Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) president and Thunder Bay-area dairy farmer Peggy Brekveld was re-elected to a third one-year term at the organization’s recent annual meeting.
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The meeting, held for the first time in London, was the OFA’s first in person in three years.
Of the 26 resolutions brought forward to the OFA board from county federations, membership residencies and farmland preservation initiatives were the issues most hotly debated.
Brekveld, a director-at-large with the organization, was first elected as OFA president in 2020. She previously served as an OFA vice president from 2014 to 2020, and represented the northern Ontario regions of Algoma, Cochrane, Dryden, Kenora, Manitoulin-North Shore, Nipissing East & West, Parry Sound, Rainy River, Sudbury East & West, Temiskaming and Thunder Bay as Zone 15 director from 2011-2014.
“I’m humbled by the support from my fellow board members, and I’m honoured to work on behalf of Ontario’s farmers for another year as president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture,” Brekveld said.
“I’m proud of how we’ve built on our partnerships in the industry and with our stakeholders and I’m looking forward to continuing that work to ensure our sector remains strong, viable and productive.”
In her opening address, Brekveld spoke of the need for the organization to clear the cobwebs from the COVID-19 pandemic and renew the focus on the organization’s strategic priorities, which include: environmental sustainability, land use planning, securing the food value chain, labour, mental health and wellness, energy affordability and rural infrastructure.
Ontario’s Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Lisa Thompson addressed OFA attendees at the end of the first day of the conference, highlighting recent government investments into the sector and efforts currently underway to update various pieces of legislation impacting agriculture, including modernization of the Veterinarians Act, and consultations around the Agricultural Research Institute of Ontario.
Minister Thompson did not, however, address Bill 23, the “Build More Homes Faster Act” which at the time of the meeting, was still in its second reading as Consideration of a Bill in the Ontario Legislature. It received Royal Assent the following week, on Nov. 28.
One speaker that did address Bill 23 was John Vanthof, the New Democratic Party (NDP) Timiskaming-Cochrane MPP and his party’s agriculture critic.
After praising the OFA for the work it does, something he admitted he “didn’t fully understand while he was a member”, the former dairy farmer referred to the organizations’ Homegrown Ontario campaign, which targets consumers to let them know the importance of Ontario agriculture and farmland preservation, and how it is resonating outside of the agriculture sector. The program recently reached a milestone, having reached 50,000 signatures.
Vanthof didn’t hold back on his opposition to Bill 23, telling attendees “you’re getting bad legislation” and “I’m going to be blatantly partisan — it’s like they (the Conservative party) want to see how much they can get away with, as opposed to how good of legislation they can make. And that makes it incredibly difficult for the opposition, because it’s our jobs also make bills better.”
Mary Robinson, president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA), provided attendees with a quick update on CFA activities throughout 2022 and what’s planned for early next year.
Robinson said CFA is a key partner in the development of the National Workforce Strategy for agriculture and food and beverage manufacturing, something it has been advocating for four years. The project aims to identify and prioritize actionable solutions for urgent and long-term labour issues in agriculture and food processing.
“We’re excited for this strategy and funds to provide some relief to chronic labour issues our sector has experienced for decades,” she said. The CFA also co-chairs a Temporary Foreign Worker program service delivery working group.
A Grocery Code of Conduct, which aims to quell concerns regarding unfair practices and fees being placed on manufacturers and farmers by retailers is being created. She couldn’t give details due to a non-disclosure agreement but did say that the CFA is “ensuring there’s a strong and distinct voice from farmers at this table.” A proposed code is anticipated by the end of this year.
Robinson said the CFA strategy and key messaging with government remains that emissions reductions must remain voluntary and should not be mandatory. The CFA wants to see a working group with industry, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and Environment and Climate Change Canada formed in order to make the federal government’s goals pragmatic, she said.
The CFA has also been working to tackle the issue of fertilizer pricing and availability, she said. A cost production committee was tasked with developing recommendations to help farmers weather rapidly increasing input prices with a focus on fertilizer. The CFA is advocating that the federal government fund programs to help develop alternative fertilizers and support more fertilizer production in eastern Canada. She said the funding amount should be at minimum equal to the revenue the federal government receives from the fertilizer tariff.
Robinson told attendees that she will not be putting her name forward again for president, and received a standing ovation.
Other executive members
Joining Brekveld on the OFA executive are Vice-Presidents Drew Spoelstra and Crispin Colvin, and Executive Member Paul Vickers. Spoelstra was elected to a third one-year term as Vice President. Colvin replaces outgoing Vice President Mark Reusser, moving into the position after serving one year as Executive Member, and Vickers is new to the OFA executive. The elections were held at a board meeting following the annual general meeting Nov. 22.
Drew Spoelstra is OFA’s Zone 5 Director representing Halton, Hamilton-Wentworth and Niagara on the OFA board since 2013. Before becoming vice-president in 2020, he served four years as a member of the executive. Spoelstra and his family operate a dairy and cash crop farm in Binbrook and he also manages Roy-A-Lea Seeds Ltd., a dealership for Pride and C&M seeds.
Crispin Colvin is a soybean, corn and wheat farmer from Middlesex County. He represents the counties of Lambton and Middlesex on the OFA board as Zone 6 director and first joined the OFA provincial board in 2016 as a director-at-large. Colvin is a part of various OFA liaison commodity group.
Paul Vickers, is a dairy farmer from Griersville, represents the counties of Bruce and Grey on the OFA board as the Zone 2 director. After first joining the OFA board in 2019, he was acclaimed to the director position for a second three-year term.
OFA expanded its bursary program for young people enrolled in education programs in 2022 to include a post-graduate and apprenticeship category, in addition to the undergraduate category. Five recipients received awards in 2022. The post-graduate winner is Valerie Higginson, apprenticeship winner is Andrew Kuiack, and undergraduate winners are Faith Emiry, Michael Jones and Lexi Johnston.
A silent auction was held during the annual meeting and raised more than $10,000 in support of next year’s bursary program.