By André Dumont
By André Dumont
“Egg production is closed to newcomers. The high price of quota and the way it’s traded make it impossible to start, unless your family is already in the business.”
Leaders of Quebec’s egg industry have grown so tired of hearing such statements they’ve set out to make them simply not true. And their start-up program (lifetime loan of quota for 5,000 layers) was just the beginning.
Two new programs now contribute to what the Fédération des producteurs d’œufs de consommation du Québec (FPOCQ – Quebec Egg Producers) could call a new era of accessibility and transparency. Do they really work? “You bet!” says a 34-year-old farmer Canadian Poultry spoke with last November.
Meet Nicholas Tremblay. The poultry farm he built from scratch in 2008 is an example of how producer solidarity, when combined with strong determination and a bit of luck, can make dreams come true.
After obtaining a degree in agronomy from McGill University, Tremblay first worked at La Coop fédérée’s Victoriaville hatchery. A year later, he was employed by a pharmaceutical company, to serve poultry and hog farmers.
Living in Sainte-Julie, south of Montreal, Tremblay set out to start a modest broiler farm. He was ready to purchase quota, but environmental regulations made the site he had hoped to use inappropriate.
In 2006, Tremblay became one of the four finalists in the FPOCQ’s first-ever lifetime quota loan for 5,000 layers. The final winners were hog farmers Joanne LaBranche and Patrick Côté, of Kinnear’s Mills.
The following year, Tremblay’s application was judged one the five best out of 26. This time, luck was on his side when his name was drawn from the hat, among the five finalists.
“The nice thing is that the application process is so serious, that if you win, you don’t need to panic. Your business plan is pretty much ready,” Tremblay says.
“I’m an agronomist and I was meant to work in agriculture all my life, but I was really thinking it would be impossible for me to become a farmer.”
Tremblay started building his henhouse on a piece of land that had belonged to his grandfather in Saint-Ambroise, in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region. The 20- by 200-foot building was completed in September, along with a packing room and a refrigerated room. The farm was named “Les poules à Meggy” (Meggy’s hens), after his first daughter’s name.
The 5,000 layers soon arrived. The first years would be hard, with spouse Amélie Audet staying behind in Saint-Hyacinthe to finish a veterinarian degree, visiting Nicholas and her daughter
Meggy every weekend.
Tremblay could rely on his father – Gilles Aurélien Tremblay – to help. In order to make ends meet, he started working three days a week for the pharmaceutical company that once employed him.
Any possible way to expand production was sought. A woman on the FPOCQ’s board was so enthused with Tremblay’s project she turned to him when quota from her own farm was to be sold.
Tremblay managed to purchase quota directly from this producer. He also convinced others to rent him the extra quota for hens they couldn’t house on their own farm.
“We are very happy,” Tremblay says. “But nothing happened by itself. We made lot of phone calls to other producers and had to borrow a lot of money.”
Along the way, two new programs helped make Tremblay’s life easier and his farm more prosperous. Following in the footsteps of Quebec dairy farmers, the FPOCQ set up a centralized quota exchange system.
“We had realized that farmer-to-farmer quota transactions were mostly benefiting large operations,” FPOCQ communications manager Philippe Olivier said.
The centralized quota exchange is managed by AGECO, an independent research firm. The system is fully transparent, with sales happening about four times a year. Sellers set their price and buyers register their bids. Those who bid too high or too low are out of luck. The available quota is split among those whose bid matched exactly the seller’s price.
At first, the selling price of one hen of quota stabilized at $250, which pretty much neutralized the guessing game. However, things are evolving with the last bid at $255, leaving the next one pretty hard to guess.
“The system is made for quota to sell at a balanced price,” Olivier says. “It’s not the one bidding the highest that wins the available quota.”
Tremblay has managed to secure some quota through this new system. However, he hopes one day the price of quota will be capped, just as dairy farmers have done. For a well-established farmer, he explains, paying $325 for a bit of new quota is pretty easy, but for him, the price has to be reasonable and predictable.
The larger share of Tremblay’s expanded production has come from rented quota. Again, the FPOCQ has stepped in to make the game fairer.
All new rental quota is managed by the FPOCQ, who puts it in a pool, combining it with its own quota reserve. Once a year, this quota is made available at a set price, to all those who are willing to rent it.
“It is very advantageous to produce with this quota,” Tremblay says. “I may have a small farm, but my power generator, my alarm system and my packing room have cost me just the same as they would have in a larger farm.”
Three years down the road, Tremblay has nearly doubled his production. “We are very happy with all these programs,” he says. “Yes, there was some luck involved in getting the 5,000-layer quota loan. But I think we are making our own luck, working hard to show that we are serious and that this lifetime loan was only a starting point.”