This week’s guest commentary comes from Mark Wales, President, Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA)
What happens when you invite individuals representing every farm and food processor in Ontario to pick the top five regulations that are impacting business? That’s the question the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) asked when the provincial government selected us to lead consultations for the agriculture and agri-food sector in 2010.
The Open for Business initiative was undertaken by the Government of Ontario to establish a collaborative relationship between government and key business stakeholders to drive economic activity. As the leading advocate for Ontario farmers, the OFA took the reins in this initiative and spearheaded consultations with the farm and agri-food sector.
The initial process is complete. And, it worked so well that the Open for Business consultations identified the need for an ongoing forum to present regulatory changes needed to make our farm businesses run smoother. Nearly two years after the first initiative, the Open for Business representatives continue to meet, bringing relevant ministries together to discuss problematic regulations. So far, the group has managed to arrange positive discussions with government ministries representing agriculture and food, transportation, environment, labour, finance, industry, economic development, energy and natural resources.
Thanks to the collaboration between this committee and government, we’ve seen some significant wins. The group worked with the Ministry of Environment (MOE) and Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food (OMAF) to see improvements for Ontario’s greenhouse sector. Discussions around how produce farms should treat water used to wash vegetables have never occurred at this level before, and the conversations represent a stronger relationship between Ontario’s farm sector and the Ministry of Environment.
Relationships with the Ministry of Finance have also improved, that will lead to lower input costs for Ontario grain farmers. The OFA thanks Steven Del Duca, parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Finance for leading the review of farm property assessment issues. His pending report to the Minister of Finance will recommend a change in farm property classification of commercial grain elevators (located off-farm), which have historically been assessed as industrial rather than commercial properties. The assessment is expected to change in January 2014, and will reduce grain drying costs – and consequently, farm inputs – for Ontario grain farmers.
Ontario’s growing aquaculture sector looks forward to a win related to licensing aquaculture operations. This sector presented its concerns through the Open for Business consultation process, triggering meetings with OMAF, OFA and the Ministry of Natural Resources. Discussions focused on extending aquaculture licences from five to 20 years.
OFA is pleased with the progress the Open for Business consultations have made in discussing and addressing red tape issues that will support successful farming and agri-businesses in Ontario. We continue to meet up to four times a year with related ministry staff to raise issues and identify items requiring follow-up from specific ministries. The OFA will continue to facilitate these discussions for as long as there is a need – to ensure prosperous and sustainable farms.