June 8, 2018
Dear Premier Elect Ford,
Congratulations on your election. As you take office, we hope you’ll keep farmers in mind. As some of the biggest economic contributors in our province, the ones who feed your family, and the stewards of the environment, farmers play an integral role in the health of our economy and province as a whole.
Farmers, like you, are businesspeople. You know how important a good succession plan is for a family business. We know that 75% of farmers hope to retire in the next 10 years, but only 8% of them have written succession plans.
That’s because there are significant economic and policy barriers for new farmers and the continuance of many viable farm businesses. Without farmer-friendly public policy, small and medium-sized farmers will continue to be driven out of business, and farmland will be bought at record pace by land speculators and foreign investors.
This is a threat to Ontario’s ability to feed itself. Ontario farmers need a level playing field to thrive, or farmland prices will be pushed beyond what the land and yields can sustain.
Without farmland, we can’t grow food. We advise you to implement an intelligent, balanced farmland protection plan (in the Greenbelt and elsewhere) which can meet Ontarians’ needs while also preserving our valuable farmland, moraines, and significant green spaces.
Environmental sustainability is fundamental to the future of agriculture—for farming families and farming businesses. But previous governments have dictated standards without providing resources, so private business incur all of the costs with no way to recover these compulsory expenses. Regulation without support is just as bad as spending without a plan.
Meanwhile, farmers have struggled with a lack of investment in rural community infrastructure. Rural infrastructure has been ignored for too long here in Ontario. We get it – there are lots of people in our urban centres, but rural community infrastructure is a necessary and critical component to a thriving food system for Ontario residents. Government neglect and/or regulations can accelerate this loss of infrastructure. For example:
- imposing near federal standards onto provincial small-scale abattoirs where compliance costs are unrealistic and unfair for the business model to survive,
- failing to assist rural communities in replacing secondary employers that support existing local infrastructure, and
- imposing ever-increasing standards for municipal infrastructure projects and services, such as road construction, fire services, and policing, while failing to ensure that funding supports match the dictates from Queen’s Park.
We want to make sure rural residents have fair access to services, just like our urban neighbours. Rural infrastructure and services need equal support from government.
Continuing with the level playing field – food producers in Ontario are forced to compete against other jurisdictions – some on a price-taker public market exchange and some on a supply/demand roller coaster. Regardless of food sector, Ontario farmers assume politically determined costs of production such as hydro, compliance costs, taxation, etc. Given the political cost of doing business, can you ensure Ontario food producers are able to remain competitive against out of jurisdiction products while maintaining our edge as environmental and social leaders?
Finally, food production is a business, yes, but it’s also something more than that. Farming is a public service, and society (through government) needs to support farmers in making choices for the public good. Good public policy shouldn’t drive small and medium-sized farmers out of business. Instead, it must support the farmers who feed everyone and add to the economy without destroying our environment.
As you settle in to your new position, take some time to think ahead. What does Ontario food production look like in 50 years? Who owns the land; who are the people farming it; who controls the offerings for food choice; and what changes need to take place immediately to bring about a thriving agricultural system?
If you’ve got questions on farming issues, come talk to us, the farmers. The National Farmers Union – Ontario provides valuable insight into agriculture and represents thousands of farmers across the province, and we can work with you to create better solutions. Once you have your new Cabinet in place, we’d like to meet with your Minister of Agriculture. We’re smart businesspeople who can provide valuable insight into the agricultural business.
National Farmers Union – Ontario President
cc. Toby Barrett, MPP Haldimand—Norfolk
To read our letter to MPP Mike Schreiner, click here.
To read our letter to MPP John Vanthof, click here.