Ontario Federation of Agriculture Commentary
By Drew Spoelstra, OFA Executive Member
When the federal, provincial and territorial agriculture ministers gather this week in Quebec City, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) wants to ensure Ontario’s Minster Hardeman addresses our key issues with his colleagues. We’ve provided Minister Hardeman with issues to resolve when he meets with his peers at the annual conference.
Invest in rural infrastructure: Farming and our agri-food industry rely on transportation, access to services, broadband, labour and infrastructure to operate in rural areas across Ontario and Canada. With the right public investments in infrastructure, agriculture and rural communities can attract new local investments and new residents to provide a necessary skilled labour force. Our industry can drive the economy, but only with reliable, workable infrastructure.
Update Business Risk Management programs: Immediate and long-term improvements to the Business Risk Management (BRM) programs are needed. These proposed changes are necessary to enable the programs to address the risks Canadian, and Ontario farmers are facing, including volatility and increased risk from global trade disputes, declining commodity prices and competitive disadvantages. OFA supports commodity organizations in calling for immediate improvements to the AgriStability and AgriInsurance programs.
Address agricultural labour concerns: Canada’s agricultural industry faces a unique labour challenge. We are short-staffed and need seasonal and foreign worker programs to fill the gap. According to the Canadian Agricultural Human Resources Council, Canadian farms are facing a labour gap of 63,000 workers, with more than 16,000 unfilled vacancies. These numbers have serious consequences and amount to lost annual sales in excess of $2.9 billion each year, delayed or cancelled business expansion plans and excessive stress reported by farmers. Canadian farmers need improved support for labour programs like promotion of agricultural careers to Canadian youth, the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program, a streamlined Temporary Foreign Worker Program, and a realistic pathway to permanent residence for farm and food workers
Support Canadian farm mental wellness: Farmers and farm families are a minority in Canada and underserviced in mental health support. The evidence is clear – labour productivity and business success are linked to balanced mental health and resiliency to stress. OFA is asking the federal and provincial governments to support mental wellbeing for Canadian farmers by implementing ten recommendations outlined in the federal government report, Mental Health: A Priority for our Farmers. These recommendations provide an excellent roadmap for strengthening the mental health and resilience for our farmers.
Enhance Canada’s new food policy: The recently announced Food Policy for Canada focusses on food access and a sustainable food system. OFA supports the policy, and its new Canada Brand promotion to increase Canadian consumer pride and confidence in the food our farmers grow and produce. We also believe there’s a need to improve public trust in our food system and increase food literacy in Canadian youth. Well-informed consumers – of any age – that understand and trust Canadian food, and know how to prepare and cook that food, will be better equipped to make healthy food choices, and in time, will reduce the pressure on our health system.
There’s no shortage of agriculture and food topics to discuss at this week’s federal, provincial and territorial Ministers of Agriculture meeting. Canada is facing increased international trade issues, livestock disease threats and outbreaks and labour and business risk management programming challenges. We need our leaders to step up to support one of the strongest sectors in Canada – agriculture and food.