This week’s guest commentary comes from Peter Lambrick, Board Member, Ontario Federation of Agriculture
Field work took on a different meaning this week for Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) staff and directors. We set aside our work on the business of farming for a day to tour MPPs through apple and blueberry orchards and an apple packing plant in Durham region. It was the 2015 OFA Field Day and we were showcasing a slice of the diverse, innovative sector that drives the provincial economy. MPPs from all three parties attended including Agriculture Minister Jeff Leal, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, NDP Agriculture Critic John Vanthof and PC Agriculture Critic Toby Barrett.
The OFA Field Day was hosted by Kirk Kemp of Algoma Orchards and Charles Stevens of Wilmot Orchards, near Newcastle, about an hour north of Toronto. MPPs and staff were taken on a private tour and talk through these operations and learned about the way these two farm businesses add value to the economy, the consumer and the local community.
Standing out in the orchard provided the perfect backdrop to have conversations with politicians about issues that really matter to Ontario agriculture. Hosting the Field Day event gives us the opportunity to show, and not just tell, the importance of our industry to the provincial economy.
We highlighted four topics that are on the minds of many Ontario farmers – energy rates, infrastructure support, farmland preservation and pollinator health. Our messages are direct and simple on these issues.
We are asking the government for more competitive energy rates, to be more in line with neighbouring areas, to keep the farming and rural sector competitive. We continue to push for an expansion of natural gas infrastructure throughout rural Ontario as part of better infrastructure support. As the government reviews four key land use plans, we are reminding them of the need to always prioritize the protection of farmland – our greatest resource. And we continue to push the provincial government for a comprehensive pollinator health strategy.
Some of the best conversations to advocate for our industry are the unscripted ones that happen in a casual setting. Like an apple orchard. What better atmosphere to reiterate the significant contributions that the Ontario agri-food industry contributes to the overall health and wellbeing of Ontarians. Our sector is driving the Ontario economy. And we will continue to show politicians about the important opportunities that are happening all around them, just outside of town.