‘You have got to be optimistic’: Niagara farmers dealing with double whammy of climate change, cost increases

Means to help mitigate climate change, a boost to improve productivity and business risk management support will soon be offered to farmers and the agri-food sector in the province.

Beamsville farmer Jack Romagnoli, of Romagnoli Farms, said his orchards are constantly subjected to the weather. He would like to see a government initiative that supports and provides farmers with funding concerning climate change.

“In this day and age, you sure have to be an optimist to work as a farmer in this environment,” Romagnoli said. “You got an increased cost of labour and increased cost of supplies. It feels like everything's against you. So, you have got to be optimistic.”

The new five-year agreement between the governments of Canada and Ontario, announced by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, negotiated a Sustainable Canadian Agricultural Partnership (Sustainable CAP) for Ontario to “strengthen competitiveness, innovation, and resiliency of the agriculture, agri‐food and agri‐based products sector.”

Up to $1.77 billion will be invested in support for the agri-food sector in Ontario over the life of the agreement’s life. Through the Sustainable CAP, $569 million will be invested in strategic initiatives, which is a 25 per cent increase over the previous funding agreement.

According to the release by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, roughly $1.2 billion will be invested for “continued, demand-driven, business risk management supports for farmers.” It also includes $1 billion in federal programs and activities. $2.5 billion will be directed to cost-shared programs and activities by federal, provincial and territorial governments.

Romagnoli added that the new initiative for mitigating climate change would “potentially really help” farmers.

The agreement will incorporate a Resilient Agricultural Landscape Program (RALP), a funding initiative to tackle climate change and support the agricultural sector in addressing sustainable alternatives for farmers.

Ontario Tender Fruit Producers marketing board chair Phil Tregunno called the agreement “good news,” saying the continued risk management investment is “critical to mitigating extreme climate events (that) are occurring with greater frequency.”

“Producing fruit has been a challenge with inflation and supply chain issues, and to be successful in the future, research and innovation are definitely needed,” he added.

Drew Spoelstra, Binbrook farmer and vice-president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, said it’s great to see this agreement come to fruition ahead of its launch date and the ending of the previous CAP agreement.

The new agreement replaces the Canadian Agricultural Partnership (the Partnership). The programs will support the vision and priorities the federal, provincial and territorial agriculture ministers agreed to in 2021 in The Guelph Statement.

“The new SCAP agreement should offer many benefits to farmers in the region with hopes of growing their businesses for a sustainable future,” Spoelstra said. “Kudos to Ministers Bibeau and Thompson and everyone involved for their work to get this agreement in place for the 2023 growing season.”

In a release, Sam Oosterhoff, MPP for Niagara West, said the agreement will offer new opportunities “to make this world-class sector even stronger and position it to sustainably grow during and well beyond the term of this pact” and “support growers and farm families in Niagara and across the province for years to come."

Tom Neufeld of Neufeld Family Farm in Lincoln said he doesn’t mean to “diminish” the value of the new agreement to agriculture, but believes it's “cloaked in a business understanding” and that the rising costs of groceries — which have been hitting consumers specifically — “needs to be addressed.”

“Greater support for local initiatives of agriculture being successful is probably an important piece of the puzzle that it's not always addressed,” Neufeld said. “Something like farmers’ markets or some level of community-expressed intention.”

Neufeld added there are “good things” about the new agreement, but he thinks upcoming strategies are targeted to large corporate farms.

Details about the Sustainable CAP funding opportunities and programming will be posted online as they become available.

Beatriz Baleeiro, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Grimsby Lincoln News