OTTAWA — 2017 was a colourful news year and, despite record rainfall and increasing tax hits, the year will go down in the record books as another good year to be in business.
Here are Farmers Forum’s top 10 impacting farm stories of the year.
1: Record rain
It might have seemed as if the weather was conspiring against farmers for most of 2017. Record rain made it feel like summer didn’t start until September. Thousands of acres of cropland were underwater in May around Ottawa and into Renfrew County down to Prince Edward County. Ottawa set a yearly rainfall record two months before the year even ended. Flooding forced the closure of some roads. A state of emergency was called in Clarence-Rockland, Champlain Township, the Bay of Quinte and Prince Edward County, and thousands of acres had to be replanted. Unseeded acreage claims were three times the five-year average, Agricorp reported. Rain poured down again in October and November, slowing down harvest.
2: New taxes
Governments were not kind to farmers when it came to taxes. Many Eastern Ontario regions will see MPAC assessments on farm properties increase as high as 100 per cent over a four-year phase-in period. The province’s new cap-and-trade tax, which puts a cap on the amount of emissions allowed by a company, saw an immediate increase on fuel. And while Canada’s cap-and-trade tax will exempt on-farm fuel from the carbon dioxide tax, Ontario decided not to follow suit. Finally, the federal government announced in July it was increasing business taxes. For farmers, the largest concerns centred around changes to retirement planning, succession, and funding children’s education and spouses or family members helping out on the farm. The government eventually backed off on a number of its proposals, but details were sketchy right to the end of the year on how taxes changes would play out.
3: Expensive hydro
Ontario farmers continued to grumble about high electricity prices. Many large companies — including ag-related businesses — have left Ontario and numerous out-of-province companies chose other jurisdictions because of high Ontario electricity prices. Vancouver-based think-tank Fraser Institute’s study said Ontario electricity rates are among the fastest growing in North America and have cost Ontario more than 74,000 manufacturing jobs since 2008.
4: Trade deals go sideways
Last January, U.S. president Donald Trump made good on a campaign promise to pull the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement after almost a decade of negotiations. Although the dairy industry lost some of the market in the original TPP deal, dairy groups were happy supply management was protected, while pork, beef and grain farmers said the deal could potentially open new markets. The world’s largest trade deal is now being renegotiated by the remaining countries. Those 11 countries were about to sign a new TPP deal in November, but the Canadian Prime Minister annoyed all the other countries by declining to sign the agreement. The North American Free Trade Agreement is now also up in the air.
5: Dairy farmers are federal Conservative kingmakers
Ontario and Quebec dairy farmers made their voices heard in the federal Conservative leadership convention. Frontrunner Maxime Bernier ran on a platform of cancelling supply management and pollsters had him winning the election. In Eastern Ontario, a Facebook group, Friends of Supply Management and Rural Communities, was created by Russell County dairy farmer Deedee Bekkers in March. The grassroots movement had 5,000 members in the Facebook group at its peak. After the election, Bernier’s top policy advisor Martin Masse, told the Globe and Mail that “the farmers made the difference. Remove them out of the equation and we win.”
6: Corn yields rebound
The wet weather during planting and the wet summer was promising farmers a yield hit come harvest time. But a September heat wave made up for all the rain and Eastern Ontario farmers hauled in, to their surprise, average corn yields. That was a huge comeback as many farmers wondered early on if they would be making crop insurance claims.
7: Jail time demanded in animal cruelty cases
Demanding jail time for animal cruelty is the new normal in court, according to Ottawa agricultural lawyer Kurtis Andrews. Six British Columbia dairy workers were sentenced to up to 60 days for striking cattle at a Chilliwack dairy farm. Andrews said he was involved in another case where his client was charged for “striking” a cow that kicked him. The Crown attorney pushed for jail time, citing the B.C. case, even though it was a first offence. The case was settled without trial.
8: Minimum wage increases
The province’s decision to jack up minimum wage meant many farmers will be forced to raise prices for their crops. The provincial minimum wage was $11.40 an hour and increased to $14 an hour this year. It will be $15 an hour at the start of 2019. Ken Forth, president of Foreign Agricultural Resources Management Services, a program that helps manage logistics for farmers using the seasonal agricultural worker program, said by the time minimum wage hits $15 an hour, farmers in the horticultural sector will be paying wages 30 times higher than competitors in Mexico.
9: Rise of the robot
Robotics are taking over the farm. One report projected worldwide annual revenues for the sale of agricultural robotics, which includes anything from robotic milkers to drones to driverless tractors, to hit $74.1 billion by 2024, up from $4 billion in 2016. By comparison, the U.S. sold $81 billion worth of state lottery tickets in 2016. Chad Colby, an Illinois farmer, ag tech enthusiast, and drone tech consultant told farmers at the Harvex Grower’s day at Winchester on Sept. 19 that drone technology is advancing so rapidly it’s hard to pass it up. For instance, thermal imaging on drones is rapidly becoming more affordable and “a plant will tell you by heat what’s wrong with it before you can tell with your eyes.”
10: Activists continue to target farmers
Activists continued to impose their will on the agricultural community. Animal activist Anita Krajnc, who gave water to pigs on the way to a slaughterhouse in Burlington, Ont., in 2015, was found not guilty of mischief in May last year. Justice David Harris said that he was not satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that Krajnc had interfered with the lawful use of property, because no animals were rejected by the slaughterhouse and he was satisfied that the substance they had been given was water. This emboldened activists. The court case handed Krajnc a propaganda platform. Her infamous slogan was read across Canada: “If you wouldn’t give a cigarette to a child, why would you give bacon to a child?”
Activists were again successful in getting another county fair to cancel a pig scramble contest, this one in Lombardy. As well, activists have pressured about 100 grocery chains, 60 restaurant chains and dozens of other food businesses across North America to switch to cage-free eggs within the next decade, despite the fact that very few consumers are willing to pay more for cage-free eggs and cages have been proven to be healthier and have lower mortality rates over other methods.