Winter in rural Ontario means farm meetings

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Winter is a time for farm meetings. This winter has been no exception, albeit all meetings resumed in-person, which were sorely missed the past few winters. 

I’ve tried to attend every farm meeting I’ve been invited to, so long as I am not required to be on the road with the Legislative Assembly’s Finance Committee. The meetings have been well attended – I’d go as far as to say record crowds. These are the folks, the farm families, who are leaders in our communities. They enjoy working the land, planting crops, and tending and harvesting them. These families take pride in their work and in the fact that they feed you, me, and most of North America. 

As I’ve travelled to meetings across both counties, several issues concern almost all farmers, no matter what crop they produce. On the farm, input costs such as feed, fuel, and fertilizer have skyrocketed since 2019. Fertilizer and feed costs had come close to doubling during the same time, and labour costs have also increased by about 13%. These increases are challenging to absorb when farmers compete in a world market.

To make matters worse, in 2022, the Federal Government imposed tariffs on fertilizer sourced from Russia in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. These financial burdens are plaguing our farm families on top of inflation and debt servicing costs due to rising interest rates.  

It’s no wonder farmers’ wellbeing and mental health have become a focus for many farm organizations. Over my nearly 24 years of travelling to farm meetings, it’s become apparent that the issues grow more complex and that stress on the farm goes well beyond volatile markets and unpredictable weather. 

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Local farmers who rely on Temporary Foreign Workers are tired of the constant investigations and audits. I often wonder if these redundant investigations justify a good-paying job. While there will always be a bad actor or two, most farmers do their utmost to treat their employees with respect. Farmers tell me that those who do not treat their employees well are hurting themselves and their farm business. Although these audits and inspections are federal, I have called on the provincial government to lean on the feds to stop this harassment of our farmers.

The federal and provincial governments have a long way to go in reducing red tape so that farmers can get back to farming rather than pushing paperwork around their desks.

Ontario’s Risk Management Program and Self-Directed Risk Management Program help producers manage risks beyond their control, like fluctuating costs and market prices. Farmers admit the program is vital to their operations, with the only problem being the program is currently underfunded. I support the request to the government from Ontario’s farm organizations to increase the program by $100 million to $250 million. Increasing the funding is a good investment for farmers, the province, and taxpayers. Further, such an investment would strengthen Ontario’s food security position. 

If the pandemic taught us one thing, it is that we need things made close to home. If there’s one thing for sure I want to be made close to home, it’s my food. Ontario’s 38,000 farm families share our values and principles, and they produce some of the very best food in the world. Therefore, we must do all we can to support them.