On October 6th we will go to the polls here in Ontario to choose our next provincial government. While I think this is a great time to encourage our MPs to make a clear commitment to helping a new generation of farmers across Ontario create successful and sustainable businesses, I also think we have a long road ahead of us.
I believe we have less than 10 years to figure out how to support a new generation of farmers or we will not have the farmland or the farmers to produce the food consumers are increasing demanding.
If our political leaders were to ask me what Farmers need- here’s what I would suggest:
Farm policies must support smaller farms, because young farmers and new farmers usually start out on small farms. If our policies do not support viable small farms, we bar the door to new entrants.
Prime farmland must remain in the hands of farmers. We cannot continue to let much of our best farmland be bought up by speculators and developers who are intent on converting it, permanently, to non-agricultural uses.
Sustainability means long-term land tenure and stewardship. The long-term investments needed to care for our land, soil, ecosystems and local communities require secure land tenure for those who grow food, and access on affordable terms for those who want to begin.
Farmland Trusts and public ownership can provide farmers with long-term leases and the security of tenure they need to take good care of land they don’t own. Innovative arrangements of public ownership, at the provincial, regional and municipal levels can help young farmers enter agriculture; this is especially needed on the remaining quality farmland in and around the major cities.
New, debt-minimizing forms of land transfer will allow farm succession. We must reduce debt barriers to give a new generation of farmers a reasonable chance to succeed.
Patient capital is needed. New farmers want to do things differently and need the opportunity to learn by doing. They need recognition and appropriate financing for entrepreneurial, diversified business models.
New farmers need training programs in rural and urban communities. New farmers from non-farm backgrounds need affordable ways to explore a career in agriculture, or we risk losing prospective farmers at the outset.
Farmer-to-farmer mentoring and the transfer of knowledge and skills is critical for the next generation. Investment is required to increase the opportunities, standardization and quality of mentorship-based, hands-on farmer training needed to develop a professional cohort of new farmers.
Farmers need regionally-based extension services. Farmers need expert, unbiased information about low-input agriculture, adaptation to climate change, integrated pest management, alternative fertility techniques, energy efficiency, and a range of innovative, cost-reducing practices that are not available from the companies that supply them with seeds and fertilizers.
Exiting farmers want to retire with dignity and security. Ensuring that farmers have adequate retirement funds means that families will not have to sell and refinance their land-base each generation.
Farm support and supply-managed sectors need to be more flexible. New farmers do not qualify for many support programs and supply-managed systems are often prohibitively expensive, effectively barring new entrants in these sectors. We must take measures to accommodate new entrants as well as supporting innovative business models.
In Canada – we are currently in the middle of the re-negotiation of the next Agricultural policy framework, Growing Forward 2 that provides the funding for most of our agricultural programs and services.
You can still voice your opinion about the GF2 in the online form – http://www4.agr.gc.ca/AAFC-AAC/display-afficher.do?id=1298647293136&lang=eng.
FarmStart has developed two documents to help guide you through the GF2 form – as the online form is a very inaccessible feedback form – designed for policy advisors more than the average citizen. But it is worth your time as every person to respond will make a difference.
Provincially – our government in Ontario can take a leadership role over the next year to work with the federal government to fund, implement and expand programs and services that support the farmers who can and will produce the food which consumers are calling for.
You can go to www.voteonfood.ca/ for more information, contacts for your candidates and other resources for this October’s election.
I hope you will tell them what you think too!Christie Young Executive Director FarmStart