New OFA president outlines organizational priorities

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by Drew Spoelstra, President, OFA

This past week, Ontario’s farmers gathered for the annual meeting of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA). It’s a business meeting for the organization and the opportunity for members from across Ontario to debate resolutions and help shape the direction of OFA policy and activity for the year ahead.

It’s a process I’ve been part of myself for many years, first as an OFA member, and for the last 10 years as a provincial director representing fellow farmers from Halton, Hamilton-Wentworth and Niagara.

This year, I was also elected as OFA’s 33rd president. It’s an honour to lead this organization and it’s a responsibility I don’t take lightly.

My family and I farm in the southeast corner of the city of Hamilton, near the community of Binbrook where we milk cows, grow corn, soybeans, wheat and hay, and raise beef cattle and Clydesdale horses. I also operate a dealership selling corn and soybean seed to local farmers.

Volunteering in my community has always been important to me, whether it’s with the Binbrook Agricultural Society, the Hamilton-Wentworth Soil and Crop Improvement Association or chairing Hamilton’s agriculture and rural affairs sub-committee.

I first became involved with OFA because I had a desire to represent the farmers in my area and work on their behalf to ensure a strong future for agriculture. OFA is an advocacy organization, and we develop and comment on policy that affects farmers and rural communities with the goal of making those policies more relevant and workable for farm businesses.

Looking ahead to the coming year, I see the OFA continuing to work on many issues that have dominated the calendar in 2023. Land use and urban sprawl are hot topics, for example.

We are losing productive farmland in Ontario at rates that are unsustainable – an average of 319 acres a day, according to the latest Census of agriculture numbers. That’s land that produces food, fuel, fibre and flowers, supports jobs, preserves wildlife habitats and makes positive environmental contributions.

It’s been encouraging to see some of the changes we’ve seen lately by the provincial government to help preserve farmland from development, and we hope to keep that momentum going.

We’re also going to see a continued focus on the environmental sustainability issues around agriculture. That includes emission reductions to support climate change mitigation, policies and programs to support even more widespread adoption of soil health practices and addressing water quality and management.

At the same time, we must ensure that farms can also stay economically sustainable, so we’ll continue to raise awareness of concerns around profitability, and the impact that rising input and production costs, carbon tax and high interest rates are having on our ability to farm competitively and produce food here in Ontario.

We must communicate as efficiently and effectively as possible with government, our industry partners and our own members across Ontario. That means listening to the other sides, as well as sharing information. At the end of the day, our goal is to do what’s right and make the best decisions for Ontario farmers.

Our board has also elected a new Executive Committee, and we welcomed four new board members to the table last week. I’m excited to work with this team and to tackle the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

One thing I’ve learned in my last 10 years as a board director with OFA is that none of us can do this alone. Collaboration and partnership are key to successful outcomes, and I’ve been lucky to have some great mentors.

We all have to pull in the same direction to make this organization and this industry work to its best potential, and while we may not always be in agreement, we all want the same outcome: a strong, healthy and sustainable farmer and farming sector in the Province of Ontario.

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