Get ready, Queen’s Park. You’ll soon be seeing a great deal more of new Ontario Federation of Agriculture president Mark Wales and his trademark Birkenstock sandals, weather be damned.

The colourful and well-spoken Wales, an Elgin County horticulture producer, beat rival Don McCabe, of Lambton County, by just one vote (129-128) on the second ballot in the race for top spot of Ontario’s largest general farm organization last Monday. Both candidates were federation vice-presidents.

Wales has particular experience in on-farm labour issues, environmental issues, and in working on high-profile program development with the province, including Ontario’s risk management program and the agricultural portion of the province’s all-sector “Open For Business” legislation review.

Wales is assuming the presidency at a fascinating, tumultuous time for agriculture, one in which it needs to be understood more than ever by the public.

Farming is making the front pages and lead stories with increasing frequency. For decades, people east of Manitoba seldom heard about the Canadian Wheat Board. And they knew little of the supply management situation for dairy, poultry and eggs, even though they were heavily influenced by it. Now, these stories are everywhere.

I write about the challenges facing Wales and other farm leaders in my Urban Cowboy column in the Guelph Mercury.