By Tom Collins
TORONTO — Ontario farmers signaled that they want change after electing Simcoe County cash crop farmer Keith Currie as the new president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA), defeating outgoing president Don McCabe at the OFA’s annual general meeting on Nov. 21.
Currie received 151 votes to McCabe’s 96.
Currie, who spent the last three years as an OFA vice-president and has been with the OFA for 25 years, has said one of his main goals is to get the province on board in helping get natural gas to rural areas.
Prescott Federation of Agriculture vice-president Reg Presley said it was time for new leadership because of McCabe’s and the OFA’s close connection to the Liberal government.
“We’ve seen the OFA back the Green Energy Act right from the beginning and Don was playing a role in that at the time,” said Presley. “He was the lead board member on that, and we’re seeing the backlash on that now.”
That’s one take. Another is that it’s tough for an OFA president get more than two terms.
“The OFA delegates don’t seem to keep a president for more than a couple of years,” said Leeds-Grenville Federation of Agriculture president Kim Sytsma.
“You’d have to do something pretty special to stay longer.”
There are only six presidents who lasted at least three straight years in the OFA’s 80-year history: H.H. Hannam (1936 to 1940), Charles Munro (1966-1969), Gordon Hill (1969 to 1976), Brigid Pyke (1986 to 1989), Roger George (1990 to 1995), and Rod Bonnett (2002 to 2006).
OFA member Eleanor Renaud said there was a buzz in the air for this election. She said OFA members want to work toward repairing broken relationships with other commodity groups. The Grain Farmers of Ontario (GFO), for example, pulled their membership this year because of the OFA’s soft stance on neonics.
“That was a big rift,” she said. “We can’t have that. We have to be united. And that’s what Keith was offering.”
Grain Farmers of Ontario is going to wait and see which way Currie takes the federation, said Grain Farmers chairman Mark Brock.
“It will be up to the OFA and their direction to really determine whether our membership comes back.”
This year’s OFA annual meeting also saw a higher than normal turnout. There are 416 potential delegates. Usually only about 230 show up to vote. This year there were about 250, although only 247 voted for president.
Thunder Bay dairy farmer Peggy Brekveld and Waterloo County chicken and cash crop farmer Mark Reusser were elected vice-presidents on Nov. 22.
Arnprior dairy farmer Debra Pretty-Straathof finished third.