Listening to farmers concerns key to good representation

For groups like the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, there is no substitute for attending farm shows and catching the pulse of what farmers are thinking.

This year’s farm shows were no exception, with three key points coming across again and again from farmers in attendance.

The continuing value of good farmland

Good farmland taken out of production is seen by most people as directly tied to food production and not just a loss of land. And yet farmers have mixed feelings regarding the effectiveness of the tools to preserve farmland. Most see public policy tools as either not preserving farmland, while some see them as an overbearing approach that limits agricultural development on land that is preserved. The Greenbelt comes to mind in the latter regard.

Where have all the young people gone?

Many farmers are concerned that the next generation sees much more opportunity in the cities than on the farm. Some, however, do note that larger operations are employing more people and that some farm kids are finding their way into agriculture through the side door. Some conversations at farm shows would suggest that maybe it’s time to recognize farm employees as farmers and find ways to involve them more in questions concerning agriculture.

The recognition of Ontario farm products

The CFFO operates a corporate logo contest at its booth and at least 75 per cent of those who attended were able to identify the Foodland Ontario logo. That clearly speaks to the ongoing opportunity to clearly identify and promote Ontario farm products to the province’s consumers.

Those three points came up regularly from farmers in widely spread geographic regions, ranging from the Ottawa Valley to southwestern Ontario. The CFFO listens to those gathered points of agreement and builds them into its position statements in order to meet the needs of members.

By way of example, the federation continues to develop strong advocacy positions for preserving the best farmland, has spent a good deal of time at its annual conventions discussing succession planning, and has developed a number of perspectives on labelling Ontario farm products.

The CFFO continuously gathers information from farmers, members and non-members alike. Meeting farmers at places where they gather and contemplate business and management decisions has tremendous value when we need to understand and respond to the issues of the day.

There is additional value when the general public attends those farm shows as well, as there is opportunity to connect farmers and consumers in one place. Helping the general public to understand the needs of agriculture and the cohesiveness that is required to coexist in rural Ontario is part of our organization’s efforts.

Highlighting farmers’ concerns and developing solutions are part of the CFFO’s mandate. The CFFO will continue to reach out to Ontario’s farmers and listen to their ideas and thoughts on the business of farming.

Paul Bootsma is the district and member representative of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario.