The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA)’s West Nipissing chapter held its annual general meeting on Thursday, October 12 at Gervais Restaurant, reviewing both local and provincial matters affecting the industry over the past year. Members discussed current objectives, reviewed financial reports and elected the board and area representatives to provincial bodies for the 2024 term. On hand were Leah Ems, OFA service representative for Simcoe County, 4th generation farmer Paul Maurice, OFA director for Zone 13 (Peel, Simcoe), Temiskaming-Cochrane MPP John Vanthof, and Jason Leblond of the Beef Farmers of Ontario (BFO), who farms in Powassan and is also a director on the Canadian Cattle Association.
Local OFA director Jason Hilborn, acting as MC, spoke to the special project to erect highway billboards reminding traffic to share the road with farm vehicles. “We purchased 40 bilingual ‘Caution, Slow Down’ signs that we provide free of charge to the municipalities [who] provide the posts and the crew to put the signs up,” he explained. The project also included signs to identify crops. Hilborn thanked the project partners, the Co-opérative régionale and participating municipalities, who “worked with us on the project to help keep our farmers safe on the roads.”
Hilborn touched on other initiatives as well. “We continue to offer input to the OFA on the Veterinarians Act. The Ontario government is looking at modernizing,” he said. The north faces a chronic shortage of veterinary professionals, a situation especially detrimental to livestock farming. In addition, “Last summer we saw in our region crop damage caused by wildlife (…) due to Sandhill Cranes. With the help of Stephanie [Vanthof of OFA] (…) OFA is lobbying the government to offer spot loss compensation due to wildlife damage to crops.” The local chapter of the OFA also made a request to the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund to increase the allowance for tile drainage projects.
A former farmer himself, MPP John Vanthof addressed the AGM, speaking briefly of his 15 years with the Temiskaming OFA. “I know the work that the local federation members do, how much you help your community and how much you represent your industry. I’d like to commend the West Nipissing Federation on the members you attract.” Vanthof related that during his day, he didn’t have much use for the ‘big board’ because he felt everything was done locally. “Now I’m an MPP and I can tell you how much the OFA provincial Board of Directors does (…) at Queens Park. (…) Without the OFA in the last year, the assault on farmland would have been much greater, and without the OFA, the [Greenbelt] severance issue would never have stopped. (…) I don’t know if they’re going to be bold enough to say this, but without the OFA the Greenbelt would be in a lot more trouble than it is now.” Vanthof said OFA played a pivotal role in saving Greenbelt acreage for agriculture. “The OFA has done an absolute excellent job at talking about the issues and not making it political (…) They have succeeded. I’m converted.” Vanthof said he remains a member of the OFA to this day.
Speaking on behalf of cattle farmers, Jason Leblond of the BFO advised that current world prices for beef are strong and will likely stay strong. Despite beef prices rising, he stressed that farmers are not the ones profiting most in the current beef market, pointing to a third party review on return on investment in the value chain. There’s the beef farmer, “Then there’s abattoir/processor, and then there’s the grocery store. I can tell you that we weren’t the ones winning (…) and it wasn’t the grocery store. I’m not accusing anybody. I’m saying the numbers are there and you can get that (…) The middleman is the one making the most. They’re important in our industry because it has to get to the grocery store, right? But the numbers don’t lie.”
John Vanthof did have a word of caution about pointing the finger at processors. “People don’t realize in the dairy sector (…), processors are losing money on every litre of food and milk that’s sold in the major chains. They’re losing money (…) because milk is used as a loss leader. So, there is a big issue in the processing sector that we might lose processors (…) We can’t lose processors! (…) Right now, we’ve been pretty good at keeping the processing in our own provinces,” but if the processors move out of province the dairy farmer will pay for trucking to the processor at considerable cost.
On October 4th the BFO was at Queen’s Park representing the concerns of beef farmers in regard to the Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act (PAWS) and the Ontario Risk Management Program (RMP), to harmonize them and make them “a little more farmer friendly,” said Leblond. The beef farmers have been hosting a series of events over the summer to raise awareness of their operations and educating youth through a new video game on pasturage, grasslands and environment. Leblond also advised that the Canadian Cattle Association has been working with Indigenous partners on Truth & Reconciliation, as well as concerns over the lack of veterinary services. One of the items on the BFO agenda was access to Crown land. “Some of us don’t have Crown land close to where we are, but I know in this region just a little north, there is Crown land that could be used for agriculture. (…) The BFO is reaching out to our Indigenous partners to try and work with that,” he noted.