October 4, 2023

SOUTHWEST MIDDLESEX – We know that agriculture is very important to Middlesex County, but it is always interesting to have more precise data to understand this fact. During the last Southwest Middlesex council meeting, the Middlesex Federation of Agriculture delegation made up of Ian Brebner, executive director, and Karen Mclean, Ontario Federation of Agriculture member service representative, discussed various valuable facts about agriculture in the county and the importance of new lifestyles linked to rural areas.

Mclean mentioned that based on the 2021 census, the county had over 2,500 farms, covering approximately 620,000 acres of land. On average, each farm covers around 250 acres of land. A notable aspect of the agricultural sector in Middlesex County is the direct sale of farm products to consumers. About 8% of farms sell their products directly to consumers, while 133 farms have stands or pick-your-own operations on their premises, contributing to the buy-local initiative. In terms of economic contributions, the local agri-food sector plays a vital role. It employs a staggering 28,000 individuals across 4,600 agri-food businesses, and these establishments generate an impressive $1.3 billion in farm cash receipts. Middlesex County ranks among the top three producers in Ontario for grains and oilseeds, poultry and eggs, and hogs, further solidifying its agricultural prominence. In terms of sustainable practices, approximately 16.9% of farms in Middlesex County generate renewable energy through solar, bioenergy, and wind power.

Moreover, the representation of female farm operators is increasing, with 30% of farm operators being women. Additionally, 56% of farms are classified as small farms, with revenues below CAD 100,000. Overall, the 2021 census data highlights the thriving agricultural landscape of Middlesex County, showcasing its extensive farm count, direct consumer engagement, substantial economic contributions, sustainability practices, and the continued prevalence of family-owned farms.

On the other hand, Ian Brebner commented that taxes have increased for everyone, particularly for farms, especially when farmers reinvest in their operations. Brebner expresses a desire to see a decrease in the percentages or amount of taxes paid by farms, so that the balance between what farms contribute and the services farmers receive becomes fairer and more aligned. Brebner acknowledges that farmers will have to wait and see how the farm value has changed before making any definitive conclusions or decisions. Furthermore, Brebner also mentioned their association with Bell, a company that has been hesitant to provide fiber connectivity in rural areas. The Middlesex Federation of Agriculture emphasize the importance of improved connectivity for farming, as the industry relies increasingly on technology. The overall message highlights the necessity of maintaining contact and communication with farmers to address their needs and reinforce the significance of agriculture.

Finally, Karen Mclean acknowledges that the demographics of rural municipalities are undergoing a shift, although they are uncertain about the exact implications of this change.

Mclean suggests that the transformation is influenced by lifestyle preferences. “The advancements in technology and the COVID-19 pandemic have allowed more people to work remotely, resulting in a desire to move away from urban centers”, Mclean said. As a result, individuals are seeking smaller towns or rural counties to live in, embracing a different way of life.

David Gomez, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Middlesex Banner

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