Grain farmer concerns on land use and planning gained traction against ongoing fertilizer pricing and carbon tax issues.
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Brendan Byrne, Grain Farmers of Ontario (GFO) chair, and CEO Crosby Devitt fielded questions on what measures the organization was taking toward agricultural land protection and intensification planning to address increasing housing pressure during the organization’s annual meeting on Sept. 12 near Woodstock.
Why it matters: Amid the increasing cost of farming, concerns around losing farming’s greatest asset — land — are increasing in the face of recent provincial planning strategy changes.
Byrne said there are regional differences and strong opinions on either side regarding the Greenbelt and planning strategy issue.
“At this time, we don’t have a set stance on the Greenbelt protection,” he said.
“There are others talking about expanding it and wanting more Greenbelt protection, and that comes with a whole other list of concerns.”
One member challenged Byrne’s statement, saying regardless of which side the organization fell on the Greenbelt issue, there should be a solid position that protecting agricultural lands must be a priority within a workable provincial planning strategy.
“Planners in the GTA area, or any city, within the city limits, said they have lots of space that could be built on – that transitional housing or the affordable housing they need,” she said. “As long as there is land within the urban centre that could be built on, that’s where you should be doing it. Where the people want to live, where the people are.”
In response, Devitt told members fulsome conversations are happening behind the scenes with the government.
“(There’s) a realization that regardless of how this planning, how this development happens, we’re going to see more people living in rural Ontario,” said Devitt.
“And small communities are growing.”
GFO’s pushed for investment into farm-friendly infrastructure, road access, and the need to address existing traffic issues for producers as residential builds encroach on farmland. Devitt said the tax burden shouldn’t shift to farmers with these increased tax bases but lower the tax rate instead.
“We’ve got strong Right to Farm legislation that protects farmers in their operations and their ability to do things,” he explained, adding robust rural trespassing regulations, biosecurity standards, and education opportunities to inform new rural residents could assist in creating farm advocates instead of adversaries.
“They’re (issues) not directly related to planning but understanding that, whatever happens here,” Devitt said. “We’re seeing hundreds of thousands of people coming into Ontario every year, and they’ve got to live somewhere.”
Throughout 2023, GFO pushed for a total carbon tax exemption, supporting Bill C-234’s progression to the Senate for review, fertilizer tariff rebates, and science-based government policy decision-making.
Attaining a full carbon tax exemption relies on the Senate committee and additional conversations with MPs from all parties to gain support.
Additionally, GFO representatives have threaded discussions on the importance of biofuels as a clean energy source as the transition to embrace electric vehicles continues into the meetings.
On the fertilizer front, Byrne said the end goal remains the same:
- No barriers to access.
- Rebates on tariffs paid.
- No regulated restrictions on use.
“We brought fertilizer into food security conversations,” he said. “Some tariff dollars did find their way back into farmers’ pockets.”
“The Stone-X (GFO commissioned report) gave really good data to bring to the government to show them the usage, show them why it’s important to our economy as a whole, and try to have some of those conversations around trade,” he said. “Because it puts us at a competitive disadvantage to not be able to source from nations because the other nations then know they can overcharge.”
Byrne explained adding sustainability to agriculture is one thing, but ensuring farming is sustainable and building a robust agricultural sector is critical.
“The number one priority for us is that the farmers in Ontario can keep growing,” said Byrne. “That’s growing the seed on your farms, but also keeping in mind that legacy group coming up behind you that’s going to work the land.”