OFA president Keith Currie continues to build relationships for farmers

This week, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture elected Keith Currie to a fourth term as leader of the general farm organization.

Currie has a reputation for building relationships inside and outside the organization and helping change the culture of the farm lobby group. But there’s more work to do. In this interview with RealAgriculture’s Bernard Tobin, Currie discusses his priorities for 2020 — from continuing the push for rural internet access and enhancing mental health support for farmers, to tackling the sector’s labour challenges.

There’s also the hardships that ongoing trade disputes between China and the U.S. impose on Canadian farmers. Fresh off a federal election that now sees the minority governing Liberal party wooing other party support with program spending promises, many farmers wonder whether a Canadian version of the U.S. Market Facilitation Program is possible — it has paid out $28 billion to U.S. farmers to help offset the trade war impact.

Currie believes rural Canada certainly sent a message to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on October 21 and now it’s up to farm leaders to lobby hard for the assistance farmers require. “A cheque in the mail would be nice, but we do need to have the right Business Risk Management programs in place for the long term,” says Currie. (Story continues after the interview.)

On the provincial front, opposition parties have been quick to point fingers at Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government for cutting support for agriculture programs. Currie, however, is reserving judgement on the full impact of spending cuts until there’s full budget accounting. Many times, money moves to and from different government departments based on the responsibility for programs and how they are implemented, he notes.

Currie also says he intends to again extend an invitation to the Grain Farmers of Ontario to rejoin OFA. In recent years, the two farm organizations have walked different paths in their efforts to lobby government and Currie does believe a unified voice would be more effective. Whether the two groups form an official alliance remains to be seen, but Currie does see opportunities to work together. He cites recent discussions with GFO on changes to Bill 132 and the Pesticide Act as examples of shared interest and ongoing collaboration.

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