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Farmers pushing for sustainability during federal election campaign

OFA advocating for environmental sustainability for agri-food sector, a fair carbon pricing policy, revisions to the business risk management program, access to skilled labour
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The following is from Mark Reusser, vice-president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture. 
The agriculture and food industry is a key driver of Canada’s economy, ensuring our grocery shelves stay stocked and our food supply chain strong and viable. Each day, our farmers take the extra step to ensure resiliency in the province’s food supply chain by growing healthy and sustainable food locally.

The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) is dedicated to ensuring our sector’s priorities remain at the forefront of the minds of our government policymakers as we move into a federal election. As Canada emerges from the pandemic and navigates the road to recovery, agriculture will remain a key driver to rebuilding our economy.

Over the course of the pandemic, Ontario farmers have worked tirelessly to ensure our local communities have consistent access to a safe, nutritious, and affordable food source, with an added focus of protecting the health and safety of our vital workforce.

As the leading agricultural advocate for Ontario’s agri-food sector and rural communities, we will ensure our 38,000 farm families across the province have the tools, resources and support necessary to play a significant role in economic recovery.

Throughout the course of this election, OFA will be meeting with government policymakers and leaders of various political parties to ensure the needs of the agricultural sector remain at the forefront. Our leaders will be advocating for environmental sustainability for our agri-food sector, a fair carbon pricing policy, revisions to the current business risk management program and access to skilled labour.

Farmers are natural stewards of the land. They rely on the air, soil and water to conduct their business, and have a vested interest in the sustainability of these resources. Ontario farmers have invested significantly in environmental stewardship initiatives to mitigate the impact of climate change. Farmers manage grasslands, woodlots, pastures and field crops, all part of a healthy, sustainable carbon cycle. Managing these landscapes benefits all Canadians and puts quality, locally produced food on our tables.

As farming continues to evolve and practices become modernized, our hope is to have continued research, innovation and adaption of best practices or emerging technologies to ensure environmental sustainability across the agri-food sector.

We are asking political parties to do their part in developing, supporting and funding programs that recognize environmental goods and services provided by farmers. Funding these environmental goods and services will recognize the agriculture sector's role in providing environmental stewardship achievements, which in turn, will benefit our entire province.

Carbon pricing continues to be a priority of our organization as we work toward mitigating climate change. Climate change continues to drastically impact our farmer’s ability to grow a healthy abundance of local food and threatens our food supply chain. Our farmers are in need of mitigation tools such as machinery for grain drying, livestock heating and cooling, and irrigation.

Unfortunately, mitigation tools such as these require energy, and the ability to shift to other sources or to change behaviour is limited or impossible in some circumstances.

Carbon pricing policies are currently in place to provide economic disincentives to carbon emitters in order to encourage a reduction in their emissions. As of now, there are no incentive programs to compensate those already following practices to sequester carbon and reduce emissions. Because there are currently no replacements for fossil fuels for agricultural production, the current carbon tax system cannot drive conservation efforts on farms and serves only to reduce already thin farm margins.

OFA is asking political parties to support the provision of exemptions or rebates for farmers where there are no feasible alternatives. We are asking parties to ensure the revenue is being collected from any carbon pricing initiative used to assist agriculture research, innovation, adaptational and resilience building measures.

Fulfilling labour needs has been a longstanding challenge in Ontario’s agri-food sector. There is an ongoing need for skilled workers on Canadian farms and across the agri-food industry. Labour shortages put our countries economy at risk and threaten farmers abilities to stock our grocery stores. We want to ensure that employers across the sector have the people they need to drive our economy and feed Canadians.

We are asking for support from the leading political party to work with the agri-food industry to develop a Canadian Agri-Food Labour Strategy and support our sector in the development of education programs. OFA is also seeking continual support to current programs in place that are working to address labour shortages across the country, such as the Temporary Foreign Worker program or the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program. Lastly, we are looking to the federal government to support investments in research, innovation, automation and labour-saving initiatives.

Our last priority we are bringing to the forefront is access to stronger Business Risk Management (BRM) programs to help provide financial support to farmers when they experience losses due to risks beyond their control. We believe that as the only whole-farm BRM program, AgriStability requires revisions to better protect farmers in situations of uncertainty.

We are asking the government to continue providing farmers with stronger, more reliable access to BRM programs. Effective policies and programs are being developed in the Next Agricultural Policy Framework to assist farmers with risk management, market volatility and on-farm diversification. Agriculture is engaged in this ongoing conversation.

OFA will continue to work for our Ontario farm families to ensure the agri-food sector and rural communities are considered in any new and changing legislation, regulation or policy that impacts the profitability and sustainability of farm businesses.