Farm tours, plowing matches and policy development

By MPP Toby Barrett

With Thanksgiving around the corner reflecting the bounty of harvest, it’s apparent the contribution Ontario farmers make to our lives.

As MPP and the Opposition Critic for Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, I get to visit farms, farm shows and meet with farm organizations. Here are a few of the concerns facing our agriculture industry as well as some changes in policy farm groups would like to see.

The Grain Farmers of Ontario represents corn, soybean and wheat growers. Wheat has been harvested, but corn and soy are facing challenges stemming from late planting and cool, wet weather. As well, current market prices are below the cost of production for many. As with beef and pork, cash crop farmers continue to advocate for improvements to the Business Risk Management Program.

Farming is a business of slim margins. Outside of direct input costs, labour is one of the largest expenses. The rising minimum wage and the proposed Ontario Retirement Pension Plan will both affect the bottom line. The Ontario Federation of Agriculture and the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association have raised this as one of the more important issues of the many that they actively pursue. We must remember Ontario agribusiness is competing against American and international jurisdictions where wage and other payroll costs are lower.

Beyond wage policy, the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario stresses the rural economy, energy policy and unnecessary red tape. The CFFO is also concerned with preservation of prime farm land and water stewardship. Water quality could become a larger focus as nutrients from both farm and off-farm use are under the microscope – particularly in Ohio – as a source of Lake Erie’s blue-green algae.

The future of farming depends on the industry being viable to attract young farmers. The National Farmers Union present high farm debt and the loss of the family farm, as well as the Canadian European Trade Agreement, as complications for those entering the industry.

Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea (PED) has hit the pork industry in Norfolk and beyond. Although this virus can’t be transmitted to humans, it causes the death of piglets and weight loss in older animals. The present conflict between Russia and the Ukraine and trade sanctions are resulting in the loss of a key market. All told it has been a tough year for Ontario Pork.

Beef Farmers have seen a decline of 100,000 head in Ontario since BSE and need 80,000 additional heifers to keep their industry viable. The good news is feedlot and cow-calf operations and prices are doing better.

In all quarters, there is concern about the increase in bee mortality in Ontario over the past few years. A lawsuit was filed on Sept. 5 in Ontario Superior court against manufacturers Bayer Cropscience Inc. and Syngenta Canada Inc. and their parent companies by Sun Parlor Honey Ltd. and Munro Honey, two of Ontario’s largest honey producers. The class action suit, by default, includes all honey producers in Ontario unless they choose to opt out. This lawsuit, although divisive, could lead to a more thorough investigation of the issue and solutions that will benefit both farmers and beekeepers.

As consumers, we understand that as farm products make it to our tables, there are always challenges farmers face no matter what field they are in.

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