by Louis Roesch, Director, Ontario Federation of Agriculture
Ontario’s agriculture industry faces various challenges as our farmers work to create a stronger, more resilient sector that will sustain Ontario for generations to come. We depend on ongoing research, innovation and proactive initiatives to help find the solutions to meet these challenges. Collaboration across all facets of our sector is the key to achieving progress on evolving issues linked to the environment, rural economic development, labour and mental wellness.
The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) was proud show off the successful collaboration of our members, staff, board members and industry partners at our second annual Research Day. The event, which took place virtually on March 31, consisted of eight sessions and attracted over 70 participants. It provided an opportunity to educate, inform and engage attendees on current research projects OFA is involved with and supports. The virtual platform allowed members from across the province to engage with presenters during a question and answer period at the end of each session. OFA supports each of the projects that was highlighted through active partnership or financial contributions.
Ben Lefort, Senior Farm Policy Analyst with the organization, kicked off the day with an update on the Township of Mapleton Cost of Community Services (COCS) study. These types of studies offer a “snapshot in time” of each land use’s financial impact on a municipality in a particular year. They highlight the cost imposed on a municipality’s community services by farmland compared to residential land. Ultimately, COCS studies can be used by municiplaities to support their strategic land-use planning. They also illustrate the economic benefit of farmland and why it must be protected. Mapleton is one of the many municipalities who have partnered with OFA to conduct COCS studies.
Producing prosperity in Ontario through the protection of farmland has always been a top priority for OFA. Farm Policy Analyst Emily Sousa and PhD candidate Pam Duesling discussed their research project Best Practices for On-Farm Diversified Uses, which focussed on the balance between farmland preservation, agricultural viability and economic development. Case studies showed that both farmers and planners see the benefit of farmland preservation and onfarm diversification.
Also in support of economic development, Tom Bowers and Megan Sipos from Ontario Greenbelt, gave a presentation to attendees on the Economic Impact of the Agri-Food Value Chain in the Greenbelt & Farm Case Studies. OFA strongly supports the Greenbelt’s work with aligning priorities of preserving valuable farmland in the Greater Golden Horseshoe region. The purpose of this study was to highlight agriculture’s significant contributions to the economy and show the complex economic relationships within the sector. Consistent challenges faced by farmers in the region include farmland loss, climate change, and loss of local service providers to support the sector.
Sarah Stadnyk from the Canadian Biogas Association presented highlights from the Agricultural Renewable Natural Gas (RNG) Resource Clustering Study. This project provides farmers, developers and policymakers an understanding of how changing key factors impact the development of economically viable agricultural RNG projects. RNG clustering pools feedstock from multiple farms to support larger scale anaerobic digestion projects than an individual farm could on its own. The research found that under the right conditions, agricultural RNG clusters can make a large contribution to the generation of renewable natural gas, as well as give value to food and organic waste.
Environmental contributions also came into play through Andrew Graham’s presentation on soil health initiatives in Ontario. The Executive Director of the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association outlined work concentrated in applied research, educational tools, cost-share incentive programs, advocacy and collaborative ventures. This session highlighted how we’re involved in improving soil health and creating awareness of the various initiatives available to Ontario farmers.
Dr. Amy Lemay from the Niagara Community Observatory gave a presentation on Growing Innovation – investigating the barriers and drivers to accelerate technology transfer and adoption of automation, robotics and technologies. This study is set to improve general understanding of how innovation is being adopted into the agriculture sector to increase efficiency.
The day concluded with updates about ongoing regional and organizational initiatives we’re involved with. OFA staff and partners highlighted projects that included county/regional federation Slow Moving Vehicle (SMV) sign initiatives, the Resilient Fields project, 4R Nutrient Stewardship with Fertilizer Canada, Farm Plastics Recycling with Northern Ontario federations and the Farmer Wellness Initiative presented by the Canadian Mental Health Association – Ontario. These sessions demonstrated the level of teamwork and collaboration OFA relies on from our local federations and industry partners to implement these successful and impactful initiatives.
A final session showcased actions OFA is taking on its priority of attracting and retaining skilled labour for farm businesses across Ontario through the Feeding Your Future initiative. OFA staff members Michelle deNijs and Janice Janiec shared metrics from the two year old program that highlighted the impacts each of its services have had on our farming members, and acknowledged the strong partnerships that have been leveraged to help this project succeed