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Labour, climate change are major election issues, say northern Ontario farmers

A labour shortage in agriculture and climate change are among the important issues facing northern Ontario's farmers, and some wonder why the parties campaigning for the Sept. 20 federal election haven't touched much on their industry.

Farmers criticize federal platforms for not including much on agriculture

Northern Ontario farmers say climate change and a labour shortage in agriculture are among their most important issues leading up to the Sept. 20 federal vote. But one industry member says, 'It's been awhile, it feels like, since agriculture was on the front burner for an election.' (Spencer Van Dyk/CBC)

As the federal election approaches, a labour shortage in agriculture and climate change are among the most important issues facing farmers in northern Ontario.

"We have an aging population, and farming is becoming more and more technical as time goes on," said Jordan Miller, a beef farmer on western Manitoulin Island and northern director of the Beef Farmers of Ontario. "And it hasn't reduced in importance at all for feeding Canadians. So with that, how do we attract the younger population?"

Miller said none of the parties leading up to the Sept. 20 election has touched on farming much in their platforms. 

"It's been awhile, it feels like, since agriculture was on the front burner for an election," he said. "A lot of that's to do with the fact that fewer and fewer Canadians are producing food for Canada, and so we represent fewer votes."

But Miller said he was happy to see the three major parties — the Conservatives, Liberals and NDP — acknowledge farming can help with carbon sequestration. He said the Liberals, in particular, acknowledged rotational grazing in their platform as a way to enhance farmland.

Miller said climate change is an important issue for farmers.

"You know, one of the first things the farmer will always check is the weather app on their phone, because it has such a huge influence on our successes and our failures, our frustrations and our hopes as we approach our day."

Miller said the drought in northwestern Ontario had an especially big impact on farmers in the region, and there should be more ways to support young farmers during difficult years.

Grocery code of conduct

Peggy Brekveld, a dairy farmer from Murillo near Thunder Bay and president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, agreed climate change is a pressing issue.

"Farmers are the front line when they look at climate change," she said. "We have to deal with the weather every day. We know that things have changed and we know that we have to find ways to mitigate."

Brekveld said she was disappointed not to hear the concept of a "grocery code of conduct" discussed by any of the major parties.

While food prices have gone up since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, she said farmers have not been paid much more for their products. The profits are swallowed by other parts of the food distribution chain, she said.

She said countries like the United Kingdom have instituted a grocery code of conduct that helps ensure better contracts between farmers and food retailers. 

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