The latest group of members leading the Dundas Federation of Agriculture (DFA) were elected to their board on Fri., March 4 at the DFA annual general meeting held in Morewood. Left to right are Jackie Kelly-Pemberton, Zone 11 OFA director, Dave Pemberton, DFA director, David Kerr, DFA director, Stephen Mellon, DFA-PAC representative, Marty Derks, DFA vice president, Ryan Devries, DFA president, Andy Corput, DFA director, Jan Roosendaal, DFA director, Tom MacGregor, DFA director, and Erin Chambers DFA secretary. Absent is Warren Schneckenburger, DFA director. Morin Photo

MOREWOOD – Raising agricultural awareness, celebrating the farm, farmland preservation and mental health were just a few of the issues raised at the annual general meeting, (AGM) of the Dundas Federation of Agriculture, (DFA) held on Fri., March 4.

The meeting was held at the Glen Haven Farms, owned and operated by the MacGregor family in Morewood.

The meeting featured a presentation by Brian Rijke of Rijke Produce Farm in Morrisburg. Brian and Jenny Rijke operate the farm, which was the winner of the South Dundas New Business Award in 2021.

Rijke was followed by the meeting’s guest speaker Peggy Brekveld, Ontario Federation of Agriculture president.

OFA director for Zone 11, Jackie Pemberton also gave a presentation to wrap up the meeting and South Dundas Mayor Stephen Byvelds and North Dundas Mayor Tony Fraser gave brief comments at the end of the meeting, expressing their concerns along with optimistic thoughts about the future.

The AGM was the first in-person meeting of the group in a while, and it enjoyed a healthy turnout of members.

The organization also selected a new board of directors, president, vice president, secretary, and DFA-PAC representative.

Ryan Devries is the president of the DFA, Marty Derks is the vice president, Erin Chambers the secretary and Stephen Mellon the DFA-PAC representative.

North Dundas directors are Tom MacGregor, Jan Roosendaal and David Kerr. South Dundas directors are Warren Schneckenburger, Dave Pemberton, Andy Corput and Tom Smyth. There is still room at the table for another director.

Devries kicked off the meeting by saying how nice it was to be able to meet in person after all this time of virtual meetings during the pandemic.

Guest speaker Peggy Brekveld spoke about the challenges the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) was facing and some of the strategies the federation was working on to deal with various challenges.

She said this meeting was the first for her this year.

She talked about challenges such as mental health, farmland preservation, and labour issues, increasing input costs, rural broadband, and trespassing.

“Most farmers think in terms of generations, not years and I think our mission statement reflects that. “She reminded everyone that the staff of the OFA was ready to help them whenever they encountered their own challenges.

She said most of Ontario’s farms were land based and once that was taken away it rarely, if ever, comes back.

“Farms matter to everyone,” she said.

“It is all about there being communications between farmers, and people on the ground, and politicians, and decision makers.”

She explained, “Most of you have been involved with OFA for a while. We are a membership of 38,000 across the province. “In the last couple of years, we have had a very strong focus on mental health. Even before Covid the numbers were extremely shocking. So many of our farmers sometimes struggle. It is a tough job,” she said.

Progress has been made with establishment of a farmer’s mental health hotline that can be called.

She admitted that there were many things that were out of a farmer’s control, and they had to find ways to deal with that.

She expressed her concern about the increase of input costs for farmers.

She agreed that all costs have gone up including the cost of fuel that farmers need for their tractors.

“We have concerns.”

She said there are enormous pressures on farms. “We need to be both environmentally, socially and economically viable.”

She said rural broadband was an important issue as modern farms needed the internet to stay connected to the marketplace and their customers.

“We still see some challenges with trespassers.”

“What we have done differently in the last two years is really engage in raising the profile of agriculture, and not just amongst our farmers; they know these things already.”

One of the topics discussed at the meeting was the realization that there was only so much land to develop, and decisions to develop good farmland into housing to help urban areas grow, ran the risk if not well thought out.

Brekveld stressed that ensuring that did not happen depended on the farming community being actively involved in that kind of decision-making.

She said the recent Affordable Housing Task Force had highlighted several issues such as: house prices that have increased by 180 per cent, at the end of 2021 the average house price was $923,000; Ontario has to build 1.5 million homes in the next decade, and amend its Planning Act, provincial policy statement and growth plans.

The province has concluded that there are several ways to intensify, like building inwards and building up, and building outside existing municipal boundaries must be part of the solution.

Brekveld stressed that the farming community had to be part of the conversation the province was having, over how to satisfy housing demands while protecting farmland.