Sowing Seeds of Change: Empowering Ontario Farmers for a Competitive and Sustainable Future
December is a time when many Canadians celebrate special occasions and long-held traditions, with many of these events featuring meals: family gatherings around a roast turkey, or tantalizing appetizers spread across a kitchen counter. These memorable moments often start with a decision to write a grocery list and ask some questions: “Who is going to be there?”, “How much food do I need to make?”, and, “How can I make my money stretch the farthest to afford to celebrate this special occasion?”.
Food banks are also busy delivering holiday meals to those in need as Canadians are grappling with the current issue of soaring grocery prices amidst record profits for major grocery chains. So our politicians are also asking a question: “Is our grocery industry competitive enough?”
The federal Liberal government’s recent move to strengthen the Competition Act in response to this issue highlights a critical aspect of the problem. However, if we consider how farmers and local food systems are faring, we should be considering solutions that lie closer to the roots of our food system.
In Canada, research shows that less and less of the money consumers spend on food is making it back to farmers. For example, the prices farmers receive for hogs and wheat have stayed relatively stable, while the retail price of bread and pork products have skyrocketed. Given that, it is apparent that the return to farmers actually plays only a small role in the changes in most food prices.
Meanwhile, the dream of farming is increasingly out of reach for many in Ontario. With farmland prices skyrocketing, much of a farmer’s capital is consumed by the cost of land, leaving little room for investment in new business enterprises such as food processing. Renting land is an alternative. However, we also know farmers are more likely to make improvement investments to farmland when they own it. This issue is not just an economic concern; it’s a matter of food security and environmental stewardship.
If we continue to lose land, the scarcity of farmland will continue to drive prices up, making it increasingly difficult for current farmers to buy land and expand into new agri-food markets, or for new and young farmers to get into agriculture in the first place.
Calling for Greater Change
At the Ontario Farmland Trust (OFT), we believe preserving farmland and supporting local farmers are integral parts of a thriving economy. By implementing well-considered programs and policies that extend beyond mere amendments to the Competition Act, our communities will be positioned to confront a diverse array of challenges.
With your support and political engagement, we can tackle the intersection of critical issues such as the loss of farmland and rising farmland prices, as well as support our local Ontario farmers and improve the competitive grocery market. Here are some ways that we can envision big change coming from seemingly small actions:
- Preserving Farmland to Protect Affordability: With your support, OFT will continue to advocate for policies and programs that prioritize farming over urban sprawl, land speculation, and other non-agricultural uses. This includes utilizing agricultural preservation programs that protect Ontario’s finite agricultural landscape. OFT specifically utilizes farmland conservation easements as a tool to provide long-term permanent protection of farm properties. With affordable farmland, farmers will have more financial freedom to invest in agri-food enterprises, which in turn allows them to offer a greater variety of products to consumers.
- Programs to Support Young and New Farmers: Offering financial support to new entrants in the farming industry can help mitigate the initial costs of land acquisition and start-up. This can better position new farmers for future food-product enterprises. As a farmland trust, OFT is in a unique position to create affordable pathways for new and young farmers to gain access to farmland, and to provide space for education and training programs, which are necessary to the long-term sustainability of our agri-food sector. Additional programs can also be created to support the development of on-farm processing and direct-to-consumer enterprise development.
- Encouraging On-Farm Diversification: Diversifying farm products isn’t just good for the farm’s bottom line, it helps protect prime agricultural areas, is good for consumers, and benefits the environment. Governments can expand programs that support farmers to implement diversified farming practices and on-farm processing opportunities, leading to more local, sustainable, and resilient food systems.
- Strengthening Farmer-Owned Processing Co-ops: Co-operatives can provide a powerful platform for farmers to directly reach consumers, fostering a fairer and more transparent food system. Greater investment in services to help establish co-operatives can lead to improved models for food systems, including distribution and outlets, promoting local, sustainable choices.
- Local Food Procurement Policies: Promoting policies where local institutions (like schools, hospitals, government offices) prioritize purchasing locally produced food can create stable demand for local food directly from farmers.
The Impact Beyond the Fields
By enhancing programs and policies that support these initiatives, we’re not just aiding our farmers. We’re creating on-farm jobs, investing in rural economies, and safeguarding our farmlands. This approach aligns with the government’s objective of enhancing competition in the grocery sector, but it does more – it ensures the health and longevity of our local food systems.
A Call to Action
The road ahead requires significant collaboration between the government, farmers, consumers, industry, and nonprofits. We invite you to join us on our mission that supports the sustainable use of Ontario’s farmlands. Together, we can cultivate a future where farmers thrive, markets are competitive, and the land is cherished.
In the meantime, we encourage you to buy as directly as possible from your local farmers and processors. Look up producers in your area. Maybe there is a local dairy, flour mill, farmers market, or co-op that you could make a priority to visit on your next grocery shopping trip. Not sure where to start? Check out this easy-to-use map.
Sowing Seeds for Tomorrow
The Ontario Farmland Trust is committed to this vision. We believe that by nurturing our farmers and protecting our land today, we are not just addressing an economic issue. We are nurturing the very roots of our community and environment.
Contact Information: For more information, or to support our cause, please contact us.
Ontario Farmland Trust is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting and preserving Ontario farmlands for future generations.