Another summer job for farmers

Summer is known by most people as the time when farm­ers are busiest planting, grow­ing and harvesting crops. There’s another responsibility many farmers will be working on over the next few months – working the fields of politics, seeking ways to improve the business environment for farm­ing in Ontario.

Politicians at both the fed­eral and provincial levels will be back in their ridings, attend­ing barbecues and meeting their constituents, attempting to solidify support for the next elections.

This is when leaders of the Ontario Federation of Agri­cul­ture, its staff and its members get to work meeting the poli­ticians, going over issues that are critical to agriculture. The list is widely varied rang­ing from market shortfalls to regu­latory concerns to envi­ron­men­tal and business sustain­ability. Some issues are new and some linger.

 The need for improvements to risk management tools from both levels of government still tops the list of what farmers will be seeking when they meet their MPs and MPPs. Ontario commodity organizations have calculated a need for improve­ments to the AgriStability program retroactive to 2008. That necessary change would inject more than $100-million per year into Ontario farm businesses and help stabilize the farm community and our rural economy.

The implementation of busi­ness risk management plans across those commodities wishing it would further sustain these sectors through the years to come.

Farmers and their busi­nesses would also benefit from changes to the property tax sys­tem in Ontario. Farm organiza­tions have developed a simple definition of farming activities that include value-retention   ac­ti­vities, but we are still push­ing for the adoption of that definition to clearly identify when the farm property tax class applies. Those activities in­clude everything from production of maple syrup to pitting and sugaring of cherries to packaging vegetables. With­out those activities, there is no market for such products. That simply means they are farming activities.

OFA wants the province to commit to the cost of imple­menting source water protec­tion plans – an important com­ponent of Ontario’s Clean Water Act. We also need gov­ernment action to overcome de­lays in approvals for farm drain­age work.

 The province’s species at risk legislation has inherent costs and difficulties for farm­ers and rural municipalities. We encourage the province to en­sure that the legislation is ad­ministered so that protection of habitat is balanced against farm businesses continuing to oper­ate efficiently and for com­munities to continue to grow and develop.  If there is im­pinge­ment to farming, there must be compensation.

Farmers have identified other needs from federal and provincial governments. The environmental farm plans so many farming opera­tions have used to mitigate agriculture’s impacts on the environment need continued and improved funding support.

Our members throughout the Greater Toronto Area want more consideration given to the needs of agriculture. Farmers in the Greenbelt find themselves being ignored by the province with preferential treatment going to environmental groups.

Livestock and crops produ­c­ers across the province are demanding more realistic ac­tion by the provincial govern­ment to stop the carnage of lambs and calves by coyotes and crops by elk, deer and tur­keys. To this point, the Ministry of Natural Resources has pro­vided recommendations for protecting livestock from coyotes and is developing an elk hunt, but no tangible action yet that will control wildlife popu­lations.

OFA members and Ontario farmers have much to discuss with political leaders this summer. The business of farm­ing and food processing and distribution is big business.  Our agri-food system needs Ontario farms to survive. Together, we employ 712,000 peo­ple across Ontario. That is big.  Our governments need to understand that and start taking care of business. It is our job to motivate them to do that this summer.