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OFA elects new president

Keith Currie now heads Ontario's largest farm organization

Keith Currie is the new president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture , defeating incumbent Don McCabe in an election this week at the farmer organization’s convention.

Currie emphasized the need for unity in the agriculture industry during his remarks before the vote.

It’s more important than ever for the agriculture industry to work together, he said, pointing to the ability of social media and other platforms that allow easy spread of anti-agriculture messages.

For example, there was friction between Grain Farmers of Ontario, the province’s largest commodity organization, and OFA due to disagreements on how to engage with the province on restrictions on the use of neonicotinoid insecticides.

“I worry that agriculture has built its own walls,” he said.

Currie runs a cash crop, sweet corn and forage operation near Collingwood, about 50 km west of Barrie, on an eighth-generation family farm. He was an OFA vice-president this past year. OFA presidents serve one-year terms, but often stand for re-election.

McCabe was running for his third term as president. The crop farmer from Inwood, about 50 km southeast of Sarnia, has worked hard to build government connections for farmers.

Provincial Environment and Climate Change Minister Glen Murray told the OFA annual meeting that McCabe has become one of the best-known voices on policy at Queen’s Park.

McCabe argued that he needed a third year as president in order for “all the pieces to come together”, including the upcoming federal-provincial policy framework.

Currie said in an interview he’s spent his adult life advocating for agriculture and taking on the OFA presidency was the next step.

“I’m a strong believer in what the OFA is and what it stands for and I was starting to see some fracturing in the agriculture community and I wanted to fix it,” he says. I want to lead the charge to bring the agriculture community back together.”

Currie pointed out that the industry in Ontario is huge, the largest industry, with more than 220 commodities produced.

“If we are collectively together, that ‘1.4 per cent of the population’ figure will be irrelevant because we will be too strong to stop. I want to head down that road as soon as we can.”

Current vice-president Peggy Brekveld was re-elected as vice-president, as was current board member Mark Reusser. A spot opened up when Currie was elected president and Brekveld, Reusser and Debra Pretty-Straathof all ran for the position.

Brekveld is a dairy farmer from Murillo, in northern Ontario; Reusser is a turkey farmer from Waterloo County.

A resolution from Wellington County to change how the president and vice-presidents are elected was defeated at the annual meeting. It sought to make the selection of president and vice-presidents the responsibility of the board of directors. They are currently elected by the about 300 delegates at the annual meeting.

There was concern from some delegates, such as Bev Hill from Huron County, that taking away the election of president and vice-president from the annual meeting would take power away from the grassroots of the organization.

“Not being able to participate reduces my motivation to come to this convention,” he said. “If I can’t participate in selection of leadership why would I come?”

Others, such as Sharon Weitzel from Perth County argue that most farm organizations have moved away from the direct election of president and vice-president and “it has been very successful for them.”

— John Greig is a field editor for Glacier FarmMedia based at Ailsa Craig, Ont. Follow him at @jgreig on Twitter.

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