By André Dumont
By André Dumont
Just 35, Pierre-Luc Leblanc is the youngest president in the history of Éleveurs de volaille du Québec (ÉVQ – the Quebec poultry farmer’s union). But Pierre-Luc Leblanc doesn’t care much about his age. He was chosen because his union needed an enthusiastic and persuasive leader. After one year on the job, he still feels he’s the right person for the task.
‘’If members are satisfied with my work, I’ll be there for a long time. If they don’t appreciate me, my time there will be shorter,’’ he says.
A turkey and chicken producer in La Présentation, near Saint-Hyacinthe, Leblanc hadn’t planed on heading the ÉVQ. He was on the turkey committee, but was never a board member. When he was approached for presidency, he was surprised. But then he understood: if his union was to make progress on very important issues, his talent for bringing people together could be very useful.
Leblanc is not new to being involved in agriculture. He has served on the boards of local co-ops and was a member of the ÉVQ turkey committee for four years. He is a municipal councillor at La Présentation and sits on an agricultural committee with the City of Saint-Hyacinthe.
Born on a cash crop farm, Leblanc always knew he wanted to make his living from agriculture. ‘’In school, everyone was wondering about their future, but not me. I felt privileged that my parents had a farm.’’
Leblanc obtained a college diploma from l’Institut de technologie agroalimentaire. With the help of his parents, Laurent Leblanc and Pierrette Gaudette, he became owner of his first turkey house. His brother Laurent also received financial support to purchase his first broiler house.
Laurent Leblanc wanted his sons to each have their own businesses. To this day, Laurent and his wife still own all the cash crop land. Pierre-Luc and his older brother Jocelyn still own some poultry productions individually, but they have long figured that growth would be easier if they teamed up. Since 2004, they have made all acquisitions together, under the company they formed, called Groupe Aquino.
More than forty employees work for the brothers and their parents in the fields and in broiler, turkey, pullet and incubation egg production sites in the greater region of Saint-Hyacinthe. A couple of years ago, their sister Marylène joined the company. Groupe Aquino oversees all input purchases, human resources and day-to-day administration.
‘’Poultry is the part I’m passionate about. I always loved animals,’’ Leblanc says. His brother Jocelyn has a preference for cash crops.
As head of the ÉVQ, Leblanc first wanted the union to confirm its core values, in order to develop strategies that match unanimous goals.
Core value number one is the continuity of the family farm. Other values include production efficiency and quality, respect and equality among members, and animal welfare.
The ÉVQ’s most important issue these past years have been its request for a centralized broiler quota exchange and a cap on the price of quota. The Régie des marchés agricoles et agroalimentaires du Québec (the province’s farm market regulator) has asked the ÉVQ to modify the concept of its proposed centralized quota exchange and to file an improved version by November 1st.
‘’We are analyzing the Régie’s decision,’’ Leblanc says. ‘’The Régie recognized that our goals are legitimate, but the means are to be improved.’’
Leblanc says he’s worried that the current price of broiler production quota may be too high for any young farmer to purchase and be profitable. Although quota value is not part of the cost of production calculation, Leblanc is also concerned that the public could think that the price of chicken meat is reflective of high quota prices.
‘’We want to stabilize the price of quota and make sure everyone has an equal chance to purchase some,’’ Leblanc says. ‘’With a centralized quota exchange, anyone could start a farm.’’ The goal is to allow at the same time for young farmers to access quota and for existing farms to continue expanding, he says.
For the last four years, there has been a hold on broiler quota transactions in Québec. The suggested fixed price would be $900 per m2. But Leblanc says it’s still unclear what should be taken in account when setting the price.
The ÉVQ are also re-examining their new farmer assistance program. Quota that is to be distributed to new farmers or sons and daughters of existing farmers must really be for individuals who will be working full time on the farm, Leblanc says.
Supply management and efficiency
At the national level, Leblanc wants to work with other provinces to solve growth allocation issues. Distribution of new production allocations must not only take in account population growth, he says. Efficiency in production and transformation must also be considered.
Defending supply management is a permanent item on Leblanc’s agenda. “With the recent trade agreement with the European Union opening our market to fine cheeses, poultry growers are worried they could also lose some market protection in order for other bilateral trade agreements to be finalized,” he says.
‘’We want to be close to the government, to make them realize what the impact would be if anything is changed. ‘’Poultry farmers pay $1.8 million in income taxes and our production doesn’t live off subsidies.’’
Countries like the U.S., Brazil and China don’t have standards for food safety and environment as high as Canada, Leblanc says. ‘’The supply management system is what allows us to produce efficiently while respecting strict food safety regulation. These high standards have a cost, but I think this is what Canadians want.’’