Farm shows are chance to meet, learn and reconnect

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by Andrea McCoy-Naperstkow, Director, OFA

Even though the weather hasn’t caught up to the calendar just yet, we’ve just turned the corner into spring. It means that a new planting and growing season will shortly be upon us – but it also signals a wind-down of winter, or what farmers often jokingly call “meeting season”. Farm work keeps us busy for most of the year, so it’s during the winter months that we have time to attend agricultural trade shows, commodity organization meetings, educational conferences and other farm-related events.

As farmers, this is our opportunity to meet with suppliers, learn about the latest research, check out new equipment and technologies, and connect with fellow farmers and others who work in our sector. There is no shortage of events to attend – and while they can be specific to a commodity or agricultural sector or a geographic region, there are also quite a few farm-focused events that are of interest to the broader farm community in general.

The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) represents close to 90% of Ontario’s farmers, so it’s only natural for our organization to have a presence at most of these events over the winter. I farm in Lanark County in Eastern Ontario where I’ve been involved in my local federation of agriculture in various roles for the past 25 years. Last fall, I became a director on the provincial OFA board, so this winter marked my first season attending farm shows on behalf of the organization – including the big show in our area, the Ottawa Valley Farm Show, which took place earlier in March.

For me as a director, it’s a great opportunity to connect with the people I represent at the OFA board to find out what’s on their minds and share what OFA is doing to raise awareness of the issues they’re facing. Even for others in the agriculture sector who aren’t OFA members, it’s a chance for them to tell me their story and let us make a person-to-person connection – something we all sorely missed during the COVID years.

That’s also the goal of the OFA as a whole in attending these events: engaging with our membership to let them know what we’re working on and getting their feedback on our activities on their behalf. Over this winter’s events, the OFA team fielded questions on a wide range of issues, including how they could join our organization, what member benefits we offer, and how they could access our latest resources, like our annual report or newly released information about the MTO farm guide.

There is also ongoing interest in the Farmer Wellness Initiative, a service that provides access to free, unlimited mental health counselling for farmers, their families and farm employees and their dependents by people trained in the unique stresses and challenges of the agriculture industry. OFA continues to play an active role in promoting this valuable resource, which has long been desperately needed in our industry, and we receive ongoing feedback from farmers about how they appreciate its availability.

Of course, OFA is an advocacy organization, and our primary mission is to make sure that farmers’ voices are represented on the issues that are affecting their farms and businesses.

This winter, we heard from a lot of farmers concerned about the impact of high input costs, unpredictable markets and prices, trespassing in rural areas, and increasing taxes, including the federal carbon levy, for example.

We appreciate the feedback and support of our members as we continue to work on behalf of Ontario farmers and rural communities. Agriculture, after all, is one of the most important industries in Canada, and like we’re seeing in Europe and other regions, we need to make sure we protect our ability to produce the food, fuel, fibre and flowers the world needs by keeping farms profitable, competitive and thriving.

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