A message from Mark Reusser, Vice President, Ontario Federation of Agriculture on the ROMA conference.
By Andrew Joseph, Farms.com, Photo by Spencer Pugh on Unsplash
The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) is attending the 2022 Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA) conference, January 23-25, 2022—to engage with municipal leaders across the province.
Over this three-day period, organizational representatives will be involved in productive conversations with key stakeholders about issues and priorities impacting the economic growth and development of our rural communities and the agri-food sector.
OFA recognizes that to keep this industry profitable and productive, we (as an industry sector) need to ensure the rural communities that support our farm businesses remain healthy and viable through necessary investments and distributed economic development.
Key priorities that OFA intends to bring to the table includes:
- advocating for rural infrastructure investments;
- healthy hubs and vibrant communities;
- affordable and accessible mental health services;
- fast, reliable broadband, and;
- working with stakeholders to navigate the Conservation Authorities (CA) regulations.
Mark Reusser, Vice President, OFA said: “It’s widely publicized that Ontario’s agri-food sector is a major economic driver in the province, contributing more than $47 billion to Ontario's annual GDP (gross domestic product) and generating over 860,400 jobs.
“Investments in agriculture and our rural areas has potential to increase economic productivity and prosperity for all Ontarians,” he continued.
“However, farming and rural communities continue to experience shortfalls in funding due to the disproportionately large infrastructure base in relation to population. A key component of our Producing Prosperity campaign is increased funding to rural municipalities for infrastructure improvements, including natural gas, roads and bridges, drainage and broadband,” noted Reusser.
He said that: “Distributed economic development has the potential to create job growth, build affordable communities and secure a sustainable food production system for all Ontarians to enjoy.
"Infrastructure investments can grow existing businesses, attract new companies and boost opportunities for regional economic development. It will support economic growth for the agri-food sector and ensure we have strong and vibrant communities.
“Infrastructure investments such as fast, reliable broadband connection is another vital necessity we are advocating for in rural communities. Reliable, high-speed internet should be deemed an essential service as it is vital to the continued growth and development of rural Ontario,” Reusser explained.
We all know that there is a need for reliable internet to better support our farmers and rural communities—not having it places rural businesses, residents and schools are at a competitive disadvantage.
Said Reusser: “Our farmers run modern businesses that require innovative technology, high-speed internet access and reliable cellular coverage. Healthy hubs and vibrant communities are necessary, but unfortunately lacking in many rural areas across Ontario. At times, farmers sacrifice proximity to health care systems, schools and childcare due to the remote nature of their work.
“Over the years, we have seen many school closures which directly impact farm families. When a rural school is permanently closed, municipalities fail to realize the potential impact on cost and education accessibility for families in rural areas. Longer commutes to the classroom can directly impact student performance, concentration, and participation in extracurricular activities. These closures also impact the community – removing children present to spend money or be available for afterschool employment."
Regarding affordable and accessible mental health services, Reusser was equally effusive about OFA’s goals.
“Rural towns also experience decreased access to healthcare facilities such as doctors' offices, specialists and hospitals. OFA believes farmers and rural residents must have equal access to affordable, high-quality healthcare services, facilities, and practitioners that urban Ontarians currently have. Access to local family physicians is a necessary support that should be accessible to the farming community to ensure quality of life and health.
He added: “Along with accessible healthcare facilities, mental health also remains a key priority and advocating point for OFA. The challenges associated with farming can significantly affect mental health and well-being. It is vital to recognize the unique needs of a farmer dealing with a mental health crisis.
“Living within rural communities has limited access to mental health services and resources, creating a deficit in support available to farmers and rural communities. Without a long-term plan for stronger mental health resources, this matter could become a significant detriment to the growth of Ontario's agriculture industry.”
As Conservation Authorities are completing their watershed-based resource management strategies and reviewing their funding agreements with participating municipalities for non-mandatory programs and services, the OFA encourages all parties to consider maintaining existing programs such as Total Phosphorous Management programs.
Reusser summed up: “We are pleased to have agricultural representation on the Conservation Authorities Board and are looking forward to the opportunity to collaborate with stakeholders and representatives on CA regulations that impacts farm businesses.
“OFA is dedicated to driving positive change for farmers, businesses and rural residents, ensuring they have equal access to the infrastructure, services and support they need.”
More information at: https://www.roma.on.ca/roma-2022-rural-opportunities.