No new information but the OFA continues to work behind the scenes for Wilmot and other farmers - Grant Haven
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No new information but the OFA continues to work behind the scenes for Wilmot and other farmers

No new information but the OFA continues to work behind the scenes for Wilmot and other farmers

By Lee Griffi, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The Waterloo Federation of Agriculture (WFA) and the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) continue to be disappointed at the ongoing lack of transparency and consultation in the land-use situation in Wilmot Township.

OFA president Drew Spoelstra said farmers in the area remain exasperated with the absence of any information from those behind the potential acquisition of 770 acres of prime farmland in Wilmot Township by the Region of Waterloo. 

“It’s frustrating for them because they don’t know what the future holds for farm businesses and their land and how things are going to go down. I think all they want is to be a part of the process, to be treated fairly and to know what the next steps are,” Spoelstra said.

The federation said it is continuing to work behind the scenes through conversations with government representatives about the future of the land in Wilmot and elsewhere in the province. 

“We are trying to make sure as much prime ag land in Ontario is preserved. We are also doing some internal work on expropriation, what that looks like for farmers and how they can be better treated throughout that process,” added Spoelstra. 

The OFA wants to ensure landowners receive fair compensation. 

“Farmers getting a lowball offer and the threat of expropriation isn’t the right way to do business.”

Municipalities implement official plans to establish strict guidelines on, among other things, future development. Spoelstra said his organization is extremely concerned at how the Region of Waterloo’s plan has been completely ignored throughout the pooling of shovel-ready land in Wilmot. 

“They are there for a reason. We want to see them upheld.”

He admitted the wait-and-see game as to what will eventually happen to the 770 acres of land is concerning for everyone involved and added Premier Doug Ford’s strategy of wanting willing hosts across the province to develop land quickly has created a level of unfairness. 

“While the municipality is a willing host, landowners probably aren’t. We need to continue to talk about the fact that economic development doesn’t just have to come from new and shiny things like battery plants. It can be right here in agriculture. We are a huge economic driver in the province.” 

He added if governments properly invest and collaborate with the agriculture industry, many things could be moved forward. 

“Supporting farm businesses is important to the future of rural communities across Ontario.”

The agri-food sector, built around productive agricultural land, contributes $47 billion to the provincial economy and $20 billion in agri-food exports annually, and employs about 10 per cent of Ontario’s workforce, supporting more than 750,000 jobs.

While Wilmot Township is the hot topic of the day, the federation wants to see prime agricultural land protected more stringently across the province. 

“It isn’t just a one-off in this region, it’s across Ontario. There is a lot of competition for land for uses other than farming and, as an advocacy group, we would entertain any option that promotes and protects farm sustainability. In the meantime, we will keep trying to move the ball forward,” said Spoelstra. 

Under the Region of Waterloo’s land-purchase offer, any landowners who do not agree to sell have been told their farmland will be expropriated for industrial development. The Waterloo Federation of Agriculture’s requests to delegate to Wilmot Township council and Waterloo Region council have both been denied and interactions between both councils and individual farmers have been minimal.

“Farmers in the area have had a positive working relationship with local and regional government for more than 30 years, so it is deeply disappointing that we haven’t been allowed to be part of this process, have our voices heard and contribute to a solution workable to all,” said Nic Weber, a local farmer and WFA president.

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