By Keith Currie, Vice President, Ontario Federation of Agriculture
As Ontario farmers close the books on 2013, some memorable moments come to mind. The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) worked hard to raise agriculture’s profile over the past year.
The year began with OFA gearing up to educate members about the new Farm Business Registration (FBR) process that required a two-step process to become an OFA member. We sincerely thank all our members for their patience while OFA managed through its FBR challenges. In the end, we added more than 1,900 new farm business registrations to OFA’s roster in 2013.
As Ontario’s largest general farm organization, the OFA takes farmer advocacy seriously. In our continued efforts to build stronger ties with government, the OFA kicked off some new initiatives this year. We hosted 100 attendees including MPPs and senior staff at OFA’s first annual Field Day at a farm in Peel County. It was a unique way to demonstrate the important issues to OFA. We often meet representatives in MPP offices at Queen’s’ Park and in their constituencies, but taking them to a real farm setting put farmer concerns into perspective.
In 2013, we welcomed Premier Wynne to the role of both Premier, and Minister of Agriculture and Food. OFA representatives have worked closely with Premier Wynne, and we appreciate her focus in helping our industry get its due recognition as a valuable economic engine and primary job creator for the province.
OFA has built stronger relationships with all political parties to bring a higher profile to agriculture. All major parties were on the agenda at OFA’s annual general meeting and convention in 2013. And the passing of the Local Food Act brought a renewed interest in ensuring more local food is used in government institutions.
But the year has not passed without challenges. Excessive rainfall during the growing season in some areas and weather fluctuations in general put insurance top of mind for many farmers. OFA assisted Agricorp in a member survey about what a forage insurance program should accomplish in Ontario.
The OFA has heard Premier Wynne’s challenge to agriculture and agri-food that we meet specific growth targets in output and job creation over the next 20 years. And while we appreciate the Premier’s attention and confidence she has placed in the sector, we return to her with a list of tools our sector requires before we can achieve that desired growth.
To meet the Premier’s growth challenge, Ontario’s agriculture and agri-food sector needs assurance that our best farmland will be protected, regardless of its location. We must have a sound and supportive regulatory environment, and labour laws that do not harm our competitiveness. Natural gas across rural Ontario will be needed to provide energy at competitive prices. And, we will look to our provincial government to lead the development of the newly emerging bio-economy.
2014 holds promise for continued growth – driving our industry and our province forward.