Article by Andy Bader, Sudbury Star
Farmers and municipal politicians need to continue to work together as both evolve, the Perth County Municipal Association was told during their 72nd annual meeting Nov. 18.
Paul Nairn, a Perth County native, was the keynote speaker at the meeting, held digitally through Zoom and hosted by the town of St. Marys. Nairn, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture’s Manager of Member Services for the province’s western and southern regions, spoke about “changes, struggles and successes” and reminded the politicians from across the county that agriculture is the lifeblood, or “engine”, that drives things locally.
“It’s an old adage that we need to tear down silos,” he said, showing a photo of a torn down silo abruptly taken down just days earlier in the Guelph area after a large wind storm struck the region. “I think we’re all guilty of this, we all have our work world to contend with but at times we do need to tear down that silo and see what everyone else is doing around us.”
Nairn added that just by putting together this hour-long presentation, it opened his eyes in terms of the opportunities and possibilities for collaboration there is among farm organizations and municipal politicians.
“We’ve got to tear down some silos, we’ve got to get together and discuss areas of mutual interest, collaborate … you never know what ideas can develop from sitting down and talking,” he said. “I’m not going to say we’re going to agree on everything and certainly we’re coming at things with our own biases but that’s human nature. But I do think there’s an opportunity to sit down and talk.”
According to the 2016 census, there are 2,231 farms in Perth County – almost one-third of which are in Perth East – that grossed $838 million in total farm cash receipts and employed more than 8,800 people. In reality, he said, based on the numbers alone, Perth County should have their own ministry of agriculture, as they outrank some eastern Canadian provinces.
There are small, medium and large farms, of course, and “all farms contribute to this economic powerhouse,” Nairn said.
Just like any business, the same economic factors drive whether each farmer wants to increase production, or units sold, or seek specialty markets, in order to remain competitive in an evolving world. Based on the 2016 census, poultry farming in Perth County surpassed beef, indicating that evolution behind the “big four” of dairy, hog, soybean and corn production.
Nairn highlighted the new opportunities that are taking place across the county with the development of the craft beer and cider market, as an example; increased grapes and wine production and, further west in Ontario, in cannabis production, all with the assistance of technology and science. He said strawberries are grown in greenhouses in Perth County, lengthening their season, and farmers are producing sweet potatoes and lamb to meet the needs of ethnic consumers – something that was unheard of 20-25 years ago.
Comparing census data from a 10-year span, 2006 to 2016, West Perth had 521 farms, down from 582 a decade earlier, while Perth East had 795, a reduction from 898. North Perth had 507 farms, or 57 less than what they had in 2006, while farms actually slightly increased in number in Perth South, from 394 in ’06 to 408.