100 years of evolution
2022 is a special year in the contemporary history of agriculture and agri-food Quebec. 100 years ago this year, the merger of the Coopérative des fromagers, the Comptoir coopératif and the Société coopérative agricole des producteurs de semences de Québec gave rise to the Coopérative fédérée du Québec, now Sollio Cooperative Group. In a territory marked by a strong presence of the cooperative model its marked the sector’s future by knowing, at each turn, how to succeed while offering an alternative development pathway for the benefit of farmers.
Over time, the cooperative has been able to help producers take control of their industry’s development!
The Church and the cooperative movement in Quebec
The agricultural cooperative movement emerged very early in the 20th century supported by two pillars: the Department of Agriculture and the Church. The dynamics they were to nurture would gradually enable the cooperative world to stake its place in a very competitive and rapidly growing agricultural market. The birth of the Coopérative fédérée, to name but one, is a case in point for institutionalizing cooperation.
Changing role of women in agriculture
Long before their status was recognized, women in Quebec played an essential role in agriculture. In the 1930s, agronomist and Quebec premier Adélard Godbout would comment that “La ferme vaut ce que vaut la femme,” (the farm is only as good as the woman behind it), as the transition to market farming gradually unfolded. This transition changed households’ habits and division of labour. Expanding farms called for new tasks, specialization and the addition of machinery. Women assumed roles, first in management and increasingly in the various aspects of production.
The penetration of agricultural cooperation in Quebec
Quebec is one of the western societies that assigns the greatest importance to cooperation. As a major component of the social economy, cooperation is at the heart of the Quebec model. Without it, Quebec agriculture would never have developed to the same degree. It facilitated the market shift by keeping the main levers of development in the hands of farmers. Cooperatives have been essential instruments in bringing out of economic marginality and poverty an agricultural class that was close to destitute.
Environment and sustainable agriculture in Quebec
Periodically throughout the past century, Quebec has affirmed its desire to maintain, throughout its cultivable territory, agriculture as a trade, rooted in the economic and ecological characteristics of its communities. Those communities benefit from the characteristics of agriculture where the owner-operator model predominates, favouring farms on a human scale. This model has helped preserve and enhance the close bond between farmers and the land. Far from being strictly economic, this bond is also a strong anchor in the territory. Living right in the environments where their farms are located, farmers have learned to deal with the pedoclimatic and environmental conditions of those areas.
Consultant and propagandist
In the fall of 1935, having just graduated as an agronomist from the École d’agriculture de Sainte-Anne-de-La-Pocatière, Joseph Laliberté settled in the colony of Roquemaure in Abitibi. He was recruited by the Société de colonisation de Sainte-Anne to assist settlers and help build the parish. Passionate about cooperation, he was eager to create a prosperous parish. An activist of the Union des cultivateurs catholiques, his focus was on education. He believed that a group of weak people could produce strength by uniting around a common project. He argued that study teams were based on these premises. He fulfilled his role as a propagandist, that is to say a facilitator in his community, raising the educational standards of settlers and building strong institutions.
Nearly one in six farms in Quebec specializes in dairy production. It is a true foundation on which the dairy processing sector is built. Most of the yogurt and cheese produced in Canada comes from here.
Progress in agricultural practices
In 1849, Abbé Marquis, frightened and powerless as he witnesses the initial impact of modernization on the need for farm workers, commented that for the previous seven or eight years, mills had been taken from barn to barn, accomplishing in four or five days’ work what normally took two or three months. Countless poor people who earned their livelihood from this work were left idle and starving. The number of those mills rose from 469 in 1844 to 15,576 in 1871. Blacksmiths and other artisans in the tilling equipment industry would also eventually have to retrain and become qualified to carry out machine maintenance.
More than one hundred thousand Canadians died in the wars of the 20th century and tens of thousands more returned, wounded or lame. But war is not only the business of soldiers. Major strategists, such as China’s Sun Tsu and Prussian Clausewitz have demonstrated the strategic importance of supply, food and financing issues.