Ontario Federation of Agriculture Commentary By Don McCabe, OFA President
This year marks a significant milestone for the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA). For 80 years, OFA has been advocating on the issues and concerns of Ontario’s farmers. Keeping OFA members, who are the majority of Ontario’s farm families and the provincial rural base, at the forefront of consideration of policy discussions and decisions at the various government levels is the proud task of the OFA and its county federations.
The business of farming has certainly changed over the years, but many of the issues remain the same. Looking back through OFA’s archives and historical records there are a few concerns that the organization continues to deal with through the decades. Farm property taxation and assessment, energy rates and reliability, land use planning and farmland preservation have been on OFA’s advocacy agenda over the years and remain in high priority.
OFA has always kept a close eye on the farm assessment and appeals process to make sure it’s fair. This year marks another farm assessment year for Ontario farms. OFA is taking the results of a recent member survey on the farm property assessment appeals process to government to ensure the process is effective. Farm businesses are subject to a variety of taxes. OFA continues to be involved in any policy discussions related to farmland and farm business taxation, ensuring the voice of the farm business tax payer are heard and receive services to taxes paid.
Energy needs and reliability has grown tremendously over the decades. Today, Ontario farmers are dealing with one of the highest electricity rates in North America. These expenses are driving up the cost of doing business, making it harder for Ontario farmers and farm processors to compete on a national and international scale.
OFA will continue working with the government this year to secure a competitive industrial/farm electricity rate.
Natural gas and access to this lower cost energy source is also on OFA’s list of energy issues. OFA believes natural gas expansion to farms and rural Ontario communities should be our provincial and federal government’s first priority when it comes to investing in infrastructure in rural Ontario. Natural gas will boost business opportunities by significantly lowering energy costs, and OFA continues to push for better infrastructure across rural Ontario. Natural gas infrastructure is an investment for the future as powering the farm fleet could be possible with biogas supplied from farms as a renewable source.
Farmland preservation is always a top priority. The OFA position on this important resource hasn’t changed over the years – farmland preservation is critical. OFA will be participating in consultations this year, reviewing the recently released land use planning recommendations for the Greater Golden Horseshoe area and continue advocating for the overall preservation of Ontario’s farmland.
Society demands greater accountability from farmers. From 2015, the concepts and issues associated with sustainability, social license, algal blooms due to agriculture phosphorous use, greenhouse gas emissions, declining biodiversity and others will need to defined and addressed in 2016 with cohesive policy. Ontario farmers are the stewards of the land, who have to be able to integrate all of society’s needs, into a farming business returning profitability not just for the farmer doing it, but supporting the number one industry in Ontario with environmental integrity and societal value.
In 80 years of advocacy, OFA has tackled countless issues impacting Ontario farmers, advocating to all three levels of government, policy makers and related industries. We are proud to be the largest and longest serving farm organization in Canada. OFA is proud to serve our members in the number one industry of the province.