Agriculture and food issues often cross provincial, national and international boundaries. Being a leader of a farm organization frequently requires representatives to look well beyond the farm gate to tackle issues that impact their members.
That’s certainly the case for Thunder Bay, Ont., dairy farmer Peggy Brekveld, who in 2023 will again lead the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, the province’s largest general farm organization. She was elected president of OFA for the third consecutive year by its board of directors after the organization’s annual general meeting at London, Ont.
In her address to the meeting, Brekveld touched on the scope of issues that impact Ontario farmers; from international trade sanctions that penalize farmers when purchasing fertilizer; to federal carbon tax legislation; and provincial land use policy that paves the way for valuable farmland to be turned into housing developments. She also stressed the need for OFA to emerge from the difficult times of the COVID-19 pandemic and renew focus on strategic priorities, including land use planning and environmental sustainability, food value chain security, labour and workforce development, rural infrastructure and affordable energy, and mental health and wellness.
In this interview, Brekveld discusses many of the organization’s key issues. On the federal scene, she is “cautiously optimistic” that legislation to have the farm carbon tax exemption expanded to include natural gas and propane, Bill C-234, will be adopted and become law. (Story continues after the interview.)
The OFA has also been working on the Liberal government’s fertilizer emission strategy. Brekveld says it’s important to push for the government to measure fertilizer best management practices, rather than focusing on measuring fertilizer usage.
“I think it’s a much better way to meet the end goals. Government wants to see emissions drop and best management practices will do that,” says Brekveld. “It’s not about how much fertilizer you use, but how we can ensure that the plant is using it efficiently.”
The fertilizer file also includes what the federal government should do with the $34 million collected in tariffs on fertilizer imported from Russia and Belarus by Canadian farmers. Other farm groups have been pushing for the money to be refunded directly to farmers. Brekveld notes “the federal government has been extremely clear, they’re not going to send it back to individuals, individual farmers.”
Brekveld says OFA has made recommendations on how the money can be returned to the industry. “Just like the other farm organizations, we want to see the dollars come back to the industry and ensure that agriculture can keep being the best it can be.”
In Ontario, Bill 23, the province’s More Homes Built Faster Act has been making headlines. Under the guise of solving the housing crisis, Ontario’s Premier Doug Ford wants to develop more than 7,000 acres of prime agricultural land in the provinces Greenbelt, around the city of Toronto.
The legislation was passed this week, but Brekveld says the province needs to be more creative when planning communities to better manage development and protect farmland.
“Once farmland goes into concrete or asphalt it never comes back,” says Brekveld. “We have to think long-term visioning and incentivize intensifying your communities and making them livable and walkable — complete communities. I think it will benefit the cities, but also the farmers and the people who are feeding those cities.”