Ag industry should work on image: panel

District farmers stressed the need to address public concerns with the industry during a meeting with an Agricultural Odyssey Group rep Friday evening in Stratton.
The ag industry and the public have to strengthen their relationship according to several farmers as about 15 people gathered at Our Lady of the Way School to share concerns with the roving Odyssey group.
Ron Bennet, of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture and a member of the Odyssey group, listened as the group discussed concerns about the viability of the industry in the wake of government legislation and the ever-changing face of the sector.
The Odyssey–a coalition of Ontario’s major farm organizations and commodity groups–has been meeting across Northwestern Ontario to examine issues in the agriculture industry here and put together a 10-15 year plan.
“All I want to do is I want to make a living and I want to keep the life I now have,” noted district beef farmer Amos Brielmann.
A large part of the discussions revolved around water and nutrient issues, the mounting environmental concerns about run-off into waterways, and pressure on the farming industry to install costly fencing to keep livestock from affecting waterways.
“We have to be pro-active because there are certain things we never thought were going to happen. Like who . . . 20 years ago would have thought we could be sitting here talking about putting fences around our creeks,” noted Brielmann.
For many, the costs of building the fencing and finding alternate watering for stock could outweigh revenue, knocking shoestring budgets into the red.
“I don’t expect people that own the land can afford to accommodate those things without being compensated,” noted beekeeper and Chapple Coun. Rick Neilson.
“Farmers should be environmentalists, promoting it with the knowledge they will be compensated.”
For the most part, the group acknowledged work must be done to change public opinion when it comes to agriculture, whether that be done by returning to local markets, establishing investment opportunities, or improving marketing among other suggestions.
“It seems like the farming [industry] is always on the defence. As a farming community, how do we want to sell ourselves to the public,” wondered Brielmann.
“What is annoying the public when they’re driving by? Is it the smell, is it the pictures on TV of the animals being abused or the confinement thing, is it the water?
“How concerned are these people. [We should ask] are you concerned, are you willing to invest a little bit of money in some area that you know will be environmentally-protected?” he said.
“With all the environmental sensitivity, I don’t doubt there are people who would channel money in to it,” noted Tom Morrish, president of the Rainy River Cattlemen’s Association.
Bennet also explained why the OFA supported nutrient management legislation.
“What’s been happening in a lot of municipalities were almost putting a stop to the cattle industry completely so the idea behind the regulation is there would be standard regulations across the province,” he said.
Bennet also highlighted a number of other issues being discussed by farmers and the Odyssey group, including:
•food safety;
•cruelty to animals legislation;
•endangered species act;
•sustainable farming;
•marketing shares;
•safety nets;
•extension services; and
•youth training.
“It used to be 4-H was very involved in youth training,” noted Bennet.
“If you have pride in what you do, that rubs off on some of your kids,” noted Bernie Zimmerman, president of the Rainy River Federation of Agriculture.
Farmers agreed that overall, youth are not interested in pursuing careers in the agricultural industry because of the difficulty or because of the image.
“If you complain all the time, don’t keep a clean farm, and don’t take pride in your work, why would your kids want a piece of crap?” said Zimmerman.
Members of the Odyssey group include the Ontario Corn Producers Association, Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers, Chicken Farmers of Ontario, Tender Fruit Producers, Ontario Pork, Dairy Farmers of Ontario, Ontario Cattlemen’s Association, and the Christian Farmers’ Federation of Ontario, among others.