Last year, Ontario’s Premier Kathleen Wynne issued a unique challenge to Ontario’s agriculture and agri-food sector: double the sector’s annual growth rate and create 120,000 new jobs by the year 2020. It’s a challenge the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) has taken to heart. We appreciate the Premier’s attention to, and the confidence she has placed in the sector. And, as Canada’s largest voluntary farm organization representing more than 37,000 farm family businesses across Ontario, we’ve put a lot of thought into the resources we’ll need to meet those goals.
Last week, when OFA representatives met with the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs, we presented our plan for how our sector will meet the Premier’s growth challenge. We noted that in order to meet the challenge, Ontario’s agriculture and agri-food sector must have a more enabling business environment. And that means meaningful public investment and the development of sound policies.
The need for public investment begins with a public/private sector partnership in extending natural gas to rural Ontario. OFA has asked the government to invest in this partnership, beginning with the 2014 provincial budget.
But the public investments can’t end there. The Ontario government must ensure Ontario farms and businesses have access to physical infrastructure capable of handling current and future needs, including a level and quality of services and infrastructure comparable to their urban counterparts. That means properly maintained roads, bridges and culverts that enable farmers to do business, and access to other services such as health care, education and child care.
The OFA expressed concern that public funding of agricultural research has languished in the last 18 years, and provincial government support remains low. We have asked the Ontario government to move immediately to increase the funding for university-based agricultural research to $100 million per year. It is vital that we continue to develop knowledge and technology transfer processes and provide farmers with financial incentives, as needed, to encourage the adoption of new, validating farming techniques and technologies.
Although the budget process tends to focus on investment, there is a key role to play in Ontario’s agriculture community’s success when it comes to sound regulatory policy. In fact, farmers consider regulations to be the number one issue affecting their businesses. OFA was pleased to work with several ministries while coordinating the Ontario Agriculture and Agri-Food Sector Strategy for the Open for Business initiative. OFA welcomes the news that the government is expanding the mandate of the Open for Business Consultation Forum beyond regulations to all aspects of economic growth. We look forward to our opportunity to build on previous successes.
Finally, the OFA encourages policy changes such as proposed changes to farmland valuation. Recommendations that clearly define processes and procedures need to be established to strengthen the methods for assessing farm properties.
Simply put, the 2014 Ontario budget must ensure Ontario sets a sound course through prudent investment and pragmatic policy choices. We believe strategic investments and sound policy and programs can drive the Ontario economy forward. Growth in Ontario’s farm and rural economy will go a long way in helping to alleviate the fiscal pressures we face. Ontario agriculture is well positioned to grow Ontario’s economy – and with a provincial budget that allows for thoughtful investment and policies, we will accomplish that goal.
To read the OFA’s submission to the Ontario Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs in full, visit www.ofa.on.ca
For more information contact:
Ontario Federation of Agriculture
Ontario Federation of Agriculture