By Bette Jean Crews, President, Ontario Federation of Agriculture
The annual meeting of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture usually signals the end of one and the beginning of another year. As the new president of the OFA, I look forward to all the opportunities and challenges the coming year holds for Ontario farmers and their organizations.
There’s excitement at all levels of OFA as the new governance structure comes into effect. We have great expectations for the coming year, and I’m sure our members share that anticipation. With so much volatility in in the world of economics today, and with changes on the horizon for agriculture, I have confidence the new structure of OFA will be able to take on all challenges as they come.
Based on comments and questions raised by convention delegates, we have a good understanding of what to expect in 2009. The most predominant question throughout the convention had to do with new and beginning farmers and the hurdles they face getting into agriculture and surviving once there.
We believe these new and beginning farmers represent the future of agriculture in Ontario, and we know it is essential the obstacles they face be cleared. We also know its going to take some serious cooperation from a large number of stakeholders and partners in the agriculture sector. Our convention heard that many of the barriers faced by new and beginning farmers are the direct result of government red tape and reluctance to improve the situation.
To demonstrate the seriousness with which OFA convention delegates view the challenges facing these young farmers, the first meeting of the new board of directors approved spending up to five thousand dollars to cover the costs for Ontario participants to attend the upcoming International Young Farmers’ Forum in Calgary early next month. We look forward to those delegates returning with a host of policy and program suggestions.
OFA is prepared to continue its efforts to get provincial government reform for property tax issues for the farming sector. These are not new concerns, but the province continues to drag its feet as we strive to get fairness worked into the tax system.
Convention delegates expressed concerns about how the new OFA board would be able to communicate effectively with members and the general agricultural community. This was something discussed by the implementation committee as the planning was being done for the new structure – we know how vital a strong and effective communication link will be between members and the administration of OFA.
We have confidence that these issues can be conquered through the efforts of the Policy Advisory Council and the board. From comments made by members of the new board, I am confident every effort will be made to collect grassroots input from the Policy Advisory Council and get it to the board in a timely and effective manner.
Farmers in Ontario are aware of what their competitors in other jurisdiction get from their governments for the environmental goods and services our sector provides to society. This has been brought before the provincial government, and will be part of this spring’s OFA presentation to the finance minister.
With all of this, the new OFA Executive and OFA’s staff recognize the coming year will be busy, but we are confident we can fulfill the expectations of our members.
Top photo: Harvest Hastings board member, Jenny Cook of Knuckle Down Farm, along with Stone Soup coordinator Michele Vindum of Plainfield Heritage