Hopeful bison farmer not letting obstacles deter her

Gary Kean gkean@thewesternstar.com
Published on August 26, 2014

Michelle Young is frustrated, but that is only making her even more determined to get her bison farm up and running.

The woman from Heatherton has been working away on her goal of starting the JNJ Bison Company for the past four years. She has invested her own money and continues to try to find sources of funding that can help get her start-up herd to western Newfoundland and bison meat eventually to the local marketplace.

She had hoped to have the first 15 animals — one bull and 14 heifers — on the land she has prepared for them by now.

There are still some hurdles to get over before the bison can be brought down, but she is sure she can deal with those issues in due course.

Her source of frustration is with the Department of Natural Resources, which she says doesn’t seem to be supportive of her efforts to start the farm. Young already has the money to purchase her herd, has 24 acres fenced off for the bison to roam and graze on and has the green light from the environmental assessment process.

She was hoping the Department of Natural Resources would deem her plan eligible for funding under the Growing Forward 2. That federal-provincial initiative, which came into effect in April 2013, committed $37 million to Newfoundland and Labrador’s agriculture industry over a five-year period.

Young wanted some help to fence off an additional 100 acres of land for the herd. She said she’s been told the fund is already tapped out.

“I haven’t got a hope in hell of getting any help from them,” she said.

While she is planning to find out exactly where all the federal and provincial money did go, Young is forging on with her plans. She has started an online crowd-sourcing initiative in an attempt to raise the money she needs to leverage other funding she does have conditionally secured and to continue on with developing the farm.

Young never qualified for the first round of Growing Forward funding because she never had any experience in farming bison, never had any certifications for the industry and never had a proper business plan. She took care of those prerequisites by spending time at the bison ranch in Alberta from which she will buy her start-up herd and by pursuing an agricultural program at Dalhousie University.

No market for bison

Her critics have also told her there is no market for bison meat in Newfoundland and Labrador. Young said the emails and letters she has from prospective clients interested in buying meat from her is proof there is indeed a market.

In fact, she is considering bringing in some market-ready animals to begin supplying the customers she says she has already lined up.

“If anybody thinks I’m just going to give up on this and go away, they’re underestimating me,” she said. “I’m like a dog with a bone. I’m dug in.”

No one from the Department of Natural Resources was made available for an interview about the Growing Forward 2 program Monday. In a press release issued by the department Aug. 12, it was indicated that the program had invested nearly $6 million in 158 projects in 2013, while another $6 million was set to go towards 95 more projects in 2014.

In an emailed statement sent Monday afternoon, the department outlined how applicants may be eligible through three aspects of the Growing Forward 2 program: the Agriculture Innovation Program, the Agriculture Sustainability Program and the Agriculture Opportunities Program.

The department said in the email there “is a very high demand and interest from industry” for funding. Applications for the Growing Forward 2 program are accepted continuously and reviewed on a first-come, first-served basis.

The program for 2014-15 is “currently over-subscribed,” stated the email.

The department noted that, for those projects not funded this year, applications may be considered for next fiscal year.

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