Federal Minister Of Agriculture and Agri-Food Marie-Claude Bibeau last week got a glimpse of local maple syrup production with her visit to Fred Martin’s farm in West Montrose.
“It’s very impressive, they are extremely well equipped, very modern, and very passionate as always. And it’s always good to have the opportunity to speak directly with the farmers to better understand their reality, to share with them all the support that can be provided by the government,” Bibeau said.
Providing some feedback, Martin noted one of the biggest needs is for better communication between the ministry and the industry.
“There are always issues in agriculture that need to be addressed. And by meeting with these people, that’s how we communicate – hopefully they can address them and enhance agriculture,” he told The Observer.
Bibeau acknowledged that it has not been completely smooth sailing between the Liberal government and farmers recently.
“I’m visiting farmers all across the country, I can see their dedication. This is their farm, their land, their soil. Their animals are the most precious thing they have. So, yes, it’s true that we’re encouraging them to go further and faster in terms of reducing our emissions, but we are also putting our money where our mouth is,” she said, pointing to the $1.5 billion allocated to the industry under Canada’s emissions reduction plan. That includes $495.7 million for the Agricultural Clean Technology program.
Kitchener-Conestoga MP Tim Louis, who sits on the agriculture committee, said there is always going to be friction between the two groups.
“I welcome the discussion. The industry has come so far, so fast, starting with buckets out in the woods, and now we’re looking at high-tech ways of doing things efficiently and productively lowering emissions. It’s quite impressive to see,” he said of maple syrup production.
While Martin said his concerns were addressed, he is also taking a wait-and-see approach to the relationship.
“It’s always until the rubber hits the road – seeing an actual [benefit] come down to the farm level is important.”
The minister also hosted a roundtable discussion with several local producers who brought up a number of concerns. Mark Reusser, vice president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, addressed the mental health challenges that farmers across Ontario face, praising the federal government for its work in that area.
“The issue of mental health amongst the farming community is huge, and hasn’t ever been addressed adequately. This is a good start, and it is much appreciated,” he told Bibeau.
However, Reusser also expressed concerns regarding the government’s goal of reducing fertilizer emissions.
“We as farmers and farming organizations would love if the government would consult us and speak with us before decisions are made. I am confident that we could have helped you and you could have helped us discuss this. This is not a critique of you. It’s a critique of all governments who don’t speak beforehand,” he said.
“It would be wonderful if we could turn that around, and actually have meaningful discussion and come to a better conclusion at the beginning. Because unfortunately, it poisons the atmosphere in rural Ontario when decisions are made.”
In an interview following the round table, Reusser said he is not opposed to making agriculture more environmentally friendly, but the ministry needs to do consultations first.
“I think the outcome can be better for both. I think it would have been better for the government, it would have been better for farms and farm organizations. Had we talked beforehand, we could have made better decisions at the time.”
Reusser said he hopes Bibeau got a good flavour for the prevalent issues facing the industry.
“I hope that she heard some of the praise for good programs that the government is involved with. And I hope that she also heard some of our concerns and will take those back to caucus and will attempt to address them.”