CHESTERVILLE – The annual general meeting for the Dundas Federation of Agriculture (DFA) recapped a year that would keep the most diligent farmer busy.

“It was probably one of the most unique years in the last 50,” remarked DFA president Marty Derks in his opening statement at the Nelson LaPrade Centre Fri., March 29.

He went on to highlight the year’s events, including hosting debates for the provincial elections and municipal elections in North and South Dundas, as well as co-ordinating with South Nation Conservation for a much-needed drainage day.

“We felt that some of the principles behind municipal drainage had been lost to everyone involved in municipal drains. We wanted to re-inform everyone of your rights and responsibilities and things that farmers should be doing for themselves,” said Derks.

The DFA has taken a more active approach to lobby policy makers, MPs, MPPs and their staff, as evidenced by their approach at Ottawa Valley Farm Show, which saw positive growth in their second year.

The Dundas Federation of Agriculture elected their 2019 executive and directors. Pictured are Tom MacGregor (back left), Bernie VanderZweep, Andy Corput, Jan Roosendaal, David Kerr and Albert Harbers, Policy Advisory Councillor. Erin Chambers, secretary and treasurer (front left); Ryan Devries, vice-president; Marty Derks, president and Jackie Pemberton, OFA Zone 11 director. Absent: Jim Shaw and Warren Schneckenburger. Schoch Photo

“We took the opportunity to really explain to them what’s changing, what’s going on and what’s coming up. It was really an opportunity to explain our concerns,” said Derks. “I think our time and energy is well spent at the lobby day at the Ottawa Valley Farm Show.”

The DFA president also had the opportunity in December 2018 to speak with the agricultural committee on Parliament Hill about the growing labour shortage gap, and how technology and unattended operations can fill that void.

“The technology is there, but we can’t even use it,” said Derks. “We thoroughly spoke about the labour shortage as I’m sure anyone that has an operating farm knows how difficult it is to find anyone to work for you.”

As is normally the case, a new DFA executive was named, but it saw little change with Derks and vice-president Ryan Devries returning in their roles for another year.

Tom MacGregor, Jan Roosendaal, David Kerr, Jim Shaw, Warren Schneckenburger, Andy Corput and Bernie VanderZweep were named directors with the eighth and final director position left temporarily vacant.

Ontario Federation of Agriculture Zone 11 director Jackie Pemberton labelled her first full term in the position “an interesting year” adding that she experienced a “learning curve of how the governance of a provincial board works.”

Pemberton also assured those in attendance that the OFA was working with all partners to monitor potential changes to the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act and “that agriculture has some input in that.” As of Sun., March 31, the OSPCA will not investigate animal welfare cases and enforce animal cruelty laws regarding livestock.

Pemberton also donned her other hat as a policy advisor councillor for the Alternative Land Use System (ALUS) and presented a strong case for farmers to work with the not-for-profit organization.

Active in six provinces, ALUS works with farmers to produce ecological services on Canadian farmland by restoring wetlands, reforesting and planting windbreaks, installing riparian buffers, managing sustainable drainage systems and establishing other beneficial projects.

Annual payments to the farmer who takes the land out of active operation ensures the success of each ALUS project.

The East Region, which covers the Raisin Region and South Nation Conservation jurisdiction, currently has 35 participating farms with more than 60 active projects and they are currently looking for locations in the Morrisburg and Chesterville area.

Pemberton, who has installed a pollinator hedgerow on her own farm, thinks the success and advancement of this type of program shows that farmers have an active interest in environmental stewardship.

“Farmers, for the most part, are very involved and engaged about soil health. I think we just need to take it bit further. We’ve developed best management practices around buffers, but they’re not regulatory. So to continue with those non-enforcement regulations we need to up our public perception that we are fostering good management practices on the land. ALUS is an avenue to support that, same with the clean water program,” she said.