Specialization and modernization of farms

In 1921, three years before the creation of the Catholic Union of Farmers (UCC), the urban population in Quebec exceeded the rural population for the first time. This urbanization of the region creates new opportunities for farmers who leave subsistence agriculture

For commercial agriculture. Until then, Quebec farmers produced for themselves, selling their surplus in their immediate environment as needed. Although this did not allow him to prosper, having many small productions made him less vulnerable if even one of them was rejected.

On the outskirts of cities, pioneer farmers are beginning to specialize in products such as milk for commodity sale, milk for industrial processing, pork, beef, poultry, industrial plants, vegetable crops, fruit crops, etc. .

By gaining greater expertise in their crops and by handing over their production to middlemen such as local cooperatives in terms of their processing and distribution, farmers see their costs
increase. Mechanization of operations was then well underway and the first advertisements for tractors appeared in publications for farmers in the early 1940s. From farmers they then become agricultural producers.

Recognizing that the transition to modern agriculture required significant investment, the UCC began demanding the Quebec government establish agricultural credit. This shift toward commercial agriculture will not be without consequences; Due to this, thousands of farms will disappear which will not be able to become profitable in this new agricultural economy.

From a peak of 150,000 farms registered in 1941, thirty years later only 60,000 would remain. Today, there are approximately 28,000 agricultural operations in Quebec.

More specific, more sensitive to risks

“By specializing their farms, farmers now derive their income from one main production. From there, they become more sensitive to market risks,” explains Professor Maurice Doyon of Laval University.

After World War II, the entire strategy for the development of agriculture was developed based on specialization, consolidation and productive efficiency of companies, which resulted in a rapid reduction in the number of farms.

At the same time, the introduction of phytosanitary regulations from the 1960s, then the modernization of equipment, forced producers to invest significant sums to comply with new standards and maintain the pace of production.

“The advent of new equipment and new technologies has contributed greatly to reducing the number of farms in Quebec. People don’t realize it, but agriculture is a huge consumer of new technologies. This phenomenon means less staff are needed to operate the farm while being able to care for more animals. When I was young, there were a dozen dairy farms in my village. Today, only one of the three surrounding villages remains,” concludes Maurice Doyon.

Governments and agricultural industries

The expertise of Quebec farms met a market need, but various governments in both Quebec and Ottawa were regularly challenged by the UCC to support the significant investments it required.

When governments implemented legislative instruments to organize marketing and joint schemes in the 1950s, the aim was to go far beyond what cooperatives were allowed to do. In cooperatives, producers came together to give themselves market power, but there was no compulsory membership.

Maurice Doyon, Professor at Laval University

For example, in 1947, half of agricultural producers were members of an agricultural cooperative; It then becomes difficult to control supply to achieve price stability.

In Quebec, before the UCC became the UPA, two important commissions were established to guide the governments’ strategy aimed at developing agriculture and making it more efficient. And in both cases, specialization of fields was the cornerstone.

In 1955, the Hayon Report stated that Quebec farmers were less productive than their Ontario neighbours. The Commission specifically recommends that farms be further specialized to achieve efficiency.

Among other things, the report proposes reducing the number of companies by two-thirds in order to move towards more specialized and productive farms. The State, on its part, should ensure technical and financial support to the initiatives and investments of the most dynamic and progressive farmers. The Hayon report also highlights the weak balance of power between farmers and buyers.

In addition to suggesting greater use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides to maximize crop yields, the Hayon Report also discusses the importance of better organized marketing with joint plans and increased trade with other Canadian provinces and the rest of the world.

Twelve years later, in 1967, the April Report made almost the same recommendations, but was more precise with regard to their implementation, particularly increased yields in animal and plant production, land drainage and more intensive use of mechanized operations in agriculture. Improvement in soil condition.

Notman Photographic Archives, McCord Museum

Impact of global conflicts

Indirectly, the First and Second World Wars contributed to the specialization of Quebec agriculture.

As colonies of the British Empire, Canada, and therefore Quebec, saw its food exports boom during the two great conflicts. Between 1939 and 1945, Canada sent Britain one and a half billion kilograms of bacon, over 325 million kilograms of cheddar cheese, and large quantities of other meat and butter. Eggs are powdered and milk condensed to facilitate transportation. Processing plants dehydrate cabbage, carrots, onions and potatoes.

However, the end of the wars had an impact on agricultural producers, who suddenly saw demand for their crops decline. For example, at the end of World War I (1914–1918), 25% of Quebec farmers said they were prepared to give up their land. “Our war effort in Canada was exclusively to supply agricultural materials. It was here that governments realized the importance of investing in agriculture,” recalls Professor Maurice Doyon of Laval University.

The United Kingdom’s policies had the last significant impact on the development of our agriculture in the 1960s, “which was when the United Kingdom entered the European Union,” says the professor. Until then, it obtained its supplies favorably from its former colonies. This meant that the dairy sector in Quebec, for example, found itself in surplus and with significant price fluctuations. Some manufacturers even went bankrupt. It was during this period that the Government of Canada implemented supply management systems for poultry, eggs and milk,” he recalls.

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