Quebec dominates growth in organic sector

From 2017-19, organic acreage in Quebec went from 314,000 in 2017 to 570,000 in 2019, an expansion of nearly 65 percent. Photo: File

Organic acreage in Quebec has increased 65 percent between 2017 and 2019, jumping to 570,000 acres from 314,000

By Robert Arnason
Glacier FarmMedia staff

The number of organic farmers and acreage may be flattening in Canada, but not in Quebec.

Growth is off the charts in that province as it continues to add growers and land that is organically certified.

Organic acreage in Quebec went from 314,000 in 2017 to 570,000 in 2019, an expansion of nearly 65 percent.

In comparison, Saskatchewan’s organic acreage in the same time period dropped to 1.04 million acres from 1.16 million.

“In Quebec we’ve seen a huge jump, a huge increase in the acreage,” Tia Loftsgard, executive director of the Canadian Organic Trade Association, said during a webinar in early September.

Across Canada, certified organic acreage is still expanding but at a slower rate compared to the mid 2010s. From 2013-16, organic acres went from 2.15 million to about three million. From 2017-19, acres climbed from 3.3 to 3.4 million, based on data from the webinar conducted by Loftsgard.

From 2018-19, the number of organic livestock producers in Quebec jumped by 66. That would partially explain the increase in organic acres because the organic pastureland would contribute to the rise in acres.

Quebec’s organic boom can be attributed to provincial incentives. Producers are paid to convert farmland to organic production. An Organic Council of Ontario report from 2018 explains how the program works:

  • For grains and oilseeds, farmers are paid $40 per acre.
  • For fruits and veggies, it’s $1,000 per acre.
  • For forage and grazing land, the payment is $10 per acre.

“An operator can apply for up to $10,000 during their pre-certification phase and up to $10,000 in their first year of certification,” the Ontario report says.

“The payments are not received until the third year of transition and first year of certification.”

The incentive program also provides funds for switching livestock buildings to organic programs.

Finally, the Quebec government helps cover the cost of organic certification, Loftsgard said.

We had four percent growth (over 2018) but mostly because Quebec had 254 new farms. – Tia Loftsgard

The financial incentives are obviously working because Quebec now has more than 40 percent of the organic farmers in the country.

Quebec had 2,337 organic producers in 2019. The second place province was Saskatchewan, with 941. Across Canada, there are more than 5,600 organic producers.

“There were (small) decreases across almost every province except Quebec and Manitoba,” Loftsgard said.

“We had four percent growth (over 2018) but mostly because Quebec had 254 new farms. There were only two new farms in Manitoba.”

The financial support for organic farmers is part of a broader food policy in Quebec. In 2018, the provincial government announced a seven year, $5 billion program to stimulate growth in the province’s agri-food sector, including the expansion of organic production.

“Among the policy’s main goals are to increase sales of home-grown food products in Quebec by $10 billion and grow Quebec’s food exports by $6 billion by 2025,” the Montreal Gazette reported in 2018.

The support for organic farmers actually pre-dates the $5 billion program. Quebec has been paying producers who go organic since 2015, the Ontario Organic report said.

It is the only province that pays farmers for converting land to organic.

This article was originally published at The Western Producer.