The Ontario Greenbelt
Grape and tender fruit boards lobby to cash in “rain che
April 18, 2008 By Jim Meyers
Ontario’s grape and tender fruit
marketing boards haven’t given up the good fight to convince the
provincial government that farming in Niagara isn’t the same as
elsewhere in the new greenbelt.
Grape and tender fruit boards lobby to cash in “rain checks”
Ontario’s grape and tender fruit marketing boards haven’t given up the good fight to convince the provincial government that farming in Niagara isn’t the same as elsewhere in the new greenbelt.
And even though the Grape Growers of Ontario and the Tender Fruit Producers’ Marketing Board felt they weren’t listened to at task force meetings and at a second round of meetings that included government officials, both feel that Queen’s Park has to listen now that the greenbelt has gone from fuzzy theoretical concept to hard reality.
“You’ve locked us into agriculture, now help us,” re-elected tender fruit board chairman Len Troup said about the fact land in Niagara below the Niagara Escarpment will now be in a heavily restricted agricultural preserve within the 723,400 hectare greenbelt that stretches around the western end of Lake Ontario.
“We’re hoping to get things in lieu of cash,” he said about a wish list of “rain check” items from the two rounds of public hearings. So does the GGO and both groups will be bringing these rain check issues back to the table in the third phase of the act, which will involve the implementation and fine tuning of the Liberal government’s Greenbelt.
Both commodity groups have been chatting-up politicians and officials responsible for writing the rules for the greenbelt since the legislation was passed at the end of February. They feel the government may now be in the mood to give back to farmers – the largest group of landowners – through programs that don’t amount to direct compensation to individual landowners.
Since farmers own at least half the land in the greenbelt, they should comprise half of commission members said Len Troup, adding there should also be a Niagara subcommittee to advise the greenbelt governing agency “so that all the small (farming) issues can be dealt with sensibly.
“We want real-life farmers on boards and commissions and not Toronto high-rise people,” he said. “Otherwise, you’ll continue to get dumb decisions.”
One of those “dumb” decisions was a minimum farm severance of 40 acres (16 hectares). That may work well in other areas of the greenbelt where farms are larger and intact but not in the greenbelt area of Niagara where 80 per cent of the farms can’t be severed because they are less than 80 acres in size and are often split into patchwork holdings.
A challenge from a young Niagara-on-the-Lake grape grower seeking to buy 22 acres of fallow land from his neighbour to almost double his 28-acre vineyard was denied. John Gerestson, the Minister of Municipal Affairs, said there was really no issue because the land would have to be farmed anyway because it’s in the greenbelt. Ministry officials are reviewing the proposed severance.
Another issue is compensation for the loss of farm retirement lots which Debbie Zimmeran, GGO executive director and former Niagara Region chairman, estimates to be a $50-million item. It was a thorny issue in Niagara when she was chairman and cast the deciding vote for individual municipalities to decide.
The GGO has proposed payment in-kind to be spread over 10 years. It would be ploughed back into the rural economy and paid to Niagara municipalities in the greenbelt, to farm organizations like the GGO, and to individual farmers for projects they may undertake.
Zimmerman would like to see a chunk of that money go to research work being done for Niagara growers at the horticultural research station in Vineland Station that is now part of the University of Guelph. The marketing board is asking the provincial government for more Ontario grape content in blended wine, more LCBO shelf space, support for VQA-only stores (Vintner’s Quality Alliance), and VQA wine sales in grocery stores.
“In the short term, the government could change the winery retail store system, especially now that greenbelt legislation has been forced on growers,” she said. “You want us to preserve the land, (then) we’re now going to cash in,” she said, echoing the sentiment of Troup’s call for rain checks.
Trouop’s also looking for money for an irrigation system that’s now being studied by regional council and will take a year or two before it’s ready.
“When it is (ready), you can be absolutely sure we’ll be on the doorstep of the provincial government demanding a major contribution, and I don’t think they would dare to deny us,” Troup said.
He figures that’s also the same amount of time before the next provincial election.
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