The Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association is working diligently on interacting with the provincial government, but we are also part of something bigger. We are part of the Canadian Horticultural Council and as such have a certain obligation and incentive to participate in the influence of agriculture policy in Canada. The Canadian Horticultural Council, in collaboration with the Canadian Produce Marketing Association. recently spent three days in Ottawa with a group of more than 50 produce representatives from across Canada to do just that. The event is called FALL HARVEST.
On Monday morning produce industry representatives arrived in Ottawa and met as a group to review the messaging for this year’s Fall Harvest lobby event and to discuss presentation strategies for the meetings “on the Hill” on the following two days. Under the theme of competitiveness, we had four main pillars to this year’s speaking points to the different MPs, senators and staff.
International trade is very much a national issue and this year after securing the USMCA agreement we focused on developing future markets for Canadian-grown produce. Two ways that government can help us are by giving us support as we try to establish the contacts and relationships in potential trading partners. This can be an onerous task with language and cultural barriers making these conversations difficult to navigate. Secondly once connections are made, government must support us as we develop these trading relationships and in avoiding phyto-sanitary and other border crossing issues. With government support we can hope to supply enormous markets in Asia giving us an opportunity to expand production without the concern of oversupplying Canadian or American markets.
Crop protection is another area where the federal government plays a huge role. To have ongoing access to crop protection materials that are an integral part of our production model we assert ourselves with government and the PMRA, so they understand the vitally important role crop protection plays on our farms. The main ask this year was that, as they review registrations, they take into consideration the economic impact of their decisions. We also reminded them that there is often more residue on the products we import than on the products we grow. Eliminating product uses domestically will in some cases make it unviable to produce certain crops, creating a dependence on imported product and increasing the amount of pesticides on Canadian food. Crop protection is a key component to the competitiveness of all produce growers in the province.
Labour access is the life blood of food production in Ontario. Some growers have been bringing workers into Canada since the beginning of the program over 50 years ago and the debt of gratitude grows as year after year workers make the journey to Canada to help with the farm work. Those who participate in the program know too well that the process of applying for workers becomes more and more challenging every year. We ask that a trusted employer program could be put in place to allow farmers in good standing who have been employing similar numbers of workers to the same farms for a few years to have a streamlined application approval process for the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program. Spending less time reviewing “trusted employers” would speed up the process for approving Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) applications for all applicants while allowing more time for Service Canada to review new employers, employers with significant changes to their LMIA and randomly verifying a sample from the group of trusted employers. For growers this would mean faster approvals and less time reviewing with Service Canada the information they filled in on their form. This would likely mean a small reduction in the number of Service Canada staff.
Increased produce consumption has been a part of our federal lobby messaging for several years now. Close to 80 per cent of Canadians do not eat enough fruits and vegetables as set out by Canada’s Food Guide adding billions of dollars to economic burden. Government was encouraged to set food policy that will improve the health of Canadians while increasing demand for the products we grow.
For me the highlight of the week was the reception on the Tuesday night. Many MPs, senators and staffers joined us through the two-hour event. Everyone at the event was eager to visit and talk through how our sector is doing. This event is as much about relationship building as it is about messaging and many connections are made and enhanced at this event.
There is a federal election scheduled for October 21, 2019 which will make scheduling Fall Harvest 2019 all but impossible. Whenever our next lobby event is, it will be important to once again plan our messaging and gather as a group of industry leaders to help shape the future of agriculture policy in this great nation we call Canada.