Now is the time for a renewed focus on farming

By MPP Toby Barrett

Strong farms are vital to a strong Haldimand-Norfolk and a strong Ontario. And a strong rural Ontario needs a healthy and sustainable agricultural sector – one that provides opportunities for the next generation of families to continue to earn a living from farming.

Government does have a role to play – as a champion for agriculture and the rural economy it supports. A good example locally is the 50 years of public finance support for the Simcoe Research Station – a 50 year history of research and development into more than 100 fruit and vegetable crops.

But government policy can also be problematic and, like every business, our farms have been hard hit by tax grabs, bureaucratic red tape and skyrocketing electricity bills. Farmers are working harder but earning less.

Endless rules, regulations, directives and paperwork take the fun out of farming, and any business for that matter. A very large percentage of this unnecessary red tape burden can be eliminated. As well, farmers need a simplified means of dealing with government – a ‘one-window’ approach through OMAFRA, rather than through multiple ministries.

As with so many other farm input costs, expensive energy experiments are driving up hydro bills. Farmers, and other Ontarians, who have signed FIT contracts will see them honoured, but one should not expect another round of lucrative contracts in the future.

In our area we can grow and produce just about every agricultural commodity – the problem lies in finding a market. We need a ‘Buy Ontario’ food policy, leading by example at provincial institutions like hospitals, schools and jails.

The five county sand plain region has been severely impacted by the demise of our 80-year history of growing tobacco. There were well over 3,000 farmers when I worked in the industry, growing 190 million pounds – we are now down to 85.3 million pounds, at a price in the basement due to contraband. But tremendous potential remains – our unique soil types, our micro-climate, access to water, our experience in labour management and risk-taking, and proximity to market. Hence the importance of the two ag research stations in our area, and innovative collaboration with commodity organizations.

Farmers require stability and predictability. The current federal Agri-stability approach is not enough. A Risk Management Program for non-supply managed commodities – cash crop, hogs, cattle, sheep and veal – must be permanent. And hort needs a Self Directed Risk Management program.

It has been a long process. Tim Hudak and the Official Opposition have been pleased to work with the agriculture industry over the past few years and support the call for the new program based on cost of production. We understand the challenges Ontario farmers have been facing and that is why we committed to implementing this program two years ago and have been pushing government to follow through on the same commitment.

As well, government at both levels must continue to fight for Supply Management for our dairy and feather sector.

In addition to programs ensuring farm sustainability, more support is needed for rural infrastructure including our feed mills, equipment dealerships, fertilizer suppliers, and trucking companies.

Farmers need Ontario as much as Ontario needs farmers – it’s time for a renewed focus and action to generate growth and jobs for both. Challenges must be met; farmers must succeed; and we must maintain agriculture as an attractive career for the next generation.