This week’s guest commentary comes from Peggy Brekveld, Vice President, Ontario Federation of Agriculture
Sometimes the toughest conversations pair well with food. There are a lot of issues facing Ontario farmers and Ontario agriculture right now. And the summer barbeque circuit is a great place to put agriculture on the menu with your political guests.
As farmers and members of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA), we all share a responsibility and have a role to play in advocating for our industry. And what better backdrop than summer time while enjoying locally-produced Ontario food and beverages. Consider hosting a summer event in your area, and be sure to invite your local MPP and their staff, as well as municipal and federal representatives.
Agriculture is a complex, innovative industry and they may not be aware of some of the great things happening in your area. Have your speech ready when you talk to politicians. Start a conversation about who you are, your farming operation and the issues that keep you up at night.
Every one of our farm operations is unique, but we do share a number of common concerns. These are the issues we all need to be talking to policymakers about, so they understand what agriculture means to Ontario and how we can continue building our industry and move it forward together.
The OFA has four key issues for government we’re sure will make great barbeque conversation this summer with politicians in your local community.
Energy is always on tap for political conversations. Ontario agriculture needs competitive energy costs that include a farm/industrial electricity rate and access to affordable natural gas. The spring budget did not address rising electricity rates or expanding natural gas to rural Ontario. Ontario farmers need electricity rates more in line with neighbouring jurisdictions to keep our farming and industrial sector more competitive.
Infrastructure provides the backbone to communities – the roads, bridges, internet and more that supports a thriving, competitive industry. OFA sees the expansion of natural gas to rural Ontario as a necessary infrastructure investment that would provide farms with another lower cost energy option. Natural gas infrastructure is something OFA has been discussing with government for years and it’s important to keep the conversation going at the local level. Share with MPPs what natural gas can do in your community.
A big priority for the OFA, and an important message for politicians, is the review of four significant land use plans. OFA’s Vice President, Keith Currie has been appointed to the expert advisory panel overseeing the review of The Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, the Greenbelt Plan, the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan and the Niagara Escarpment Plan. OFA is urging government to make a fair evaluation of all four land use plans. And we are asking government for consistency across the plans to put farmland first. Farmland preservation is critical – the fact that Ontario loses 350 acres of farmland every day is an effective reminder of the importance of protecting our greatest farming resource.
And our work continues on the issue of pollinator health and the new rules for protecting pollinators in Ontario. Pollinator health is critical to all Ontario farmers. The new regulations that come into effect on July 1 are a burden with very short implementation timelines. OFA will work closely with government and industry to make these regulations workable. We need more details and flexibility around how the new rules are implemented. And we will continue to push for a comprehensive pollinator health strategy that works for everyone in the province.
Be ready to talk up agriculture during the social summer barbeque circuit with politicians and policymakers. It’s our job to be sure they understand the issues that are impacting our operations. That’s the only way our voices will be heard.