By Tom Collins
TORONTO — Don McCabe is facing a challenge from a long-time Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) member for the association’s presidency later this month.
Simcoe County cash crop farmer Keith Currie has put his name forward to run against McCabe. With a membership of 37,000 farm families, the OFA is Ontario’s largest farm organization. Only board members can run for the top job but can announce their intentions any time until the Nov. 21-22 election in Toronto. County delegates vote.
When asked what the OFA has accomplished in the last two years, McCabe emphasized “communication,” listed a number of ongoing committees and said “It comes back to being able to have a chat with governments as we move ahead.” Going forward, he said that “being in front of government and other groups” and communication with government officials is key to ensure that agriculture remains the number one industry.
“A farmer looks out his back door, they see a farm,” said McCabe. “The government looks out and sees a farm, it sees climate change, it sees phosphorus, it sees biodiversity, it sees land use, it sees taxes, it sees energy. The issue here is to make sure we maximize the opportunities within a given file to balance the system for the farmer. The reality always comes back to the following: Farmers want to have a successful business. The biggest issue every day of the week is to make sure that farmers have the opportunity to have a profitable future.”
McCabe, who farms 70 acres at Inwood, in Lambton County, served as vice-president of the OFA from 2008 to 2014 and is the former fire chief of the Inwood Fire Department.
McCabe went to a climate conference in Paris, France, a year ago. But the OFA didn’t financially support the trip as it was mostly paid for by Ontario Agri-Food Technologies, a non-profit group made up of members from grower associations, universities/colleges, industry and regional governments.
McCabe was scheduled to leave for a week to attend a climate change conference in Morocco on Nov. 6. The Canadian Federation of Agriculture was to pay for that trip, he said. McCabe said the trips give Ontario farmers the opportunity to speak to multinational corporations and governments about what farmers require with changing rules and regulations.
“If you don’t show up at the table, you’re on the table, and you’ll be carved up,” he said. “So be at the table to make sure your voice is heard. Communication is absolutely paramount.
When asked about his position on manmade global warming, McCabe replied: “The particular issue is not whether there is manmade global warming or not. The reality is that governments of the world have decided there is manmade global warming and they are placing a price on carbon. Therefore, the position of the OFA on pricing carbon is that cap-and-trade is the best method forward to allow agriculture to participate in helping to be a solution provider.”
McCabe said he no longer chairs OFA meetings to allow others the opportunity to get experience.
Currie, an eighth-generation farmer, said members sometimes don’t realize the impact the OFA has on government decisions. The move to cut back on neonicotinoids — a seed-coated insecticide — might have been a complete ban if the OFA had walked away from discussions, said McCabe and Currie.
“That whole issue was unfortunately based on emotion and not on science,” said Currie. “What I can tell you is that before we had some discussions with the government, there was a complete ban on the product that was being proposed. Are we happy with where we are? Absolutely not. But we went from a complete ban to at least having the opportunity to utilize the product where we can prove that there’s a need.”
Currie said there might be an opportunity to make further changes to the regulations.
Currie spent the last three years as a OFA vice-president and has been with the OFA in some capacity for 25 years. He said getting the province on board with the natural gas project is one of his main goals.
“For natural gas it is very simple: $75 million a year over the next 20 years of their investment will be turned into $1 billion per year in revenue,” he said. “That’s pretty easy math. That’s a pretty easy argument.”
Currie explained the OFA is in discussions with 12 to 15 different provincial ministries, which can lead to a perception that the OFA is too cosy with the Liberal party.
“The simple reality is we’re cosy with whoever’s in power because we have to be,” he said. “We spend a lot of time building up relationships with staff and government because we need to talk to them.”
Two other board members — Peggy Brekveld and Debra Pretty-Straathof— are running for vice-president. There are two vice-presidents each year, so both will be acclaimed if no one else steps forward. However, those who lose in the election for president can then run for vice-president.
Brekveld, a Thunder Bay dairy farmer, has been the OFA vice-president for the past two years. She and her husband run a 50-cow dairy operation.
Pretty-Straathof, an Arnprior dairy farmer, is looking for her third non-consecutive term as OFA vice-president. She has served agricultural organizations at the local, provincial and national levels for more than 20 years.