COLLINGWOOD — Simcoe County crop farmer Keith Currie was elected president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture in November, taking over the seat from Don McCabe. The organization has seen some splintering this past year, with the Grain Farmers of Ontario pulling out its membership over the neonicotinoid-treated seed issue.
In an interview with Farmers Forum reporter Connor Lynch, Currie said that as the new president he’d be focusing on getting Ontario agriculture organizations working together. Here’s an excerpt:
What’s job number one?
My goal is to get agriculture pulled together a little better than it has been. We seem to be a bit fractured at times. Not that anybody’s fighting with anybody necessarily, but we have a lot of ministries that we deal with and a lot of different issues that we deal with. Individual commodity groups do their jobs very well, but uniting agriculture to all pull in one direction is something that I want to at least start the process. It’s not going to be easy. It’s not going to be quick, but it’s something that I want to at least be able to start.
Where does agriculture seem fractured?
Even fractured might be the wrong term. But you look at a subject matter like phosphorus for example, which has really been highlighted by the Great Lakes Protection Act that the provincial government has enacted. You have a lot of groups working on it but not a lot of collaboration. Not for any particular reason, just that everyone is doing their work on phosphorus. It would make a lot of sense to me if we’re all collaborating together, working together on that kind of subject matter so we don’t appear fractured, appear to have a united front on the direction we want to go, how we want to handle any regulation on it.
What are you going to do about the OFA / GFO relationship?
It might be surprising to a lot of people but it’s actually better than most people think. There was certainly was some friction over neonics. Our messages were the same (on neonics). The difference was the political strategy. Mark Brock and I have a good relationship. We’ve always had the ability to sit down and have a conversation. That’s never been a problem. We’re working together, collaborating on a few things, (such as) the recent pollinators strategy released by OMAFRA. We’ve had conversations on that topic with them on how or if we’re going to respond to it. The relationship is perceived to be strained on the backroads and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t strained, but it’s better than people believe. I want to rebuild those relationships. When you’re in a family, people are going to fight but we’re all trying to get to the same place so we have to get there together.
The GFO pulled out of the OFA early last year. Is getting the GFO back one of your goals for pulling agriculture back together?
I want everybody to be a member of the OFA. Will I work on trying to get them back as a member? Absolutely. We started down the road last fall, working on a memorandum of understanding between the two organizations that’s still in progress. We have an understanding of where the organizations are. When it’s a grain and oilseed issue specifically, we let them take the lead and stand behind them even if they’re not a member. Most of their members are our members so we do need to stand behind them in that regard. We’re working with them. It’s not something that’ll happen quickly but we’re working on it.
Will the OFA take a different position on the carbon tax given the stance of president-elect Trump on the plan, since it would make Canada less competitive with our neighbour to the south?
We don’t know what’s going to happen yet south of the border. There’s a lot of speculation and a lot of talk. Until something’s actually done, there’s no point in reacting to something that hasn’t happened. Like any other issue, we’re going to react based on how it affects our membership. We’re here to do what’s right and what’s best for our membership. If something south of the border will negatively affect our membership, we’ll react to it however we need to.