Quebec farmers have been protesting since December. Is anyone listening?

Published: 23 April 2024

Upset about high interest rates, growing paperwork and heavy regulatory burdens, protesting farmers have become a familiar sight across Quebec since December.

Agronomist and economist Pascal Thériault, Director of McGill's Farm Management and Technology Program, told the Toronto Star that when interest rates were low, farmers were incentivized to invest in their farms. The rising interest rates have contributed to declining profits, he added.

Farmers at the protest on Monday said government programs remain focused on encouraging expansion and new investment, rather than supporting existing operations.

Because of the seasonal nature of farming, farmers often have to borrow money, Thériault explained.

“In the spring, you don’t have revenues yet, so you need to borrow, borrow to get your seed, to get your fertilizer, to get everything,” he said in an interview. “You need lots of dollars of assets to generate a lot of revenue and you need to borrow money to be able to afford those assets. So whenever you have an increase in the interest rate, of course, you’re hit pretty hard.”

The high amount of paperwork is partially a symptom of Quebec’s farm support programs: the government helps farmers financially and wants accountability in return, he said. For example, an agrologist — a soil specialist — is required to sign off on some paperwork, and farmers can get a subsidy to hire one, which requires its own administrative load.

“So they need to fill out paperwork so they can get someone to help them fill out paperwork,” he said.

The Quebec government says it’s listening and point those facing difficulties to apply to an emergency financing program created last year, but farmers say they need to see results.

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