September 8, 2005
Late in August, the Executive Board of the Christian Farmers Federation met with Leona Dombrowsky, Ontario’s new Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. It was a chance to point the Minister to opportunities for her legacy as leader of Ontario Agriculture.
CFFO’s vision for Ontario Agriculture is rooted in four concerns about the present: a) the changing structure of the food chain; b) the ongoing income insecurity for many farm families; c) the lack of recognition for farming’s environmental services and d) the need to rethink the role of farming in local communities. Dombrowsky has opportunities in each area.
On the changing structure of the food chain:
- The expansion of farmer-owned processing, especially in the beef sector, needs to continue.
- Building loyalty to Ontario production needs to stretch beyond the Foodland Ontario program. Our processors, not just consumers, should make Ontario farm products their first choice.
- Ontario’s enabling marketing legislation needs an overhaul. The Farm Products Marketing Act creates opportunities for farmers to work together and gain some clout in the marketplace with their immediate buyers. But a food chain dominated by a few superstores leaves little clout for the immediate buyers of our farm products. Revised legislation needs to enable farmers to negotiate for fair prices with the WHOLE food chain.
On income insecurity:
- We said thank you for the help that has allowed our beef sector to survive the on-going mad cow crisis, and for the other safety net programs, but cautioned that many farm incomes are still insecure, particularly in the grains and oilseed sector.
- We proposed making farm safety nets more credible by clearly targeting small and moderate size family farms. Maximum eligibility for payouts from programs such as Canadian Agricultural Income Stabilization needs to be dramatically lower.
On the lack of recognition for farming’s environmental services:
- We found that Dombrowsky has not moved beyond viewing the environment through the regulatory lens of her previous Ministry. She has much to learn about farming and farmland’s ability to deliver environmental goods and services – services for which society should pay. Demanding these services by regulatory fiat will generate a frustrated and angry countryside.
On rethinking the role of farming in local communities:
- We chose to discuss the Golden Horseshoe Greenbelt as an example of policy failure for our countryside. The Greenbelt has left much prime farmland subject to urban sprawl while protecting mediocre farmland. Most significantly, it draws lines on a map but fails as a plan for a productive countryside.
Minister Dombrowsky has many opportunities to create a legacy in Ontario agriculture.
Elbert van Donkersgoed
This commentary was first published as Corner Post, Farm & Countryside Commentary #397.