The combination of a late season and the early appearance of winter means we’re still harvesting grapes with snow on the ground this year. This isn’t something I’ve seen many times before in my decades of farming, but it seems par for the course for 2019: a challenging weather year for everybody in horticulture and agriculture.
Most if not all horticulture crops were delayed by the cool, wet spring, and although most recovered sufficiently by harvest, some growers dealt with lower yields, heavy rains and suppressed pricing.
From a political perspective, it was a year of laying ground work with the provincial government. While not new anymore – they’ve been in office since June 2018 – we did see a shuffle of ministers in many of the major portfolios in late spring.
We held our first lobby day at Queen’s Park in April, where we proactively met with politicians, their staff and bureaucrats to introduce them to the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association (OFVGA) and what the fruit and vegetable sector represents to Ontario’s economy. We deliberately went into those meetings without an agenda or a specific ask; our goal was simply to raise awareness of edible horticulture and let people know that we are the go-to for any policies or issues impacting our sector.
That first day was pretty successful by all accounts – so much so that we’re doing it all again at the end of November. It takes time to cultivate relationships, but it can be an invaluable resource to both policymakers and those of us involved with organizations such as OFVGA to know who to talk to and how to get in touch.
Federally, with the election now behind us and a new cabinet in place, we’ll be getting back to work together with our national farm organization partners: the Canadian Horticultural Council, Canadian Produce Marketing Association and Canadian Federation of Agriculture.
With a federal minority government, it’s a bit of a different situation that faces us now as we engage at the national level and determine how we can get movement on some of the main issues facing growers.
Financial protection for growers is a file we’ve been working on for a while now and to date, there’s been little action on the side of government. That’s even though the solution we’re asking for - federal legislation to give fruit and vegetable farmers priority access to an insolvent buyer’s cash, inventory and accounts receivable related to the sale of fresh produce – comes at no cost to government. In addition to protecting Canadian produce sellers, this legislation would open the door for reciprocal priority protection in the U.S.
Crop protection continues to be a main focus for our lobbying efforts as product re-evaluations will be ongoing. It’s a federal issue, but I believe it’s also important for Ontario policymakers to know how much impact federal policy can have on a sector at the provincial level.
Labour, too, remains a priority. As the Temporary Foreign Worker Program continues to attract attention, we must differentiate the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program and continue to seek support for this successful program that is so necessary for Canadian growers.
And finally, trade problems and a tumultuous global political environment were never far from the 2019 headlines and we will continue to watch this unfold. In horticulture specifically, we’re keeping an eye on a variety of issues, from tomato negotiations between the U.S. and Mexico to asparagus dumping south of the border that could impact growers here.
And of course, the challenging relationship between China and the United States has been impacting all farmers, whether it’s through higher costs for inputs, parts or equipment or more directly through trade distortions, market access restrictions or --- loss of markets entirely as fellow farmers in the crop and livestock sectors are experiencing.
As the year comes to a close, it’s my hope that all of you can find some time to unwind over the holidays and enjoy time with family and friends – and I wish each and every one of you a Merry Christmas and all the best for 2020.