As they say, if you ate today, thank a farmer

By MPP Toby Barrett

Canadians recently had an opportunity to celebrate farming during Canada’s Agriculture Day.

We appreciate the partnerships that work together to celebrate agriculture annually, but understand the value in promoting farming year-round. January and February in particular offer up meetings for commodity groups to discuss policy and relationships with government.

The Province of Ontario is standing up for  farmers by strengthening and protecting supply managed sectors, reducing unnecessary red tape while ensuring food safety, and creating an environment where farms and agribusinesses can grow and prosper. Ontario’s farming sector has received full support from this government since day one.

We remain particularly concerned following the announcement of the new NAFTA – and its impact on Canada’s agricultural sector. We will continue to defend Ontario’s agricultural and economic interests at home and abroad.

The main focus of Agriculture Day is to connect people to where their food comes from and how it’s produced. In Haldimand and Norfolk, most people still have enough of a connection to the land. Roadside fruit and vegetable stands are abundant during harvest, and there is the option to buy product directly from many farms. Many consumers have built a relationship and trust with area farmers. Others prefer to shop in a grocery store and still look for locally grown.

Blessed with healthy soil and a favourable microclimate that produces such a wide variety, our area is one of the most diverse in Ontario. This provides us with a good view into the growing, marketing and issues associated with everything from tomatoes and wheat to dairy, chickens and ginseng.

The big agricultural issue that has been grabbing headlines is corn with high levels of vomixtoxin, also known as deozynivalenol (DON), a fungal plant disease that resulted from wet conditions this past year. The provincial government stepped up through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, to provide ways to process or market infected corn, investing in research with the Grain Farmers of Ontario and opening an application process to cover a portion of farmers’ expenses for DON testing.

Another huge focus provincially has been reducing red tape for growers. Last month, Agriculture Minister Ernie Hardeman, announced a proposal to reduce red tape. It would modernize the Farm Business Registration Program, thereby saving farmers time and cut paperwork.

The minister hosted a roundtable with young farmers to hear how the government can help farmers as they start, and grow their farm businesses. Charges were also made to cut red tape for meat and dairy producers.

Following consultation with farmers, farm organizations, municipal investigators and predation experts, the provincial government has updated the Ontario Wildlife Damage Compensation Program to support those who lose livestock to predators.

Another issue, not only for farmers but all rural residents, is access to natural gas. The government will take action to expand natural gas access to families and business throughout rural and Northern Ontario thanks to an innovative partnership with local communities and the private sector.

Locally, tobacco remains an issue on the Norfolk County Sand Plain. My office continues to advocate, as we have for the past 23 years.

The Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers Board has a new chair in Dave Hope, a former farmer who worked with the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

As they say – if you ate today, thank a farmer.

Toby Barrett is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk