by Emery Huszka, NFU-O President
The year 2050 will be here before we know it! What will Ontario farms look like? Who will be farming them? What food choices will we have as eaters?
Farm taxes values have skyrocketed, in part from MPAC assessments incorporating speculator driven equity investment. As values increase, farms are being sold and the houses torn down. Fewer people in the community means the local store is gone, and local schools and hospital services are at risk. Volunteer fire departments struggle to attract new recruits, yet our province sets higher standards of service for response and equipment, all while serving “rural survivors” with the tax bills and an order to comply. Kids can’t find good off-farm jobs, so they leave their community. For many small to medium sized farm operations, successors aren’t taking over.
There are many reasons for these changes, but a lack of government priority to keep people on the land in the face of free market pressures has accelerated the trend, primed by years of poor rural policy planning.
Is there a solution that will reverse these trends? Food sovereignty.
The National Farmers Union has been working on food sovereignty for many years. Food sovereignty means that people have access to safe, healthy food and that farmers are paid fairly for producing quality food. It means respecting every country’s right to grow their own food and selling what is truly surplus to those who actually need it, instead of crushing small producers into submission by flooding their markets. It means restoring public research for the benefit of the public, not corporations. And most importantly, it means keeping farmers on the land and in control of their decision making.
To achieve food sovereignty, farming must be economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable! We need strong rural communities that offer options for young families. Current government policies, or lack thereof, threaten these things. The systematic depopulation and defunding of rural Ontario has not occurred over night – the NFU has been sounding the alarm for years.
NFU members are not anti-trade, but current free trade agreements benefit the largest corporations at the expense of smaller farmers. Under this system of free trade, we are becoming the new serfs to corporate lords. Our input costs go up, but our margins don’t keep pace.
The NFU has been working hard to reverse these trends. In 2016, the NFU defended vegetable farmers’ bargaining rights. We helped Eastern Ontario farmers secure the right to form a new local farmer-run abattoir. After years advocating, our efforts were successful in demonstrating the need for more entry level artisanal chicken opportunities, and we demonstrated our firm belief in preserving farmland by taking a leading position against the paving over of 60 acres of the Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa.
Some of the problems can be fixed with policy changes and strong programs to restore rural Ontario. We must find ways to bring young people back to the land, such as allowing severance sizes of 50 acres or less. We must demand restrictions on farmland ownership by non-farmers while protecting true land values for persevering farmers. Land should not be the only pension for farm families. Ontario is one of the few provinces with zero ownership restrictions!
But if we want the next generation of farmers to thrive – now and in 2050 – we need farm organizations that stand up for farmers, not for corporations. We need farm organizations that are willing to listen to their members and to challenge the government to do better.
Ask yourself, in your heart as a farmer, what’s most important: To defend our farm families for generations to come? Or to get a truck discount?
I hope that when you choose your farm organization this year, you send a clear message that farm families count. I hope that you’ll join the National Farmers Union.
Emery Huszka is a grain farmer in Florence, ON. He is the NFU Region 3 Coordinator and President of National Farmers Union–Ontario.