TORONTO – Bette Jean Crews has hit the ground running.
The Trenton-area farmer was acclaimed president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture at its annual convention in Toronto last week. Crews has been a member of the executive committee for the last six years, serving as Vice- President for the last two terms.
Following a post-convention meeting with what she calls a very keen and enthusiastic new board she headed up the highway to Guelph on Thursday for a meeting with the Ontario Pork Producers and a visit to the Guelph Food Technology Centre.
Still on the fly, she headed back for an event in Toronto with Dwight Duncan, Minister of Revenue, before returning to her home near Trenton. "I heard the Premier might be there," says the woman whose focus is on lobbying and farm advocacy.
Crews starts her term with a new governance structure and is looking for some "real membership buy-in and engagement" for the new, pared-down 18-member board of directors and a Policy Advisory Council, which is made up of the county representatives. We’ve got a new board here that needs to prove it’s a better system, she says.
There are tough times ahead and Crews wants governments to see agriculture as part of the solution. "Governments need to remember what we contribute to the economy", she says, and look at maintaining and improving farm programs as an economic boost, not just a means of getting the farming community through those tough times.
Food processing is part of that economic boost and recovery. At the same time as the province of Ontario needs to increase manufacturing, the agriculture industry is in need of food processing facilities, Crews says.
A lack of federal slaughterhouses in Ontario, for example, is curtailing the export of sheep and lamb. If there is no lamb being exported or lamb on the shelves you can’t blame that on the producer, she adds.
Agriculture can’t play a role in the recovery unless farmers are on sound footing.
Ontario’s risk management pilot is set to run out soon and Crews is hoping the Federal government sees it for the good program that it is and applies it to the entire country.
The message from Crews is clear. The way out of the economic downturn is through agriculture.
Her long-term goals include moving on the Federal Growing Forward Plan and the Risk Management program. "Any business can deal with change," she says, but if, like livestock producers, you have to deal not only with a fluctuating dollar but the ramifications of disease you’re going to need help.
Convention-generated issues she’s eager to move ahead with include the ability of farmers to sell carbon credits for the environmental measures they practise, programs to assist young farmers and compensation for wildlife damage.
A tax issue, which has seen assessment increases of as much as 400 percent for farmers who were designated industrial for adding value to their products has yet to be solved and was a hot topic at the OFA Convention. It was expected that assessment changes from the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation were forthcoming but have yet to be announced. The move to eating local is good, she says, and the solution to the problem not all that difficult to fix.
Crews, her husband Colin and their four children raise fruit, grains, oilseeds and vegetables on an 800-acre family farm in southeastern Ontario. She has served on the OFA’s Farm Finance, Trade and Taxation Committee, Audit Committee, Rural Affairs Committee, the Rural Child Care Task Force, the Hydro Working Group, and the Small Business Tax Advisory committee. Crews is also the chair of the Agriculture Adaptation Council and is involved with the Canadian On-Farm Food Safety Working Group and the Ontario On-Farm Food Safety Committee.
The new OFA executive committee also includes, Lampton County’s Don McCabe and Mark Wales of Elgin County who were both elected to the position of vice-president at the convention. Wendy Omvlee was elected by the board to the executive committee.
Also elected were three directors at large to the 18-member board of directors. Joe Dickenson of Lambton County, Larry Davis of Brant County, and Peter Lambrick of Halton Region, join the 15 zone directors elected last fall.