By Kim Waalderbos
Poultry and politics
By Kim Waalderbos
Very few Canadian farmers schedule their farm projects around when the House of Commons is sitting in Ottawa. But that’s the case for New Brunswick egg farmer and Member of Parliament, TJ Harvey.
By the end of June when the House adjourns, TJ will break from his hectic travel schedule to be in his constituency of Tobique-Mactaquac until mid-September. When not fulfilling responsibilities in his home riding this summer, TJ squeezes in time with his wife, Tanya, and their four children – Emma, Madilyn, Sarah and Jack – and juggles farm projects.
TJ and Tanya were accepted as new entrants in 2009, and were established in their newly built layer barn the following year at Sunnyside Farms Ltd. in Glassville, N.B. “We started with an allocation of 1,100 birds from the Egg Farmers of New Brunswick, and have grown to 3,000 birds with additional allocations and increases,” TJ explains.
It was Tanya’s introduction to poultry farming while gathering eggs with her sister at the local Clarks chick hatchery growing up that sparked the interest in her and TJ becoming new entrants. Tanya’s family has a dairy farm in Midland, N.B.
A second generation farmer, TJ grew up on a seed potato farm that his father started with seven acres in the 1980s. In 2011, when the opportunity presented itself, the family sold out of the cropping enterprise, which then comprised 550 acres of seed potatoes and 900 acres of soybeans, wheat and barley in rotation. Today, TJ and Tanya still live on the family farm, while the family rents out the potato storages and remaining acres of land.
While most N.B. new entrants retrofitted or worked with existing barns, the Harveys built new on a site that hadn’t had livestock in recent years. This meant they had to meet the province’s stringent Livestock Operations Act. Despite the challenges, they “had the opportunity to build a modern barn on a smaller scale,” TJ says.
The barn was built large enough to house 4,000 birds in a conventional housing system. It’s fully automated except for the gathering, which “allows us a lot of flexibility.” That flexibility has come in handy with TJ’s schedule and Tanya working full time in tech services for McCain Foods Ltd., headquartered in nearby Florenceville, the World’s French Fry Capitol.
An employee, Chris Milheron, that has been with the family since the seed potato growing days has been “invaluable” as a consistent set of hands and eyes working in the layer barn. “We encourage our four kids to go and help in the barn as much as possible, too,” says TJ, who also makes a point to have at least weekends in the barn when life gets extra hectic.
“An alarm system is the best thing we installed,” notes TJ, “whether it’s a power failure, fans or water issue, we know instantly and can have someone there right away.”
The Harveys had plans to expand by adding another tier of layers, but have been stymied by the requirement that future expansions must be either free range or enriched housing. It’s just not in the cards for them so soon after their initial investment to get established.
Interest in Politics
“Deep down, I always knew I wanted to run for politics,” TJ shares. After off-farm stints with crop protection and food ingredient companies, the opportunity presented itself to get involved in the leadership campaign for Justin Trudeau. “I was always engaged and part of the local Liberal association and it just started to snowball from there.”
On October 19, 2015, TJ was elected to represent his constituency in the Federal election. He is one of the few Members of Parliament under 35 years of age. His farm background also means he’s frequently lobbied on agricultural issues.
TJ believes the biggest challenge in agriculture is the disconnect between the farm and consumer. “We need to get a lot better at telling our story.” He encourages farmers to be proactive and create opportunities to show what you do, such as adding skyways or viewing rooms on your farm for visitors. “People just do not understand and we have a duty to share our story.”
For his part, in Ottawa, TJ is chairing an all-party agriculture caucus. He describes it as an opportunity for MPs representing rural areas, or those interested in or wanting to learn about agriculture to meet and leave the partisan aspect at the door. “We just share, talk and debate about what’s best and what’s needed for the agricultural industry, and how we can support that with good policy.”
It’s one of few such caucuses in Government, though TJ sees more being established in future. “It’s really taken off,” he says, noting approximately 40 MPs have joined the all-party agriculture caucus. The only requirements to join are an interest in agricultural issues, and attending the 7 a.m. meetings each month. “We’re working hard to get renewed vigour around agriculture.”
TJ has noticed that, often, one sector of agriculture gets pitted against another. He describes this as unfortunate and unnecessary. “As a country, we need to create agriculture policy that allows all our sectors to flourish, and that includes supply management as a key pillar.” TJ is confident every sector can gel together without creating hardship in another.
“There are much easier ways to make a living than farming. If you didn’t love farming, you wouldn’t do it.” TJ believes our agricultural industry stakeholders can rally around buying Canadian products, food security and food sovereignty – issues that touch all sectors.
Certainly, TJ and Tanya are proof that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach for working life in agriculture. “If you’re committed to agriculture and have an open mind, you’ll see opportunities among the challenges.” There’s a shelf-life to politics and TJ won’t rule anything out for the future. “When you stop looking for opportunities, then you’re truly done.”