Alberta chicken producers threatening to go it alone

If provincial production 
was allocated on 
population, Alberta 
chicken farmers 
would be producing 
another 16 million 
kilograms each year

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Alberta Chicken Producers is threatening to withdraw from the national supply agency next year if the province doesn’t get a larger slice of national production.

Alberta has more than 11 per cent of the population but just 9.15 per cent of chicken production — the gap is equivalent to 16 million kilograms of chicken a year.

Alberta Chicken Producers has spent seven years trying to negotiate an increase, and still hopes the matter can be resolved, said board chair Erna Ference. Since the last agreement was signed in 2001, Alberta’s share of Canada’s population has grown to over 11 per cent. “That’s the big issue we see,” Ference said. “We’re a net importer of chicken.”

The current gap represents about 16 million kilograms of chicken a year, she said.

Ference emphasized that the disagreement is not over supply management itself. “We believe in the supply management system,” she said. “Our issue is with the current federal provincial agreement… the current agreement just doesn’t address the shift in provincial populations.”

Other supply-managed sectors, including dairy, have mechanisms that adjust provincial allocation to population growth over time, she said. Her board would like to see Alberta’s quota increased to match its share of the national population, but are willing to negotiate, she added.

“There are ongoing meetings trying to address this issue, trying to come to a suitable conclusion,” said Ference.

Alberta Chicken Producers issued its notice to the Chicken Farmers of Canada in November, and has until Feb. 22 to withdraw it. If that deadline passes, the province will be out of the national system at the end of the year and would need the approval of all provinces to get back in. Everyone hopes it doesn’t get that far, but allocation is a complex question, said Mike Dungate, executive director of the Chicken Farmers of Canada.

“There are numerous provinces that disagree that chicken production should be allocated on the basis of provincial population,” he said.

He noted that Western Canada — as a whole — has more than its share.

“Right now there’s more production than population in Western Canada,” Dungate said.

More meetings are scheduled and several proposals are on the table, and Dungate said he’s optimistic something can be worked out.

“It’s serious — we need to address the issues to everyone’s satisfaction,” he said. “We would love to have it done by Feb. 22 and we will work towards that day, but if for any reason that day passes, we’re not throwing up our arms in defeat and walking away.”

Alberta considered withdrawing in 2001 but the matter was resolved, he added.

“It’s not an Alberta issue or a supply management issue, this is strictly an internal to Chicken Farmers of Canada about how we allocate our own quota,” said Dungate. But Ference said it’s time to settle the issue once and for all.

“We feel that a population-based method for allocating chicken production will allow the whole Canadian chicken industry to focus on other things, like growing the domestic chicken market,” she said.

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