Lobb, Thompson hear farmers' concerns at annual forum - March 7, 2019
BY LISA B. POT
The economy is doing very well in rural Ontario says Huron-Bruce MP Ben Lobb and labour issues shouldn’t detract from that. Lobb was speaking to farmers and agricultural leaders at the Huron County Federation of Agriculture’s (HCFA) Local Politician Forum, held Friday at the Clinton Legion.
Held annually as a way for the agricultural industry to inform and connect with local politicians. Lobb said he’d been attending the event for 11 years. Both he and Huron-Bruce MPP and provincial Minister of Education Lisa Thompson were praised for their commitment to agriculture.
Finding qualified labour and being able to pay for it was a concern across sectors represented at the forum. Among the other concerns addressed at the event were trade, a lack of processing plants, new transportation guidelines, taxes on farmland and risk management programs.
Meanwhile, both Lobb and Thompson reminded the group the province is in debt and encouraged farmers to search out and develop new markets for their products.
“There are opportunities out there to market but no possibility for it if we don’t have the processing facilities to get it there,” acknowledged Lobb, referencing the 300 million Christians in India looking to enjoy pork in a country where there isn’t enough supply. “If we can fix our trade and processing issues there is tremendous opportunity for beef and pork products to go elsewhere,” he said.
The whole issue of food infrastructure was addressed and it began with Harvey Hoggart, speaking on behalf of the Huron County Beef Producers.
He said Ontario produces more cattle than there is capacity to process them. With the United States reducing how many Canadian cattle cross the border, cattle processing has backed up in Ontario. “We need more competition in the market but the only ones who can compete with Cargill Proteins are Tyson Food and JBS Food Company (both American companies) and I can’t see them wanting to come to Ontario,” said Hoggart.
“Labour and process capacity are in my notes,” said Lobb, responding to the comments. “A lot of Canadians would be shocked to know that over 50 per cent of our beef is not grown in Canada. That is a significant issue and governments of all shapes and sizes want automotive plants in their province, very seldom do you hear that they want a processing plant, but we need to do just that. Just as you said, there is no competition and when there is no competition, you do not get fair prices. We need to look at food infrastructure... it’s a worthwhile discussion to have at this time.”
Thompson agreed. It really struck her that American processing companies won’t come to Ontario because of the price and availability of labour. She encouraged beef leaders to communicate with Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade Todd Smith.
“He will be focusing on automotive and agriculture because he knows both sectors provide great jobs,” said Thompson. “We need to create a climate where businesses think Ontario is a great place to set up. We need to make Ontario a place that is back open for business.”
Other concerns for the beef industry are new amendments released by the Canadian government to the Health of Animals regulations concerning transportation. The new regulations will reduce the period of time that cattle can be moved in transport trucks.
“Minimizing stress and preventing injury of animals during transport is always our goal,” said Hoggart. “However, when you reduce the transport time, that means you have more unloading times and that is where most injuries to cattle occur,” he added. Also, it would require more feeding stations, more pen capacity and increased biosecurity.
Lobb agreed with Hoggart. “People and livestock producers are trying to negotiate nicely behind the scenes and I don’t think the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) used all the data to make a determination, which is unfortunate,” said Lobb. “There is nothing we can do about it at this time, but it would be good to have a review and talk to livestock groups to see what the impacts are.”
After Hoggart spoke, each commodity had a chance to report on their industry. Here are the highlights:
“Our story is a positive one,” said egg farmers Brent Grainger and Stephen Beeler.
With consumption continuing to rise six per cent year after year in Canada, egg farmers are building new barns and enjoying success. However, they want this to continue by reducing imports of eggs from the United States.
Thompson advised egg farmers to make these concerns known to Smith as he meets with U.S. senators to discuss trade issues.
Beeler educated the crowd about the future of layer barns, saying all new barns are required to be built with enrichment systems, allowing the chicken to “express their natural behaviour. It is very important to consumers that the bird can be herself and do what she pleases.”
Lobb used the opportunity to say if he was ever reincarnated, he’d like to come back as a chicken and do what he wants. On a more serious note, he said he is aligned with chicken and dairy farmers that the United States/Mexico/Canada trade deal is not a good deal. “It’s like the trades the Ottawa Senators make – they give up a lot and don’t get much in return.”
Labour is a huge issue in the pork industry, said pork representatives Geert Geene and Bill Dowson.
Long-term solutions are needed while the Temporary Foreign Worker Program is critical to getting workers when local workers don’t want to work in pig barns.
Lobb agreed, revealing that Sofina Foods in Burlington has never laid anyone off in the history of the company. They need more shifts and more capacity and can’t find the workers to meet that demand. The labour shortage is real and companies hang onto the workers they have.
