by Peggy Brekveld, President, OFA
As we continue to work through this busy year, many farmers may find themselves so consumed in the daily demands of their farm business that government work and legislative activity isn’t always top of mind. Currently, the Ontario government is in the midst of determining where investments should be placed as priorities shift towards rebuilding an economy hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis.
In recent weeks, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) has been representing farmers at Ontario’s 2021 pre-budget consultations. Many of our board members have had the opportunity to attend roundtable discussions with government officials to address key issues and priorities impacting the agri-food sector and rural communities. OFA outlined four key priority areas where the province can stimulate the economy and meet the needs of the agri-food sector and rural communities.
The agri-food sector is an economic engine for the province, contributing more than $47 billion to the province’s annual GDP and employing over 860,000 Ontarians. OFA believes implementing investments in rural Ontario would lead to the growth and sustainability of the agriculture industry and aid in restoring the provincial economy. It will grow existing businesses, attract new companies and boost opportunities for regional economic development.
OFA recommended the provincial government invest in restoring Ontario’s capacity for food sovereignty and food safety, preserving access to rural schools and health care, investments in infrastructure such as roads, bridges, drainage and broadband, and respecting the unique needs of rural Ontario. These investments can lead the way to economic recovery in the short-term and prosperity in the long run by creating job growth, building affordable communities and securing a sustainable food production system.
Farmers and rural residents require the same access to essential services as their urban counterparts. Choosing to work and live in a rural community should not put an individual at a competitive disadvantage. Farmers need access to roads, bridges and cost-effective energy to successfully manage their farm business and put affordable food on the plates of consumers. A lack of essential infrastructure is detrimental to Ontario’s agri-food supply chain as it would impact the ability for farmers to transport and supply locally grown food products and goods to consumers across the province.
COVID-19 and the stay-at-home order has also highlighted rural Ontario’s dire need for reliable and affordable broadband. It is no longer just limiting farm businesses capacity to pivot to online commerce and upgraded technology, but is now affecting the next generation. Children at home participating in online learning are being left behind due to poor internet connection, as their urban classmates keep up with the curriculum and continue to socialize with their peers.
OFA believes it’s important for the provincial government to acknowledge the challenges faced by rural communities in regard to accessible schools and health care systems. When these essential services are not readily available, it negatively affects everyone living within these communities. Rural schools and quality health care are essential to attract and retain local employees. By investing in education and health care facilities in rural areas, it will also create opportunities for economic growth.
Food sovereignty and safety is another key priority highlighted in our pre-budget submission as it relates to daily operations and the ability to efficiently and effectively put food on grocery store shelves. Compliance with government regulations and fighting through red tape has put a significant financial strain on many farm businesses, abattoirs and meat processing facilities in. Since 1999, the number of abattoirs in the province has dropped by 54%, and with no action, the remaining operations will only grow more threatened. By having capable and readily available food processing facilities, Ontario would be able to reduce our reliance on food sources from abroad while also creating economic opportunities and employment. We believe with financial assistance; abattoirs will be able to make safety upgrades to better maintain high standards for food safety as the demand continues. This will aid in jumpstarting our economy and ensuring food security for the future.
OFA also recommended the government recognize the unique needs of rural Ontario. This includes the importance of ensuring both French and English extension services remain available, an update in farm tax programs to reflect farm business structures’ complexity, and incentive-based policies and programs to the Made-in-Ontario Environmental Plan.
OFA will continue to advocate and work closely with the Ontario government to deliver necessary investments and programs to grow the agri-food sector and our rural communities. You can read OFA’s full submission at ofa.on.ca, click on Resources then Submissions and Correspondence.