OFA: Growing Ontario: Food, Fibre and Jobs
Ontario Federation of Agriculture – COMMENTARY
By Mark Wales, President, Ontario Federation of Agriculture
Agriculture rang through the halls of Queen’s Park on April 8, 2014 when the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) visited provincial politicians. Words like growth, economy, food, fibre and jobs were part of every discussion between OFA representatives and more than 80 MPPs and key decision-makers across all three political parties.
OFA’s message was simple and clear: We need to work together if Ontario agriculture is to grow and help our province prosper. That’s why our discussions outlined four areas where we need government support to continue to grow the potential for food, fibre and jobs in the province. These Queen’s Park discussions kicked off OFA’s new Growing Ontario 2014 campaign and the four key priorities that will drive our government relations efforts throughout the year.
Our first priority for Growing Ontario is securing a long-term commitment to provide farms, rural businesses and constituents with access to natural gas. OFA has proposed a multi-year project that will require only a modest annual public investment. And we are confident that access to natural gas will attract new businesses and fuel economic growth in rural communities across Ontario.
Second, we told MPPs to remain competitive and grow our industry, Ontario farmers must have fair property tax assessments. Property taxes must only be used to cover the cost of services provided to properties. Municipal services provided to residents, like recreation facilities and health care, must be financed by other funding sources – including adequate provincial funding transfers.
Our third priority focuses on improving food literacy. OFA believes Ontarians need to understand the nutritional value of their food, where their food comes from and how to prepare basic meals from scratch. Getting food literacy programs back in Ontario schools will help young adults make better, healthier, lifelong choices. And improved food knowledge and appreciation will help students see agri-food as an exciting career choice, ultimately benefiting Ontario farm businesses.
And our fourth priority builds on agriculture education and career awareness. Students need to be aware of the breadth of job opportunities in agriculture and the great hiring rates for graduates. With two jobs waiting for every agri-food diploma graduate, and three jobs waiting for every agri-food degree graduate, Ontario’s agri-food industry has a lot of growth and opportunity ahead. But we also need support for training institutions to grow and move our industry forward. Ontario needs fundamental agricultural education, training and skill development to meet the growing job opportunities in our sector. The next generation of farmers and skilled workers must be encouraged to continue producing food, fibre and jobs.
Our overriding message to policy makers was clear: The Wynne government must include key items for the agri-food sector in its 2014 budget. Ontario farmers are up to the task of growing our agri-food industry. We look to the Ontario government for the investment, support and collaboration we need to make it happen.