CHESTERVILLE – Marty Derks was named the new president of the Dundas Federation of Agriculture (DFA) at their annual general meeting Mon., March 12 at the Nelson LaPrade Centre.
Derks served as vice-president last year and steps into the top role vacated by Steven Byvelds. Ryan Devries was named vice-president.
Derks takes over at a crucial time for the DFA with both municipal and provincial elections looming this year. North Dundas councillor Tony Fraser, who has publicly announced his intention to run for mayor this year, was present and took the opportunity to address the members concerning the hotly debated burn ban.
Fraser reassured the farmers that when the burn ban bylaw is eventually finalized, there will be no surprises, but that the long process has set everything back.
“No one will be caught off guard with this. Some of us at council have been surprised by how long this has taken to get to this stage. At this point, 2018 is almost off the table to implement the plan.”
Some members took the opportunity to voice their opinion that local farmers’ concerns aren’t being heard by council, but outgoing president Byvelds urged them to attend their local council sessions to make their presence known.
“If we have something that we have an issue with as an agricultural community or any community, fill up council chambers. It’s really hard to ignore that pressure when you’re sitting there. This year it will be enormous,” said Byvelds.
That was the theme for most of the meeting as local and provincial elections inevitably brings change. In his final address as president, Byvelds drove home that point not only to the DFA members gathered there, but to all farmers in the area.
“Agriculture needs to have its voice heard, not only from the organization’s point of view, but from many producers as well. We cannot assume that candidates know agriculture and will ask for our input. We must get out and question them on where they think agriculture fits in their economic profile of Ontario and our local municipality,” he said.
Byvelds also encouraged farmers to get out and see the different challenges facing the future of agriculture around the world.
“We’ve got to keep in mind where we’re going in agriculture. I do see challenges and I’m glad that some of the younger people have stepped up and accepted those challenges because it’s a big world out there. I just came back from California and seeing what eastern block countries and Russia are capable of, we’re a pretty small dimple in the world. We’ve got to recognize that and carve out our little niche in it and that we’re not the big apple in the tree. We’re a part of it and we’re important, but we’ve got to recognize our place in the world and defend it,” he said.
Education and a constantly evolving perception of what farming is to people that have never seen an agriculture operation firsthand is another challenge that must be faced head-on, according to Byvelds.
“Certainly a lot of us complain that society doesn’t know what agriculture is all about. Some live in a dark world where they knew nothing or knew enough and they were all right with it. The new generation wants to know all. And all is a lot. And they might not like what they see with all. We have to adjust with a new thinking in agriculture. The local movement has certainly brought a lot of change even to our area and maybe that’s a forte we can go on, but it certainly can’t be the only one,” he said.
Jackie Kelly-Pemberton, District 11 Director with the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, presented the Producing Prosperity campaign, which will be used to highlight the vision for distributed economic development to support agriculture. A large part of the presentation focused on strong and vibrant communities to ensure that services to support agricultural business and rural families remain in place and thrive. The other driving factor behind this campaign is that farming is becoming a foreign concept to politicians and the public at large.
According to Pemberton, having a unified message is critical especially in an election year.
“Agriculture represents $56 billion in economic activity and agri-food systems creates one in eight jobs in the province,” said Pemberton. “It’s something new that OFA has never done before, this method of campaigning. I think it’s a good way to go. We’re better together, we’re joined by both the Eastern and Western boards, we all have the same message.”
The Producing Prosperity campaign will be on full display this week during the Ottawa Valley Farm Show at the EY Centre.
The DFA is also still trying to find a suitable replacement for the secretary and treasurer role vacated at the end of 2017 by Mary Dillabough.