CFFO pondering province’s ag policy

What is the policy of the Province of Ontario with respect to agriculture? Does the province even have a policy?
These questions were front and centre when the Rainy River Christian Farmers’ Association held its annual general meeting in Emo last Thursday evening.
The RRCFA is a member of the larger Christian Farmers’ Federation of Ontario (CFFO), which sports a membership of roughly 5,400 across the province.
Locally, the RRCFA has 38 members encompassing an area from Atikokan to Rainy River, and north to Kenora and Dryden.
Last week’s meeting at the Christian Reformed Church saw about a dozen members turn out to listen to guest speaker John Kikkert, who is the CFFO president.
Kikkert actually was more of a facilitator than speaker, preferring to encourage members to share their views and brainstorm ideas after posing the question, “What are the opportunities for agriculture and what are the frustrations in agriculture?”
He suggested the greatest strength lies in the family farm while, at the same time, the greatest frustration is the fact the family farm is in danger of disappearing.
The number of families still farming is gradually dropping, he noted, while larger commercial operations take over. “Farming today is becoming a business,” Kikkert lamented.
It’s also a business that is invisible to the vast majority of Canadians who are not farmers—but are dependent upon them to put food on their tables, said at least one RRCFA member.
“Farming is not understood by at least 90 percent of the [Canadian] population,” argued Annie Van Rozen of Rainy River. “They should not think farmers are rich because grass grows for free.”
Van Rozen suggested small operators should promote the distinctive product they offer and contrast it positively with what is generally produced commercially.
“The small farm has to offer something unique to compete against the big suppliers,” she remarked, citing the issue of additives.
As someone who is subject to migraines from food additives, Van Rozen felt it could be a strong point in the district’s favour if farmers promoted the “natural” aspect of what they produce.
“We have to support the small farmer against the big producers,” she stressed. “It’s about time the public knew what’s in their food.”
Rainy River Federation of Agriculture president Trish Neilson, who also attended last Thursday’s meeting, found herself among people who shared many of her concerns about the state of agriculture in the district—and the prospects the future seems to hold for it.
She, too, was concerned by the decline in the number of family-held farms and the impact globalization is having on the small operator.
“I’m frustrated because we’ve taken the neighbourhood out of the farm community,” Neilson remarked. “We now have a situation that is unsustainable and it’s heart-breaking.”
RRCFA president Peter Boon felt both issues could be addressed if farmers learned to raise their profiles somewhat.
“We need to invest more in advertising and promotion,” Boon suggested. “I think if we spend money on that, it will come back to us,” he added.
Another issue of concern was the matter of succession.
Although in some cases the younger generation is losing interest in carrying on the family tradition, in the cases where there is an interest, the sons and daughters often are better educated than their parents.
Jan Van Rozen suggested older farmers form partnerships with their children long before they plan to retire. Or if that’s not possible, to look for a young couple outside the family to work with them with a view to eventually transferring the farm.
“The opportunities for More partnership are there,” Van Rozen noted.
Kikkert then briefed the group on events in southern Ontario, where the CFFO has been working closely with other agricultural groups like the Ontario Federation of Agriculture and the Farmers’ Union.
Kikkert said the three organizations work well together and, for the most part, are able to move matters of mutual concern forward in a co-ordinated manner.
“What you have to understand is all the commodities have their unique issues, but sometimes it is important that we speak with one voice,” Kikkert reasoned.
An example of that co-operation emerged in the form of the government’s response to concerns from all the agricultural groups regarding compliance with the new Nutrient Management Act.
By the end of next year, virtually every farm in Ontario will have to meet certain regulations, including providing a detailed plan for the handling of manure and other nutrients.
As the result of a meeting between the three groups and the province, a deal was struck to make compliance with the new regulations easier.
“Funds are available to help comply with the [Nutrient Management] Act,” Kikkert reported, noting up to $30,000 is available to farmers handling solid manure in their operations and up to $40,000 for those using liquid manure.
The ongoing BSE crisis also was examined at last Thursday’s meeting in Emo. Kikkert suggested some of the money Ottawa has earmarked for relief to cattle farmers might well be invested in testing.
“We could achieve inspection of 100 percent of cattle by using a small amount of the money the government is giving to agriculture,” Kikkert said, adding the cost of a BSE test has now dropped to about $26/animal.
Kikkert suggested testing all Canadian cattle might open the door to other markets overseas—regardless of when—or if—the United States re-opens its border to live Canadian cattle.
“We have to stop being dependent on one [U.S.] market,” he stressed.