Ralph Barrie isn’t your typical Lanark County farmer. Now heading into his fourth year as head of the 25,000-member Ontario Federation of Agriculture probably the most active farm lobby group in Canada and certainly the largest direct membership farm group Barrie feels he’s learned his trade as a farm leader. The 54-year-old dairy and beef farmer doesn’t mean he’ll try to hang on to the OFA presidency ” forever. When he was first elected president at the 1979 convention, he decided to plan on being president for three years. From now on, it is a year-by-year decision.
“Sometime before next November, I’ll have to decide whether or not there are things I can still do for the OFA,'” he said during an interview in the comfortable stone house on his farm near here.
Barrie said the OFA has made great strides in its credibility as lobbying group for the farm industry and in the strength of its membership base. While there haven’t been any dramatic breakthroughs, Barrie believes there’s been progress with the OFA’s two major concerns affordable credit and profitable pricing. “Progress comes a small step at a time. Events force issues,” he said. “The farm economy will force governments to look at better ways to ensure income and to provide a better long-term financing package than we have now.” He’s hopeful a national stabilization program will come out of federal-provincial discussions and Agriculture Minister Eugene Whelan will be successful in persuading his cabinet colleagues on the wisdom of agri-bonds a type of tax-free investment that would draw money into farm financing at much lower interest rates.
Barrie said it takes something like a depression to change public attitudes. “We should recognize the depression was a necessary evil to force us as farmers to look at the value of increased efficiency and productivity while making sure there’s the means to absorb that production at prices to compensate us adequately.” Farmers have been too involved in production and should have been more aware of the importance of the political side, Barrie believes. “We have to do both together. Farm specialists have learned how to use the tools of fertilizer, pesticides, machinery and genetics to improve production. “Now we need to learn to use the tools of lobbying and political action.” .Barrie said the controversy over Canagrex the proposed agricultural export corporation is n example of the politicians get-ling in the way of what the farmers want. He said Canagrex is necessary if Canadian agriculture is to take full advantage of the world marketplace but it’s being used as a partisan political issue.
Choosing the route of farm organization activist is not a decision Barrie regrets although he estimates he would be worth at least $100,000 more if he had stayed home and developed the farm. Barrie was born in a log house in Dalhousie Township north of Perth, youngest of four children of a poor dairy farmer. His father served in both world wars and bought the present Barrie farm under the Veterans’ Land Act in 1947. Ralph took it over when his father retired and has since added an adjoining farm. He enjoys weekends at home but being OFA president is pretty well a full-time job.
He spends most of every week in his Toronto office or on the road speaking at farm meetings, service clubs and other organizations. Sometimes wife Verna travels with him but more often she’s at home managing the farm. Two of the five Barrie children Brian, 23 and Doug, 28 help work the farm where there are 35 cows to milk and a heard of young steers and heifers being fattened for beef. Including some rented land, the Barrie family farms about 400 acres which produces all the feed for the dairy and beef operations.
Youngest son Paul, 20, lives at home but works at Balderson Cheese Co. Eldest daughter Shirley, 29, also works at the cheese company while daughter Diana, 24, lives in Perth. Barrie says there are a lot of people farming simply because they fell into it when their farmer-parents passed on or because it’s the only lifestyle they know. The farm leader has always had interests outside the farm. He served on the local fair board, on the board of stewards of his church and as president of Balderson. In the early ’70s, he turned his interest to the OFA first as Lanark County director, followed by two years as second vice-president and three years as first vice-president. He felt ready to move into the presidency in 1979 when Peter Hannam stepped down. A factor Barrie says could influence his decision concerning the OFA presidency next fall will be provincial and federal elections. “I’ve never been a card-carrying member of any party. I’m flexible. But I feel like a winner. I want to go where I’m needed.” He recognizes the two members now representing his area Paul Dick in Ottawa and Doug Wiseman at Queen’s Park are secure as long as they want to stay. “I’m not a constituency man. I’m more interested in policy development.” Barrie isn’t attracted by the possibility of becoming president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture or of getting involved in the International Federation of Agricultural Producers. “The structure of those organization limits what you can achieve.”
Barrie, Ralph James
Ralph passed away in Perth, on Tuesday, December 20th, 2016 at the age of 88 years. He was the beloved husband for 18 ½ years of the late Denyse Marion-Barrie (2012) and loved father of Shirley (Barry) Armstrong, Douglas Barrie, Diana (Norm) Dobbie, Brian (Jean) Barrie and Paul (Cathy) Barrie and step-father of Denyse’s sons Martin and Mathieu Lacroix. Ralph was the fond grandpa Dan (Currie) Armstrong, Lucas (Steph) Armstrong, Krista (Jon) Dobbie-McFarlane, Dustin (Brooke) Dobbie, Craig Dobbie, Angela (Jonathan) Tooley, Ashley (Adam) Barrie, Samantha (Eddy) Barrie and Hannah Barrie and great-grandfather of Aidan, Arianna, Noah and Zackary McFarlane, Reid, Ethan and Chase Tooley and soon to join the family, baby Barrie-Rayner. Ralph was predeceased by his parents Henry and Nettie (Davidson) Barrie, sisters Evelyn Gemmill and Eva Spence and by his children’s mother and former spouse Verna Barrie. He will be sadly missed by his brother Gordon Barrie and Denyse’s siblings and their families, his numerous nieces, nephews, friends and extended family. Ralph spent his adult life in the field of agriculture, first as a dairy farmer, when he took over the family farm near Balderson, Ontario, then becoming involved in local farm organizations, and eventually rising through the ranks of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) becoming its president for several years, during which time he travelled across Canada and abroad as a spokesperson. Afterwards he worked with government marketing boards, until his retirement when he continued to enjoy travel with Denyse, along with skiing, biking, swimming and his beloved golf. Ralph remained a “country boy” at heart, always content to watch and enjoy nature