2020 Year in Review

2020 started off strong for the  NFU-O, and in partnership with the  Ontario Farmland Trust, we were  able to offer five “Land Linking”  workshops across the province,  bringing together aspiring farmers  and land holders to make connections  and to have conversations about  succession planning and the future of  farming in Ontario. All five  workshops were well attended, and  we’ve made plans to continue the  series (virtually!) in 2021.  

 In early spring, as we became  more aware of seriousness and the  longevity of the pandemic’s  conditions, the NFU-O kept farmers  front of mind and continued to  advocate for policy at the provincial  and federal level. The NFU-O played  a crucial role in getting farmers  markets recognized as an essential  service and championed justice for  migrant workers, as we saw some of the country’s worst outbreaks take  place on Ontario farms.  

 Amidst the hullabaloo, the NFU-O  embarked on the Ontario Farm  Labour Project. This ambitious study,  through consultation, research,  surveys of farmers and their workers,  and stakeholder engagement, focuses  on the labour needs of, and policy  solutions for, small and medium sized sustainable farms. Our data  demonstrates that 70 per cent of  sustainable farms who employ paid  workers experience labour shortages  and 63 per cent of farm operators  reported that the COVID-19  pandemic impacted their labour  needs. The project has allowed us to  paint a clearer picture of the labour  crisis which will enable us to imagine  policy solutions, grounded in the real  needs of Ontario farmers. A full  report of the Farm Labour Project  will be available in the Spring 2021.  

 In response to the concerns of  Ontario livestock farmers, the NFU O also began an investigation into the  causes of the capacity shortage at  provincially licensed abattoirs.  Conversations with over one-third of  provincially licensed abattoir owners  across the province revealed that long  wait times (with more than 60 per  cent of abattoirs booking at least six  months in advance) was the result of  labour shortages and burdensome  regulations. This included: an  overload of paperwork, inconsistent  expectations from inspectors, strict food safety regulations that may be  unrealistic for small to medium-sized  plants, and steep fines that are  enough to put the abattoir out of  business. The NFU-O Livestock  Committee presented their findings to  Minister Hardeman at the beginning  of November and look forward to  working with the ministry to address  this issue in 2021.  

 To all our members who took our  calls, who participated in national  convention virtually, and who have  learned Zoom alongside us: your  patience and support has been  essential to all of our successes in  2020. Though the COVID-19  pandemic has come with hardship  and loss, it has also exposed  vulnerabilities in the Canadian food  system that many farmers have been  aware of for decades. The NFU-O  will continue to work for you, and  with you, as we reimagine and  rebuild our agriculture and food  systems for the COVID-19 recovery  in 2021.