Geene and Dowson also wanted to alert the crowd of how fearful the industry is of African Swine Fever ever getting into Canada. The disease has decimated the sow herd in China and will have unheard-of ramifications if it gets into the United States or Canada.
“Prices will plummet and we will have nowhere to bring pigs. Even if we stopped breeding today, it takes 10 months to stop the flow of pigs,” said Geene.
To prevent African Swine Fever from getting into the country, pork producers are asking for specially trained detective dogs to be used at airports. These dogs can sniff out meat, which is how the viral disease would likely enter the country. However, each one of these dogs costs about $10,000 so cost is an issue, recognized Geene.
Property and Land Use Committee
Fear over how the Huron Natural Heritage Plan could impact land use on farms was the main concern for this committee.
“There is a lot of confusion that we hope to get cleared up at the county level,” said Rob Vanden Hengel.
Central Huron Mayor and Huron County Warden Jim Ginn said the plan will use new aerial photos to create new maps of Huron County farms. However, changes will not “kick in” until each municipality updates its official plan. When that happens, the municipality will let each farmer know if there was a change to their property.
Howick Reeve Doug Harding said when they passed their official plan it was “not easy” and that every landowner received a letter.
“My concern is that people did not open their letters and were unaware... please open them. We have to be aware of changes from natural heritage and the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC). We have to keep communicating,” he said.
Harding added that every landowner that approached Howick council about land changes had the changes reviewed.
Farm Finance Committee
“A major concern of [the Farm Finance Committee] is the increasing property tax burden on farmland,” said Adam Garniss. He said in five years, bare Huron County farmland has more than doubled in assessment value. This directly affects tax rates.
The committee’s other concern is the “long tail” DON levels in the 2018 corn crop will have on farmers. Stating farmers are thankful for existing government support on the issue, Garniss wanted to make sure Thompson and Lobb were aware farmers need better systems of prediction, prevention and testing so that “DON doesn’t catch us so ill-equipped in the future.”
Last year reminded dairy farmers that supply management is a privilege and not a right, said dairy farmer Glen McNeil, representing the Huron County Dairy Producers. The leaky border and decreased support for supply management and it’s impact on Ontario dairy farmers need to be examined, he said.
“We need to educate people to the benefits and advantages of supply management,” said McNeil. “[Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau indicated he understood and respected us and assured us we would be supported in trade negotiations. This was the standard statement until the 11th hour when it was agreed that dairy farmers would give up 3.9 per cent access to American milk.”
The U.S. dairy industry pressured U.S. President Donald Trump into believing more access would save their industry. It will not, said McNeil.
“They over-produce and dairy farmers there are going broke and exiting the business at an unprecedented rate,” said McNeil.
Regulating milk supply to demand is what the supply management system does in Ontario and it needs to be protected.
The leaky border needs to be better regulated as well, added McNeil. Increased border control would help.
“The border is a significant issue and has been for many years” agreed Lobb. “It used to be pizza kits... U.S. processors are always trying to find ways around the rules to get entry into our markets.”
Lobb then said that drugs and illegal guns are also getting across the border.
“I think it is time the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) really takes a look at what comes across our border and keeping illicit items out. There needs to be more money invested in CBSA,” he said.
On a positive note, McNeil said dairy farmers in Huron have really enjoyed handing out over 7,500 chocolate milk cartons at county Santa Claus parades as well as supporting county food banks.
The chicken industry is strong and vibrant and continues to grow with 1,300 family farms in the province and 178 in Huron County said chicken farmer Ralph DeWeerd. Huron and Bruce Counties produce $170 million worth of chicken and represent 16.7 per cent of Ontario’s chicken production.
The industry supports 22,000 jobs and contributes over $3.7 million to the Ontario economy.
“We echo our concerns over supply management and we share the same trade concerns with dairy,” said DeWeerd.
New to the table at the forum was Shawn Edward, Howick fire chief. Representing the Rural/Suburban Advisory Committee, Edward wanted to encourage farmers to invest in barn fire protection.
Installing fire extinguishers and following a maintenence schedule that includes checking wiring, clearing dust and cobwebs and looking for signs of corrosion can go a long way to fire prevention, said Edwards.
From 2013 to 2017, there were over 750 barn fires in the province with 39 reported injuries to humans and almost $180 million in losses.
He encouraged both Lobb and Thompson to look at the National Farm Building Code, which regulates the Ontario Building Code. The national code has not been updated since 1995, said Edwards.
“Modern farm operations have become increasingly large-scale with huge building and mechanization and large livestock numbers. We are concerned the codes do not reflect this,” said Edwards.
Thompson congratulated the federation on inviting Edwards to speak on such an important topic, while Lobb promised to start “a dialogue on a potential review of the national code.”