The Ontario Federation of Agriculture has re-elected Don McCabe as its president for 2016. The Lambton County farmer was unopposed for the position, which he won for the second consecutive year during the OFA’s annual meeting in Toronto this week.
Despite being acclaimed, there were some challenges for the returning president regarding how he and the organization handled the hot button neonicotinoid issue and perceived support for the Ontario government’s push to limit the use of the seed treatment. Questions from the meeting floor addressed how McCabe and OFA handled the issue as did a resolution brought before the meeting.
After his election, McCabe said perception played a big role in how the ag industry viewed OFA’s position, but perception is different than reality. “At the end of the day, OFA wants to ensure that all the tools stay in the toolbox for farmers, no matter what. We never supported the neonic regulations, but we do support the need for a complete pollinator strategy.”
McCabe, a dedicated no-tiller on his Inwood cash crop farm, says he believes OFA’s year ahead will be defined by farmers’ need for infrastructure as well as environmental issues. OFA will continue to push for expansion of natural gas to rural Ontario, road and bridge investment as well as better access to broadband Internet in rural areas.
McCabe also acknowledges that agriculture’s impact on the environment will face increasing scrutiny. The Ontario government’s Bill 66, which is designed to protect and restore the Great Lakes – St. Lawrence River Basin, will no doubt target farm practices.
But McCabe says OFA will continue to support farmers in their efforts to be the best environmental stewards. “It’s the farmer who’s going to do it – sequester carbon, take care of biodiversity, handle phosphorous and look at water quality. It’s important for farmers to do the job and also ensure that the public knows they have access to the cheapest food basket in the world,” he says.
With the provincial Liberal government cabinet dominated by ministers from urban ridings, McCabe believes OFA will have to “make sure the government understands that agriculture provides opportunity for all Ontarians, whether they be primary producers in rural Ontario or filling many of the food processing jobs that are urban-based.”
McCabe says the new OFA executive will be taking a hard look at Ontario and federal cabinet ministers’ mandate letters to help provide direction for the organization, but it also wants to focus on OFA’s goals for its members. “We need to ensure we’re not ignoring what we want done, what we want to take to the government.”