Agriculture federation marks 75th anniversary
When a group of farm leaders met in Charlottetown in 1941 to discuss forming a single organization to represent the various commodity groups, they could be forgiven if they failed to appreciate the legacy they would create.
This year, as the Prince Edward Island Federation of Agriculture celebrates its 75th anniversary, members have good reason to celebrate that legacy.
The agriculture industry in Prince Edward Island in 1941 was vastly different than it is today. There were more than 10,000 farms, compared to less than 1,400 today. They were mixed farms, growing a combination of crops and livestock, with an average size of 107 acres. More land was under production than at present.
The farm population accounted for close to 50 percent of the total population. Close to 80 percent of all Islanders lived in rural areas. The use of tractors and other heavy equipment was just beginning. The use of artificial fertilizers and chemical pesticides was rare.
The founders of the Federation of Agriculture were keenly aware of the challenges facing the industry: declining margins, increasing competition and the growing numbers of people who were abandoning their farms. There was another, more complex challenge in 1941. Canada was at war, and there was a major exodus of farm labour to the military. Farm leaders and officials worked to address the severe labour shortage, encouraging women and children to help out on the farm. There were organized efforts to recruit nonfarm people as labourers. Apparently there was some success. As the annual report of the Department of Agriculture for that year said, “Work of the Federation of Agriculture in respect to farm labour and organizations has been outstanding.”
Following the war, the Federation continued to grow. In 1948, it appointed Leo McIsaac ( father of the current minister of agriculture), as its first full-time secretary. During his administration, the federation grew to 5,000 family farms.
Today, the Federation of Agriculture is the largest general agricultural organization in Prince Edward Island, with a membership of more than 80 percent of all registered producers. The board is comprised of representatives from each of the commodity and agricultural organizations in the province. It tackles policy issues and advocates on behalf of the needs and interests of the industry, and lobbies for legislative and regulatory changes.
In addition, it develops and delivers programs and services to its members, including farm safety, the advance payments program, industry development and the Environmental Farm Plan program. After 75 years, the Federation continues to fulfil the vision of its founders: to provide a united voice for Island farmers. Its 75th annual meeting takes place on Jan. 29.