RRFA dinner addresses many issues

After a one-year hiatus, the Rainy River District celebrated “Ag Days” last week, highlighted by the Rainy River Federation of Agriculture’s annual spring banquet last Wednesday.
About 55 people turned out at the Chapple Community Hall in Barwick for a roast beef dinner and to hear the latest developments at the provincial level from OFA executive member Debra Pretty-Straathof.
The evening was capped off with a stand-up routine by comedian Denis Grignon, who was brought in especially for the occasion.
Pretty-Straathof stated the obvious when she opened her presentation by announcing it had been a painful year for farmers. Nonetheless, she was well-prepared and well-versed on many of the issues of current concern to farmers, including the impact of the Municipal Property Assessment Corp., Bill 81 (Nutrient Management Act), crop damage by wildlife, source-water protection, and, of course, mad cow disease.
“Our mission [the OFA’s] is to improve the economic quality of farming,” Pretty-Straathof assured her audience, who raised a number of questions of their own.
Part of that, she said, is to bring farming issues to the attention of those down south who are making legislation without understanding the consequences to the rural community.
“Urban society needs to be aware of what farmers are doing on its behalf,” she stressed. “I don’t think they have a clue.”
Among the examples Pretty-Straathof cited were the Clean Water Act and the Nutrient Management Act, which have imposed retroactively an administrative and financial burden on a sector already under stress from other issues, such as BSE.
The costs of this should be shared, she argued.
“All these changes cost money and since the pressure for them comes from the urban areas, they should pay their share of the costs,” she remarked. “For instance, if you have a municipal well on your property and have to back off a certain distance, you should be compensated for that.”
As far as the Nutrient Management Act is concerned, Pretty-Straathof assured the members the OFA is lobbying for more lead time before all the measures come into effect as well as commitments from the province that there will be adequate funding to help farmers make the adjustments.
But the topic on everyone’s minds was BSE and Pretty-Straathof assured the audience the OFA is hard at work to mitigate the fallout. The top priority, she said, is to get the U.S. border open as soon as possible and to ensure there is adequate compensation for producers in the interim.
She noted retail sales of beef have been good and all things considered, things are better than they might have been.
“We have been extremely lucky with consumer confidence in this country,” she stressed.
Pretty-Straathof also cited the positive role the emergence of small abattoirs around the country have played in supporting local suppliers.
One issue that came from the floor was hydro costs.
A number of farmers have tried to harness electricity from bio-mass methane production and feed the excess back to the grid, but there currently is no policy in place to permit farmers to realize any remuneration from doing so.
Pretty-Straathof said the OFA is working to address that issue, as well a pricing policy that favours urban users over rural ones. “Research has shown farmers are subsidizing urban power users,” she charged.
Pretty-Straathof also said the OFA is trying to expand the crop insurance program to include crops not currently covered. That point prompted one farmer to mention it is difficult to get adequate insurance to cover crop damage caused by wildlife.
RRFA president Bernie Zimmerman later remarked he was pleased with what he heard and was confident the concerns of his members would receive a thorough airing at the provincial level.
“I’m sure she’ll go back to the executive with our concerns and I’m sure they’ll be acted on at the board level,” Zimmerman predicted.
Also at Wednesday night’s dinner, Telford Advent, with the Rainy River Future Development Corp., was presented with the Bill Gibson Memorial Award in recognition of his outstanding voluntary service to agriculture in Rainy River District.
In addition to the banquet, “Ad Days” also featured a number of displays of new agricultural products as well as a series of seminars from a wide variety of speakers.
On Wednesday, Gary Sliworsky, with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food office in Emo, presented an update on the Nutrient Management Act while Brian Lange, also from OMAF, advised dairy operators on cull cow options.
In addition, Clarence Haak, provincial director of the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association, gave an update on OSCIA activities while Bob Bedggood, past president of the Christian Farmers’ Federation of Ontario, outlined the CFFO’s perspective on the change in regulations affecting agriculture in Ontario.
Then on Thursday, Michel Champagne of the Farm Credit Corp. talked about the business services available to farmers while Bernie Gagne and Lisa Belluz, from Riverside Community Counselling Services in Fort Frances, gave a seminar on stress management.
There also was a representative from Gloutier Agriseeds in Winnipeg and one from Co-operators Insurance. Angela Halverson, from the RRFDC, also made a presentation.