L to R: front row: Dan Kretschmar, Sarah Bakker, Katie Ward, Emery Huszka, Aric McBay; back row: Minister Jeff Leal, Martin Boettcher, Don Ciparis, Tony Straathof, Tim Tabbert
Often the business of running a farm happens at the kitchen table amongst family members. In that vein, the National Farmers Union-Ontario’s Board of Directors invited Jeff Leal, Ontario’s Minister of Agriculture and Food and Rural Affairs to join them over lunch to thoughtfully discuss issues of concern for the family farmers the NFU-O represents.
At the meeting, which occurred on April 9 in Leal’s home riding of Peterborough, Leal and the NFU-O had a wide-ranging discussion of important farm issues including risk management, climate change, the Hydro One sell-off, and international trade. The NFU-O also provided Leal with briefing documents on key issues.
“It’s important that the NFU-O have open access to the Minister of Agriculture, and we enjoyed meeting with Minister Leal, appreciated his time, and are glad to see that he takes issues like soil health and climate change seriously,” said Emery Huszka, NFU-O President.
The NFU-O emphasized the necessity for farming to be a viable career option for young people. While half of the delegation to meet the minister was under 40, the average age of farmers in Canada is now over 55, and many farmers continue to work well past a typical retirement age.
“Rising land prices and high farming expenses are barriers to young people,” explained Martin Boettcher, NFU-O Youth Advisor. “We need more farmers, not fewer, and that means ensuring new farmers can afford to grow food and access land.”
The NFU-O addressed the issue of depopulation and de-funding of services in rural Ontario. “We need to ensure that rural communities have the health and social services needed to attract people. Given the aging farm population, the government must make sure that there are emergency and front line services for hospitals across the province,” noted Katie Ward, NFU-O Women’s Advisor.
The NFU-O also challenged the Minister on the lack of adequate funding for the recent Farmland Health Incentive Program under the Great Lakes Area Stewardship Incentive (GLASI). The cost-share funding to help farmers improve soil, water quality, and pollinator health was a good idea and showed that most farmers were willing to make environmental improvements if given financial support, but the available funds ran out within 24 hours of the program’s opening.
“Climate change poses a huge problem, and farmland health is critical in dealing with it,” said Boettcher. “Government funding assigned has to match the scale of the problem. Sequestering greenhouse gases is a public good,” he continued, “and that requires public investment in sustainable farming. Farmers can’t bear the burden alone.”
Ecologically-friendly practices on the farm can help sequester carbon from the air in the soil. But stagnating net farm incomes, and a lack of investment in rural communities, make it hard for farmers to afford some of these practices.
“We plan to meet with Minister Leal again soon to follow up on these priorities,” said Huszka.
The NFU-O represents many thousands of family farms across the country, and is the leading national advocate for the sustainable family farm.