To say that this year has been a challenging one in farming would be an understatement. There are few growing seasons in my farming career that have seen the wildly swinging weather patterns we have been experiencing and are continuing to deal with as 2019 progresses.
An extremely wet spring with prolonged cool temperatures got us off to a slow start, regardless of the crops we grow, and now many areas of the province are dealing with the exact opposite problem – not enough rain. Whether or not we can lay the blame for this unpredictability at the feet of climate change is not the topic of this column, but there’s no doubt that our new reality is one of more extreme weather events.
Our hot temperatures are hotter than they’ve generally been in the past with records being broken in many parts of the globe this year already, and when we get rain, we get more of it during shorter time periods than what we’ve long considered as “normal.”
The big question for us as growers in the short term is what this does to our ability to manage our crops – and longer term, what this climatic unpredictability could mean for food security and our ability to feed ourselves.
But the unpredictability we’re facing isn’t just limited to the weather. We’ve also been riding a rollercoaster with respect to our trade environment. Political turmoil in the U.S., the new trend towards politics by tweet and the disruption of long-standing global trade relationships are all taking their toll on the Canadian economy as well.
Sometimes it’s a direct hit, like when the U.S. levied tariffs on Canadian steel, and other times we are just collateral damage in larger upheaval such as growing tensions between the U.S. and China. The challenge is the uncertainty of not knowing what might come next and when. The underlying message for growers in all of this is that we need to be prepared – and yes, that can be difficult when you don’t know exactly what to prepare for.
So what is your grower organization doing about this?
We’re making sure we continue to have strong relationships with our provincial and federal governments so that when the next crisis hits, political leaders know who we are and how they can help us weather the storm. For example, that includes lobbying for robust safety nets programs and other support systems, such as financial protection legislation that ensure growers are paid for the produce they sell, that can help farm businesses while our industry works to address longer-term solutions.
Those longer-term solutions include diversifying our trade relationships beyond just our traditional partnerships with the United States – and we have more available opportunities before us than we’ve had in a long time. For example, we have a new free trade agreement with the 28-member European Union as well as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) between Canada and 10 other countries in the Asia-Pacific region.
OFVGA members, such as the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers, are actively participating in international missions to build new trading relationships.
The OFVGA provides directors, staff support and financial contributions to the Canadian Horticultural Council (CHC) to ensure a strong national voice for our sector. I serve as a director on the CHC board, OFVGA board members Brian Gilroy and Jan VanderHout are CHC’s president and first vice-president respectively, and other Ontario representatives serve on CHC’s committees.
OFVGA was at the table during the lengthy trade negotiations with the United States and Mexico to revamp the North American Free Trade Agreement to make sure officials were aware of the challenges of perishable horticultural products.
As OFVGA chair, I represented Ontario horticulture at the recent federal-provincial-territorial ministers of agriculture meetings in Quebec City and will be attending the United Fresh Washington Conference, a produce-industry advocacy event in Washington D.C., this month.
The very global nature of our markets makes it important for us to build relationships beyond our provincial borders and keep on top of developments in other regions that may well have impact on what we do in our fields, orchards, vineyards and greenhouses.
In many ways, we’re in uncharted waters and it can be difficult to predict what the future will bring. But the OFVGA will continue to do its best to represent the needs of Ontario fruit and vegetable growers – and if you have thoughts, ideas or suggestions, we’d be pleased to hear from you.