Spring planting awaits as winter farm meetings wrap up

By MPP Bobbi Ann Brady

As winter draws to a close, it signals the winding down of farm meeting season and the approach of the new life associated with spring and planting. 

Farm meeting season is a time I have come to appreciate and enjoy over my 25 years working for former MPP Toby Barrett, in addition to my time as MPP. I enjoy the fellowship of talking to farmers, and the meetings are also a learning opportunity to hear more about the challenges farmers face in their respective fields. 

Speaking of learning, I especially found the presentation interesting by Steven Duff, chief economist at the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs, at the Grain Farmers of Ontario (GFO) District 5 meeting. In the first census of agriculture in 1860, Ontario had 9.5 million acres of farmland. Over the years, total acreage hit 10.5 million acres before sliding to the current 10 million acres.

One of the stats Duff shared was that a cash crop farmer needs at least 2,000 acres to earn enough income to live like the average Ontario family. For livestock farmers, 100 dairy cattle are needed for the same lifestyle or 300 head in a cow-calf operation.

Unfortunately, Duff also said stress and debt levels are much higher today than in the past. 

The cost of fertilizer as a percentage of total operating cost continued to decline for Ontario farmers, but sitting at 15 per cent, it remains at a historical high. This cost makes a plan for fertilizer application critical.

At the Beef Farmers of Ontario meeting, which was the first joint meeting for Haldimand and Norfolk, it was said access to large animal veterinarians continues to be a challenge. One suggestion to assist with the problem was opening up the Veterinarian Act to allow technicians to do more – akin to what we’ve seen in Ontario healthcare. There are still issues with dead stock removal in Haldimand County and there was a wish for greater meat processing capacity. There was a bit of mixed news on the financial front that the cow herd continues to decline, but the probability is in good shape.

Chartered accountant and business coach Ian Cubit spoke on farm transition – which is a hot topic these days – at the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario meeting. While most stress principles, values, beliefs and behaviours when planning for farm succession, he said this will likely lead to failure. Instead, he noted focusing on facts, common interests, and structure will lead to success. Cubit suggested beginning by setting goals and discussing them with the family.

When speaking at all the farm meetings this year, I shared my advocacy for increasing the Ontario Risk Management Program by another $100 million to $250 million. 

As a girl who worked the tobacco fields of Norfolk from the age of 11, I’ve always had a keen interest in the ever-changing tobacco industry. Albeit smaller, the crowd at the Ontario Flue-Cured Tobacco Growers Marketing Board was a keen one. The biggest hurdle for growers currently is the registration of products through the federal Pest Management Registration Agency. It is felt there is an unjust bias to hamper registration for a legal agricultural commodity. Regardless, tobacco growers continue to forge ahead.

I wish all farmers and farm families a good spring planting season and a successful year. I anxiously await freshly plowed fields and the signs of new growth.

Bobbi Ann Brady is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk