Agriculture, by far and away, is the most significant economic driver of Norfolk County. Both now and into the future, farming issues demand a new political priority.
Historically, farmers were well represented in the political and planning process of the county. But political restructuring and the demands of a more urbanized society resulted in a burgeoning bureaucracy and a shift of political representation and priorities.
In response, Norfolk County council created an Agricultural Advisory Board (AAB) to articulate rural and farming issues.
Brett Schuyler, recently re-appointed chair of the committee, represents a new generation of Norfolk farmers.
“We’re representative county-wise and attracting full time farmers,” he said.
As a multi-generational farmer dating back to the earliest days of Norfolk County, Schuyler has a strong sense of the importance of agriculture and what it will take to maintain its important role.
Schuyler is heartened by the current representation on the advisory committee. He is particularly encouraged by the participation of a new generation of entrepreneurial farmers who reflect new trends in agriculture.
He cited new members such as John Picard of Picard Peanuts, Dusty Zamecnik of Home Town Brewery, Mike Bakos and Anita Buehner of Bonnieheath Winery and Lavender, along with Trish Fournier, James Hill, Doug Long, Murray McLaughlin, Erich Remler and Cornelius Meijaard.
Once the preserve of established traditional farmers, agricultural policy was primarily concerned with large scale land use. However, in the last generation both the nature and types of farming has transformed the rural landscape dramatically.
While preservation of farm land and agricultural production remains at the heart of their considerations, Schuyler said large acreage should no longer dominate the Official Plan. Large acreage crops such as tobacco, grain and corn have been bolstered by small specialty crops and on-farm value added enterprises.
On-farm value-added enterprises have proved to be a trend to enhance the viability and versatility of the agricultural sector. Not only are new businesses created, so too is employment and tourism..
“Today, people can make a living off two acres of land,” he explained.
These issues are currently under consideration by the AAB in an Official Plan and zoning bylaw review by Norfolk County Council
“If we don’t do it, agriculture doesn’t get heard,” Schuyler.
Among recent recommendations of the AAB is a request to support policies to permit wineries, craft beer or micro-breweries and distillers across Norfolk County and remove requirement to limit the use of locally grown fruit to 30 per cent.
The AAB has also been concerned with worker accommodations and suggested farmers be allowed to house workers “in the most efficient way possible.” They also voted for financial support of the new Fanshawe agri-business management program.