There was some welcome news for farmers in the Ontario budget released last week. The provincial government announced new funding for veterinary training, and an agricultural soil health and conservation strategy, as well as ongoing investments into expanding high-speed internet access across Ontario.
All three of these areas are ones where the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) had identified a need for investment and had been encouraging the provincial government to support to ensure the ongoing resilience of our food system.
Last fall, our minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Lisa Thompson, announced the Grow Ontario Strategy to increase the production, consumption and manufacturing of Ontario food, as well as boost our annual provincial agri-food exports.
Our sector generates $47 billion in economic activity every year and supports over 750,000 jobs across the province, so we know we’re up to the challenge. The OFA has also been clear, however, that we’ll need support from the provincial government so we can achieve these goals together, and last week’s budget funding announcements are a sign that the government is hearing our concerns.
Together with our Ontario livestock commodity organization partners, OFA has identified the critical shortage of veterinarians in the livestock sector, particularly those practicing large animal medicine, as one of the biggest problems facing Ontario farmers. Veterinarians play a critical role in promoting and protecting the health and welfare of livestock, and limited veterinary capacity ultimately leaves people, animals and our food system at risk.
What OFA asked for: a multi-faceted solution that combines increased veterinary capacity and opportunities with programs and incentives. This ask has also been echoed by livestock farm organizations in Ontario.
What the province announced: an investment of $14.7 million over two years to launch a new collaborative Doctor of Veterinary Medicine program between the University of Guelph and Lakehead University in Thunder Bay. Additionally, the government has announced $900,000 over three years in student loan assistance for recently graduated veterinarians to practice livestock veterinary medicine in underserviced areas.
Another key area for farmers is soil health, which is part of the larger OFA priority of promoting and protecting our capacity to produce food. As a farmer, I know that soil is truly one of our most valuable resources and that we must take care to nurture and protect it if we expect it to continue to feed us sustainably in the future.
What OFA asked for: a soil health strategy that will support land stewardship and provide farmers with tools, like baseline soil health data and modernized soil health maps, to encourage even more widespread adoption of soil best management practices. This ask resulted from OFA’s participation in an industry-government collaboration known as the Soil Action Group.
What the province announced: a $9.5 million investment over three years for developing and implementing the Agricultural Soil Health and Conservation Strategy to improve soil data mapping, evaluation and monitoring in Ontario. It’s a long-term framework that will set the vision, goals and objectives for soil health and conservation in Ontario to 2030, with accompanying actions and methods to measure progress.
OFA has also long been encouraging the provincial government to invest in rural Ontario infrastructure. Transportation, energy, communication, schools and healthcare are key factors in determining where people choose to live and work, and where businesses choose to grow and invest. For rural communities to be successful in attracting new businesses and residents, they need long-term investments into roads, bridges, broadband and energy infrastructure.
The pandemic very clearly demonstrated, for example, that reliable and affordable high-speed internet access is no longer a luxury but an everyday essential that is critical to the day-to-day operations of businesses and daily lives of Ontarians.
What OFA asked for: although the province has already made significant progress in improving high-speed internet access to underserviced areas, it’s essential that the rollout of rural broad band infrastructure continues, and that current inefficiencies and barriers are addressed.
What the government announced: an investment of nearly $4 billion to ensure every community across Ontario has access to high-speed internet by the end of 2025, including more than $63 million to bring high-speed internet to 63,000 homes, businesses and farms through the Southwestern Integrated Fibre Technology (SWIFT) project.
We recognize that there are many more important issues impacting farms and rural communities that also need addressing, but we appreciate the steps the provincial government announced last week to support agriculture and help maintain healthy, safe and sustainable food production in Ontario.