By Keith Currie, president, Ontario Federation of Agriculture
A new year, and a new decade, is a great opportunity to reflect on where we have been and look ahead to the opportunities and challenges for Ontario’s agri-food industry. We are a powerhouse for the province, making tremendous contributions to the prosperity of all Ontarians.
We often repeat the economic contributions the agri-food sector makes to the province, and they are numbers worth repeating. When you look at the entire agri-food value chain – from farm level production through to value added food processing – we generate more than 837,000 jobs in Ontario and support $8.1 billion in annual wages and salaries. Those are very significant statistics. And we should all be proud of the work we do to power the province.
Keeping an industry as diverse as ours running at its best requires continued investments and supports from all levels of government. And as we start this new year and a new season, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) will focus on four key areas that we believe need immediate attention and action from government. With strategic investments in infrastructure across the province, Ontario’s agri-food industry will continue to thrive and drive the provincial economy.
OFA’s priority areas for 2020 are not new. But like many other issues OFA advocates for, we’ll continue bringing them to the table until the needs of our members are met.
The first issue is the continued call for natural gas across Ontario. There has been positive progress made on this issue in 2019 with the provincial government announcing the Natural Gas Expansion Support Program (NGESP) as well as the recent announcement to expand natural gas infrastructure to more families and businesses throughout rural and northern Ontario, and Indigenous communities. We appreciate the work the provincial government has done to extend natural gas access to those communities in need, but we understand the need is great and will continue to push for access to affordable natural gas energy, wherever you are in the province.
Our second issue is the need for reliable high speed internet for rural and northern communities. So many people in Ontario take the internet for granted, but there are still many communities without access to reliable broadband. OFA is actively petitioning the federal government to roll out a broadband access plan. We are urging the province to join this campaign and facilitate functional access to internet across rural and remote Ontario. We all need to be connected and OFA will keep this issue front and centre with policymakers throughout 2020.
A strong rural school network is the third issue we’ll focus on this year. Rural schools are essential to attract and retain local employees by providing quality education and critical community hubs. An investment in physical and social infrastructure, like schools and health care, will provide opportunities and reasons for families to look to rural Ontario as an affordable and ideal place to work, live, play and invest.
And our fourth area of focus in 2020 is the need for investments to support better infrastructure for roads and bridges throughout rural Ontario. We produce more than 200 different agricultural commodities in Ontario, and everything we grow and process relies on well maintained road, bridges and drainage systems to transport from farm to market.
We’ll also be following new legislation introduced in 2019 including the Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act, 2019 and the progress of Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act, 2019. Our goal is always to ensure the agri-food sector and our rural communities are included, consulted and considered in any new and changing legislation that impacts the sustainability of our farm businesses.
While many of us would like to forget the 2019 season with all it’s challenges, every new year brings new opportunities for Ontario’s agri-food industry. OFA looks forward to continued collaboration with government to unlock economic growth and opportunities for agri-food and our rural communities.