As our fields green up and blossoms return to the trees, we know that we have once again survived the long Canadian winter. Mixed with the usual farmer optimism of a new growing season, however, is an uneasy feeling that 2017 is going to be a year of much change within Ontario’s agriculture landscape.
2017 will be a year of tremendous opportunities – there is a tremendous opportunity to feed the citizens of Ontario and New York State. Demand for the safe and quality products that we produce has never been higher and our ability to meet this challenge on a near 12-month-a -year basis has never been so close. But at the same time, there are a number of significant challenges ahead.
Let’s look at the list of issues we will be dealing with during 2017:
Carbon Tax – The impacts of the carbon tax (sorry it’s not a tax it just feels like one) is just starting to be felt by producers on their winter heating costs and field producers as they fill their fuel tanks for the coming planting season. This tax – which was not supposed to be on coloured fuel – is impacting both those who heat and who drive, and if you look at the proposed pricing ramp, its impacts after 2020 are impossible to ignore or sweep away as a bit of inflation.
Electricity Pricing - While some relief has been promised recently by the Ontario government for lowering monthly rates, Ontario electricity prices are higher than some of our neighbours and the policies and financing that led to high rates has just been “financed” farther out. For those that move machinery, pump water, spin fans or pump coolant as part of their business, electricity remains a concern.
Storm water and runoff ponds - Greenhouse operators in the areas of the Leamington tributaries and the Thames River watershed were required to apply for an Environmental Compliance Approval (ECA) for their storm water management facilities by April 1, 2017. Once in place, the ECA requires that farmers sample their ponds monthly and respond to any samples that indicate levels above those prescribed in the ECA. All other greenhouse operators across the province will be required to apply for their ECAs within the next year.
Sustainability – While CanadaGAP does a great job in ensuring food safety in the vegetable sector, the public is ever demanding in wanting stricter and stricter regulation on how food is produced and raised. Those speaking to the public can – and often are – spreading false information to market a particular product, which inevitably makes providing legitimate information even more difficult. In many respects, the rise of social media and the anti-science movement has made communicating with the public even more difficult, specifically since as information-rich messaging and risk-reward business answers do not resonate like many of negative campaigns do: NO GMO, or Pesticide Free, etc.
Pesticide use – The tool kit of pesticides is getting smaller and smaller. With proposed elimination of more neonics and a dwindling list of products offered in the relatively small Canadian market, manufacturers have little motivation to even fill out the re-approval paperwork for off-patent products.
Animal & and Animal Transportation Codes of Practice – Newly released codes for transporting livestock, pork and poultry production are driving change among livestock operators. Those operators are modifying barn equipment and re-designing facilities to meet new housing requirements for pen sizing, and loading facilities. Sometimes producers are even walking away from facilities that are not fully depreciated in order to meet these new requirements.
Lake Erie Phosphorus Management – After consultations in 2015 and 2016 we are now looking at a regulatory environment that is going to focus hard on soil erosion and the 4R approach to nutrient management. 2017 and 2018 will start to see some changing discussions about fertilizer usage, and the government may be looking for nutrient plans from all farmers, not just those in livestock. While some of these new practices might actually save farmers money, others may increase the general costs of doing business.
Land Costs – I was recently in the near north and saw first-hand how some farmers from the south are moving or expanding their enterprises north to take advantage of more cost-efficient land. Here in the south where monster houses continue to appear on farmland with great regularity, expanding one’s operation gets harder and harder and more operations are hemmed in by urban neighbours, which negatively impacts the economics of farm production. Depending on where your operation is, and what products you grow, these issues may have a greater or lesser impact on what you do.
Regardless, we are certainly juggling a lot of balls in the air.
Good farming to all in 2017.
For more information on Farm Environmental or Animal Welfare projects at Farm & Food Care Ontario, contact Bruce Kelly at email@example.com