One of my key points during last Fall’s election campaign was Agriculture. As soon as I was elected I requested to be the Simcoe County representative on the Simcoe County Federation of Agriculture and I am also an alternate on the County Agricultural Liaison Committee. Farming is the key economic driver in Springwater and I want to do my part to see it prosper.
I attended the Ontario Farmland Preservation’s Farmland Forum in Durham over a week ago, which is an annual event that moves around the province. There was a general concern by farmers about the loss of agricultural land to urban sprawl and the increasing red tape with governments at all levels.
There was much discussion and at times misunderstanding of the impact of the proposed expanded Greenbelt that would freeze lands from any further encroachment by urban sprawl. Some considered it positive while others were skeptical about its effect.
Some farmers expressed concern on how they will be able to cash in at the end of their career and liquidate their farm assets for retirement. This is a real issue as some next generation farm offspring are leaving the farm for careers elsewhere.
In California the American Farmland Trust has been able to connect Cap and Trade of Greenhouse gases and using those funds have purchased easement rights in perpetuity for agricultural land, removing it from the threat of urban sprawl and forcing smarter growth in urban centres. Pennsylvania has a similar model but uses funding from State and Municipal levels to secure easements in perpetuity for farmland. In the last 25 years, Pennsylvania has secured 4,700 farms, 500,000 acres and invested $1.3B to protect farmland from urban sprawl. In Ontario we have a volunteer program with Ontario Farmland Trust that works with various agencies and NGO’s to secure and preserve both environmentally sensitive and farmland throughout the province. Talking to both the MMAH and OMAFRA representatives at the conference, Ontario government officials will be visiting Pennsylvania this year and the Wynne government hopes to develop a similar program to help retiring farmers and preserve this valuable resource.
I also travelled to Ottawa for Ontario Farm Day on Tuesday last week and attended a reception with a number of Ministers, Deputy Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries to MP’s and Senators. Simcoe County Federation of Agriculture representatives from our area met with local MP’s Peter Van Loan, Patrick Brown, Bruce Stanton and Kellie Leitch to echo their concerns. Ontario farmers in primary agriculture contribute $13.7 billion in receipts, and $8.1 billion in wages. They spend $12 billion on farm inputs and generate $1.4 billion in provincial tax revenues. More than 70% of Ontario Farm products remain in the province and combined with the food and beverage processors add $21.3 billion to the Ontario economy. The food processing sector employs 91,000 people. The farming community is asking the Federal Government to assist smaller municipalities like Springwater with investment in infrastructure such as natural gas and broadband services. If the Federal Government can provide more funding to the local municipality then the local tax rates can be reduced or at least controlled from escalating at a high rate.
The OFA continually lobby governments at all levels, but we must help their voice be heard. Farmers now represent only about 1.5% of the population of Ontario and less than 10% of the total rural population. They are concerned that urban centres and at times, a lack of voice, are driving the growth that infringes on good farming practices.
As we all know in Springwater close to 90% of our non-farm workers leave the township every day for employment. We need to protect that 100% population that works on the farm and is the most vibrant part of our local economy.
Check out the township website for my report to Council on the meeting Deputy Mayor Allen and I had with Minister McMeekin, requesting that development control be put back in the hands of the township rather than being dictated by outside interests.
We had an excellent turnout at the Public Meeting last week where a developer is asking to increase the density of a development by 50%, which appears to be out of character for the community of Elmvale. Your voice was both heard and noted. We will work with the developer to hopefully achieve a compromise that is acceptable to the area residents.
There was an excellent meeting in Barrie hosted by the provincial government to gather input on the coordinated review of a number of provincial growth and environmental plans. A common theme was to protect both the environment and agricultural land, irreplaceable resources.
Keep informed and involved with Springwater by checking out our website www.springwwater.ca and the calendar of meetings. Also stay close to the action and read this excellent local paper, the Springwater News and check out our regular Springwater Link and Council Corner columns. Be part of the solution and have your say. This Council does want to hear from you. You are seeing columns from most of Council and they do want to engage you in our local government and keep you informed. I am quite pleased at these efforts.
Contact me at 705-728-4784 ext. 2040 or my cell at 705-718-7031 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow me on twitter @MayorFrench