McCabe takes Environment Commissioner on a crop tour

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Don McCabe is hopeful a crop tour of Lambton, Kent and Middlesex farms has opened the eyes of Ontario’s new Environment Commissioner.

Dianne Sax’s introduction to Ontario’s farm community was a bit bumpy. After being appointed, Sax took aim at fuel subsides including those given to farmers for coloured fuels saying they should be eliminated.

That worried McCabe, the president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture. He was in Toronto and decided to visit the commissioners office. While he didn’t get a chance to talk to Sax, they caught up by phone.  “She said she was brand new to the job and would like to learn more about agriculture,” says McCabe. So he thought there would be no better way of highlighting some of the issues than by visiting farms in Lambton, Kent and Middlesex Counties.

While farmers were concerned about Sax’s desire to change the fuel tax rules, McCabe says there are a host of environmental problems which the Ontario government which directly affect farm families. McCabe says society calls for “carbon cap and trade, phosphorous control and (moves to protect) pollinator health and by the way, we want to eat and keep our food basket as cheap as possible.

“The commissioner needed to see the work farmers do.”

So Sax visited a number of farms and agri-businesses as well as biotech companies on the tour, including Kevin Forbes dairy operation on Churchill Line and the Belan family farm in Dawn-Euphemia.

And it made an impression. “I think that the perception that there is a battle between farmers and those who care about the environment has been a misconception,” Sax told The Independent. “Many of the most passionate environmentalists are so because they have a deep love for the land and the landscape and they have an enormous respect for those who grow their food,” she says adding farmers share that trait.

Sax was most impressed with the strides the farm community is making to improve soil health saying it is a good example of where farmers and environmentalist have the same perspective.

And she’s pleased to learn farmers are doing what they can to reduce the amount of phosphorous going into the water ways – something which has lead to poor water quality in Lake Erie in particular.

“I asked during the tour do farmers have the tools now…to reduce their phosphorous input down 40 per cent and  they do. Are they using them, yes they are and that is very encouraging.”

McCabe also found the tour with the commissioner encouraging. “I found Dianne sax to be very inquisitive asking questions at every stop trying to get a deeper understanding of what farmers do and how they do it,” he says.

And he hopes that means the OFA will be able to help the commissioner shape legislation in the future. “The reality is when you write a regulation…you put the wrong words on there and you’re putting a barrier to opportunity that we could have avoided.”

As for the fuel subsidy, Sax says there are about half a billion dollars spent each year to subsidize fossil fuels and $28 million of that goes to farms.

Sax says the money could be better spent on clean industries “We would get less climate damage if we directed it to things that do more to help – would that be better.”

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