Notes and jottings from this winter’s farm meetings

I’ve 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 1950s and had joined the Norfolk Co-op in 1918.

Some local farm groups go back much further – the Norfolk Fruit Growers go back to 1906 and the Norfolk Agricultural Society has been running for 172 years.

Building on its hundred year history, I can assure everyone 4H is alive and vibrant in Norfolk County and Haldimand County. I can tell I’m at a 4H banquet if I get hit with a marshmallow, or someone pulls their coat from off the table and a raw egg hits the floor. Another group of young people, our Haldimand-Norfolk Junior Famers, raise a great deal of money each year for local health and social charities.

Our communities have also been blessed with Women’s Institutes, past and present. I am pleased to be a regular invitee to WI events and ceremonies. For the life of me, I have no idea how they make those tasty multi-layer cut sandwiches.

Each year I alternate between meetings of the Grain Farmers of Ontario in Norfolk-Elgin and the Haldimand, Wentworth, Niagara group. The Business Risk Management program remains the issue, and the decision of the current government to cap their contribution at $100 million.

For 18 years, I have attended the Haldimand-Norfolk Holstein Banquet, and enjoy my breakfast meetings with the chicken guys. As MPPs we continue to assure dairymen and the feather industry of our support for supply management.

Having grown up throwing down hay for calves, I enjoy meetings of the Haldimand and Norfolk Cattleman’s Association, but we’ve lost cattle and we’ve lost cattlemen. Provincially, a herd of 440,000 head in 2003 has shrunk to 200,000. And again, during good times and bad, we see the ever present value of farm leaders volunteering on farm organizations.

I did miss some meetings due to my responsibilities at Queens Park – Ginseng Growers, Pork Producers and the Ontario South Coast Wineries and Growers Association. As Bobbi reported back, the discovery of Poarcine Epidemic Diarrhea (PED) dominated the hog meeting. Our ginseng growers must have access to an ongoing field research program. And we know there has been a huge exclusion or oversight on behalf of the government with non-VQA and fruit wines not being allowed for sale at farmers markets.

The Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers, Greenhouse Vegetable Growers, and OFA, testified on the minimum wage before our Finance Committee this winter. These sectors continue to struggle to absorb the last wage increase to $10.25 an hour. They lean towards linking the minimum wage to consumer price index, taking into consideration the general health of business at that time, but they certainly did not want to see this $11 increase thanks to the present government. Perhaps it is time to have a separate agricultural labourer category for these kinds of wage decisions.

Farm commodity groups also collaborate well at Queens Park. Most recently the Ontario Federation of Agriculture advocated: better access to natural gas; fair property tax assessments; food literacy programs; and support for agriculture training, and education institutions like Kemptville College.

In my view, the backbone of our rich agri-business and country culture in Haldimand-Norfolk is our plethora of farm commodity and rural organizations.