On September 12th, the Durham Agricultural Advisory Committee (DAAC) hosted their 17th annual farm tour showcasing Willowtree Farm in Port Perry, with this years theme being “Farm to table in Durham Region.” The event drew a cross section of over 100 political and government representatives, educators, and members of pubic agencies who were invited to tour the farm to learn and experience, first-hand, some examples of the range of innovation and technology that Durham farmers utilize contributing, when estimated in 2017, approximately 321.7 million to Ontario’s total farm production. The lively event, complete with a mouth-watering buffet of local beef, vegetables and fruit, resourced locally, celebrated the successes of Durham’s agri-business and invited engagement and further partnership development between the participants. In a press release provided by Durham Region, Zac Cohoon, Chair of DAAC, stated “the purpose of this year’s tour is to showcase how diverse a farm-based agricultural operation can be, and to provide participants with a better understanding of agriculture, and the opportunities and challenges in Durham Region.” This event is just one of many initiatives that Durham Region sponsors as it works towards creating opportunities for growth in this sector. According to statistics obtained from 2017, Durham Region’s agricultural sector has experienced momentum in the last 30 years. The Region is 80% rural, and although current farming land usage has gone down by approximately 80 thousand acres since 1981, leaving it currently as 292,813 acres being shared amongst 1,323 farms, gross farm receipts rose by 34 million from 2006 to an estimated income of over 320 million, and providing employment for 25,657 people. Durham Region’s Agricultural Strategy is a comprehensive guide which outlines its continued efforts in developing infrastructure for agriculture. As well, provincial and federal assistance is coming to Durham as demonstrated by the recent announcement by Ernie Hardeman – Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, that through a federal and provincial partnership, 417 million will now be invested into Ontario’s agri-business. The Standard Newspaper contacted Simon Gill, Director, Economic Development and Tourism-Durham Region, and asked questions on how this money will be used to support Durham’s farmers and related agri-businesses, and to take a closer look at the outcomes of the Durham Region ‘Agricultural Strategy (2013-2018)’ Information on recent and current projects in this question and answer exchange provides an overview of the active role the Region has taken to promote, invest and remain committed to agri-business in Durham.
Q: Can you elaborate on your role in “providing a supportive environment for the agricultural and agri-food industry in Durham Region”?
A: Attracting, Retaining, and Expanding Agriculture and Agri-Food Businesses:
*Durham Economic Development and Tourism division is hosting Gates Open: Find Your Flavour on October 5th, in partnership with the Durham Farm Fresh Marketing Association, to promote local farm and agri-food producers. Farms will be open to the public for one day, for visitors to tour around and experience local food and learn about production – https://www.durham.ca/Modules/News/index.aspx?newsId=84200f3f-5c18-4d50-8028-5b33d852814b *Durham Economic Development and Tourism Division is exhibiting at the Royal Winter Fair this year and bringing a number of local agri-businesses to showcase the Region’s vibrant and diverse agricultural offerings. It will be a great way to show Ontario residents outside the Region some of the great things the sector has to offer. · Conducted a Local Food Business Retention & Expansion (BR&E) project in 2018.
oMore than 60 Durham Region local food businesses participated in face to face interviews.
OThe survey highlighted numerous opportunities for the local food sector in Durham Region.
oSurvey responses indicate that local food businesses are healthy, growing and have a positive outlook.
oCurrently implementing the action plan with feedback being incorporated into the Region of Durham Agricultural Strategy. · Annually Durham Region hosts a series of workshops to help agri-businesses grow their businesses. Two recent examples are: o“Exploring Value-Added Opportunities” – participants learned skills to make better decisions and increase profits by learning how to: Generate new ideas for value-added products and services; Assess business potential; Identify and manage potential risks; and Determine and plan what it takes to turn an idea into reality. o“Navigating On-Farm Value Added” – the aim of the workshop was to: Inform farmers of the potential pitfalls and rewards of adding a new farm enterprise; Integrate stakeholders and share best practices, resources and knowledge; Initiate conversations around what regulatory changes should be made to foster growth; Inspire farmers to dream up new ways to add value to their business.
Maintaining a Supportive Policy Environment:
· In 2019, the Region launched, Envision Durham – the Municipal Comprehensive Review of our Official Plan. oAs part of Envision Durham a series of discussion papers are being released to help facilitate discussion and input. The first discussion paper was Agriculture and Rural Systems with ties to the Region of Durham Agricultural Strategy. · Regularly attend Durham Agricultural Advisory Committee (DAAC) meetings and assist where required to address agricultural and rural issues. · Municipal partner of the Golden Horseshoe Food and Farming Alliance. oThe GHFFA was formed in 2012, and is comprised of the Regional Municipalities of Durham, Halton, Peel, York and Niagara, the Cities of Toronto and Hamilton, Federations of Agriculture, the Province of Ontario, the Federal Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, non-profits and other agricultural industry stakeholders. oThis multiple partner approach enables the Region to share resources and respond to agricultural issues with a common voice that: §Provides a blueprint for a more integrated and coordinated approach to food and farming viability, ensuring that the Golden Horseshoe retains, enhances, and expands its role as a leading food and farming cluster in North America. §Focuses on removing barriers and enhancing the opportunities to promote a competitive and sustainable food and farming sector in the Golden Horseshoe.
Supporting an Agricultural Labour Force:
·Durham Economic Development provides annual support for the Durham Farm Connections high school program designed to encourage students to consider careers in the agri-business field, by making them aware of the career paths available in this multi-faceted industry. ·Collaborate with post secondary educational institutions to connect student skill sets with agri-business job opportunities. ·Collaborate with the Durham Workforce Authority who was a key partner on the Local Food BR+E.
Durham Economic Development is currently refreshing its Agriculture Strategy. Durham Economic Development has undertaken an extensive consultation with the agricultural community to find out what support they need for the sector to grow. One key feedback that we received was to offer programs that support the next generation of farmers in Durham through enabling easier implementation of on-farm diversified uses and Agri-tourism uses.
Q: In 2017 there were 682,250 residents in Durham, but it is projected that our community will have one million residents in 12 years or, 2031. Will land development, to accommodate these new residents, take up the farmland that we already have?
A: Lands within the current urban boundary are to accommodate growth to the year 2031. The Region is currently undergoing a municipal comprehensive review of the Regional Official Plan which includes a study to determine whether there will be a need to expand the urban area boundary to accommodate projected growth to the year 2041. More information is available at www.durham.ca/envisiondurham
Q: Through the Canadian Agriculture Partnership, the federal and provincial governments are investing up to $417 million to expand and innovate the agriculture sector in Ontario. What will that mean for Durham?
A: We provide support to agri-businesses who apply for grants and funding including programs through the Canadian Agriculture Partnership. We also host Ontario Soil & Crop Improvement Association Workshops (OSCIA) who deliver partnership cost-share funding programs to producers and associated other agri-business operations.