Notes and jottings from this winter’s farm meetings

By MPP Toby Barrett

I have been going to farm meetings for as long as I can remember and this winter was no different, save Zoom calls replacing gatherings at great venues like the Kohler Hall, the Simcoe Hort Station, the Caledonia Fair Board Building or the Greens at Renton.

January kicked off with meetings of the Haldimand Cattlemen’s Association and its Norfolk counterpart, as well as District 5 and District 6 Annual General Meetings of the Grain Farmers of Ontario.  Ontario bumped the Business Risk Management Program to $150 million a year, from $100 million, and I was pleased to announce this at all the meetings this winter.

Ontario is a national leader in providing risk management support to farmers, and Ag Minister Hardeman and Premier Ford continue meetings to improve the national suite of programs to help farmers deal with fluctuating market prices or increased costs of production. We have also increased the payment rate under AgriStability from 50 per cent to 75 per cent to help with cash flow, and have enhanced Production Insurance to cover Covid-related labour shortages.

Our local cattlemen and hog producers, as well as area abattoirs, have had a tough time with supply chain bottlenecks because of coronavirus. The Ontario Government has been able to make $10 million available for market-ready beef and hogs facing processing delay, and $4 million for meat processors.

Canada and Ontario are part of a fully integrated North American and world food system. The scale and efficiency of this system has helped supply — whether it be meat or grain, fruit or vegetable — remain ample. Prices have not increased during the pandemic to the extent many had predicted.

Whether feeding hogs or cattle, farming mink, milking cows or raising chickens, everyone has the right to a safe workplace and this is especially true for farm families whose home and work is often the same. People also have the right to participate in legal protests, but this doesn’t include trespassing on farms or interfering with the trucking of livestock. At all the meetings this winter, I was able to report the Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act and its attendant regulations are now in force.

Access to farm labour has dominated farm meetings and calls to our office. Our greenhouse, fruit and vegetable, tobacco and ginseng are labour intensive. These industries are facing unprecedented labour pressures, particularly during seasonal peaks, because of the need to hand plant, pick and package product. 

Last year, Ontario received 22,000 Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs) — 10 to 15 per cent less than the previous year due to Covid-related travel restrictions. Workers begin to arrive in January rising to a peak in April. The vast majority arrive through the federal Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP) from Mexico and the Caribbean, subject to conditions prescribed by Canada and the participating countries.

On-farm cases have resulted in 12 public health units — including Haldimand-Norfolk — issuing Section 22 Class Orders under the Health Protection and Promotion Act, in many cases severely restricting the movement of workers.

Other meetings this winter ranged from Ridgetown College, to the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre, to evaluations of OMAFRA’s LEADS Program.

I have a bumper sticker on my tailgate, ‘No Farms – No Food’. My staff and I continue to fight on behalf of our area’s most valuable assets – our farmers and our farm workers.

Toby Barrett is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk