OFA Commentary 1910
Agriculture has many partners
By Mark Wales, Vice-President, Ontario Federation of Agriculture
May 14, 2010 - Ontario farmers have many partners they work with as an important part of the success of our farming business. The most obvious are the federal and provincial governments, the banks, spouses and the weather office.
But Municipal governments also play an integral role in how a farm is operated, and how successful it can become. Establishing municipal property taxes and collecting those taxes are important factors bearing heavily on the bottom lines of many farming operations.
The Ontario Federation of Agriculture is a strong supporter of the current farm property class tax rate program, and urges the provincial government to maintain the system. It is administratively simple and remains the preferred method for recognizing appropriate property taxation of farmland.
Having said that, OFA also recognizes that the Ontario government has not provided an adequate transfer of funds to municipalities under the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund.
With this in mind, OFA is prepared to work with ROMA – the Rural Ontario Municipal Association – to maintain the current farm property class tax rate system. Doing this, we believe there is hope to secure sufficient funding revenues for our municipalities that are the communities of our farm businesses.
Municipal representatives also truly appreciate the importance of agriculture within their communities. Our recent Stratford Town Hall meeting demonstrated the commitment of municipal officials to the work of the OASC – telling the story of the important economic, environmental and social contribution of farming to our rural landscape.
Our coalition will be working closely with our municipal leaders to continue to emphasize the importance of sustainable farms and the objectives of the Ontario Agriculture Sustainability Coalition (OASC) – securing better risk management programming for farmers.
The OFA and our commodity partners are also striving for a broad definition of farming practices. The definition of farming and farming practices has evolved and expanded due to changes in technology and market specifications. There’s every likelihood this evolution will continue.
Consequently, OFA has requested OMAFRA work with agriculture and Ontario’s farmers to develop a broad definition of farming practices. Such a broad definition could be made available to other ministries – labour as an example – and municipalities when they need to establish what practices are ‘farming’ to ensure a consistent and competitive approach to farming enterprises.
Development charges levied by municipalities on new farm buildings are a concern for OFA and farmers across Ontario. Many municipalities have chosen to exempt agricultural buildings and structures from these charges.
However, subsequent bylaws may take a different view and omit the existing exemptions for agricultural buildings and structures unless farmers and municipal councillors are constantly vigilant. To avoid this situation and the unnecessary hearings that could follow, OFA wants to work with municipalities for a province-wide exemption for agricultural buildings.
Another area where farmers and municipal councils will interact is with Source Water Protection regulations. OFA is concerned about who will end up paying for the implementation of Source Water Protection Plans. The province has agreed that it will pay for developing these plans, but then leaves it to the municipalities for implementation.
This could open the door for a hefty levy on farmers, and OFA would oppose such a development.
Farm drainage is a critical element of Ontario agriculture. The associated drainage regulations again require farmers and municipalities to work together. OFA and the farmers it represents want a more efficient drainage approval process. We believe this can happen if municipalities and the drainage superintendents get involved with OFA and the farmers. We believe the same collaboration needs to happen, in particular, around the issues arising from the species at risk regulations.
Good solutions that enable sustainable and profitable farms are out there. It’s a matter of farmers coming together with the right partners. We look forward to working closely with our municipal leaders on the right solutions for our communities and our farms.