope that by next year government understands that sustainable agricultural prosperity - whether that be in blueberries, barley, beef or anything else - must be measured using a broader and more complete set of metrics.