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Sheep farmers get a boost from feds

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Sheep farmers in Ontario received a boost from the federal government last week as they pledged $348,090 to combine sheep and lamb production assurance systems under the Food Safe Farm Practices Program, with the intention to support food safety, animal welfare, and biosecurity.

Ryan and Romy Schill showed off their sheep farm to CSF vice-chair Rob Scott (left) and Kitchener-Conestoga MP Harold Albrecht (right), along with the help of their sons Cameron and Emerson (middle).[Whitney Neilson / The Observer]
Ryan and Romy Schill showed off their sheep farm to CSF vice-chair Rob Scott (left) and Kitchener-Conestoga MP Harold Albrecht (right), along with the help of their sons Cameron and Emerson (middle). [Whitney Neilson / The Observer]
Kitchener-Conestoga MP Harold Albrecht was on hand at Romy and Ryan Schill’s Wallenstein sheep farm to make the announcement.

“I’m really pleased to be here today on a farm, where I feel most comfortable. I grew up on a farm, still have a 75-acre farm,” Albrecht said.

The funds are part of the five-year Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada AgriMarketing Program, which designates up to $341 million to agriculture projects, under Growing Forward 2. GF2 is made of three federal programs; AgriInnovation, AgriMarketing and AgriCompetitiveness, and was created in 2013.

Albrecht notes in 2014 Canadian farm tax receipts for sheep and lambs totaled nearly $157 million.

“That’s a big number. I would never have estimated it was that high,” Albrecht said. “To see that number is great. Nearly half of those dollars, or $69 million, come from sheep farmers right here in Ontario. The future continues to look very bright for this industry.”

He says this initiative will help the Canadian Sheep Federation take their quality assurance programs to the next level by providing producers with an integrative farm practice program to meet the demands of buyers, retailers, and consumers.

“Healthier animals and safer handling systems mean stronger profits for producers, improved safety on the farm and better animal welfare,” Albrecht said.

This sort of recognition is especially important for people like the Schills, who have some 300 sheep on their farm with plans to expand in the next few years. Their barn used to be for beef cattle and pigs, but they rebuilt it when they decided to make sheep their livelihood. The sheep are sold for breeding or for meat. More than 600 lambs are born on their farm each year.

“Instead of sending farmers subsidy cheques to keep going we want to invest in the competitiveness of farmers,” Albrecht said. “Whether they’re the sheep sector, dairy, or feather industry they can actually be not only healthy in their own country, but also enable them to be strong players in the global market.”

He added this will help ensure the sheep sector continues to create jobs and growth in Ontario.

Rob Scott, vice-chair of the Canadian Sheep Federation explained the Food Safe Farm Practices Program first became available to Canadian sheep producers in 1997. It was reviewed and accepted by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency as a creditable national on-farm food safety program for the sheep industry as part of their food safety recognition program.

“The CSF’s mission is to work closely with all levels of government and industry-related organizations to further the viability, expansion and prosperity of the Canadian sheep and wool industries,” Scott said. “The Canadian Sheep Federation develops programs for the Canadian sheep industry that have a natural approach and is pleased to launch a project to expand the industry’s national on farm food safety program, the Food Safe Farm Practices Program.”

Census data shows there were 492 farms in Woolwich Township and 502 in Wellesley Township in 2011. According to Statistics Canada 70 per cent of farms in the region were livestock, with 37 per cent of those being cattle. Sheep and goat farms increased slightly from 2006 (from 30 to 35 farms), while hog and pig farms decreased significantly, dropping to 99 farms from 185 in 2006.

“Over the next 40 years world demand for meat is expected to grow by 60 per cent. That’s very encouraging,” Albrecht said. “However, to meet this demand we’ll need to be as innovative and efficient and productive as we can be.”

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