By MPP Toby Barrett
Agriculture and agri-food continue to face a tremendous opportunity and a tremendous challenge – the world’s population has exploded to seven billion. When my family started farming in Norfolk in 1796, it was one billion. Supporting a global population requires a tremendous acceleration of knowledge and technology to produce more food, feed, fibre and fuel, while trying to use less energy, water, chemical and acreage.
A study by management consultants McKinsey and Company, anticipates by 2025, the world’s emerging economies will develop middle classes with the ability to spend $30 trillion annually in global markets – markets for the kind of things we grow, feed, mine and manufacture. McKinsey and Company call this “the biggest growth opportunity in the history of capitalism.”
Like much of the world, farmers are early adapters of technology – something that has been documented over the 10,000 year history of agriculture.
In contrast to days gone by, intensive agriculture, precision farming, biotech-enhanced production, mechanization, automation, robotics and drones continue to play a much larger role in today’s agri-business.
For the sake of Ontario’s agri-food future, we must up our game. We need people who have a background in science, mechanics and computers as well as animal husbandry and crop production. Those involved know that farming and the food business can be a tough way to make a living. Farming and finding a market is always difficult. We need to ensure confidence that farming has the potential for a rewarding and prosperous career.
Production advances are many, but it still takes a seed to grow a plant and feed to raise livestock. Beyond that, we need policy for bold, confident action to capitalize on any projected boom and enhanced trade in farm commodities.
Those of us living out in the country need to be assured that we are not forgotten, or being taken for granted. We have issues – supply management, trade, broadband, natural gas, soil erosion, school closings, health care, farm prices, minimum wage, debt and taxes- the list goes on.
The best part of my job is being out on the back roads, visiting and listening to what people have to say in rural, small-town Ontario. My last degree at Guelph was in agriculture extension and I find those principles valuable to relay ideas and concerns and solutions back and forth to Queens Park.
I’ve also been attending farm meetings for as long as I can remember – with my father, my grandfather. Our farms, as T.B. Barrett and Son, signed up for the Federation of Agriculture in the 1950’s and had joined the Norfolk Co-op in 1918.
In my view, the backbone of our rich agri-business and country culture in Haldimand-Norfolk and across Ontario is our plethora of farm commodity and rural, small town organizations.
There are 2.2 million people who work directly and indirectly in agri-food. They are major players in Ontario’s rural and small town economy, as well as that of the entire province. These farmers and experts in production should play a key role in making the decisions that impact them the most.
We can be the breadbasket for the globe, and support the comeback of our farm and rural areas. But to do this, we must get our economic and political fundamentals in order. Developing our agricultural and natural resources need not be an afterthought.
Toby Barrett is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk