Success in 2010 and excitement for 2011

it is amazing how quickly the first year of Grain Farmers of Ontario has flown by. Upon reflection for the preparation of this January’s district meetings, we have many accomplishments to celebrate in our inaugural year.

The Board and staff worked diligently in early 2010 to research the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats facing the Ontario grain industry to preface the strategic planning process that took place throughout the spring and summer. At the first Annual General Meeting we were proud to unveil the strategic plan that will guide the organization.

In Research & Innovation, GFO set priorities for the 2010/11 crop year under four overarching headings: Agronomy & Production, Market Development & Quality, Breeding & Genetics and Diseases and Insects. The research team set a target of leveraging farmer dollars 3:1 and has succeeded at having every $1 matched by government and industry by $3.25. There are currently 87 active research projects across the province.

Market Development planning was done this fall to solidify a plan going forward. There were many accomplishments in this area in 2010 including our participation in a $5 million initiative with Trent University for bio-products research, focused on developing soybean based petroleum replacement products. A partnership in market development with a company in Toronto called Handi Foods has launched a new product in the bagel category called a Pita Bagel that will utilize Ontario wheat. In ethanol news, a report card for the industry was released in December of 2010 that reported $2.3 billion in investment into new Canadian plants, 1.7 billion litres per year of capacity produced from over 2 million bushels of grain and a greenhouse gas reduction of over 62 percent compared with fossil fuel. In 2011, there are already four projects underway that will expand the utilization of corn, soybeans and wheat in Ontario through investments in food and industrial products.

Our Marketing department has evaluated the past performance of the pool to ensure our marketing activities continue to add value to our members.  The historic forward contract price versus the net pool returns each crop year have shown the pool consistently performs well in the post-harvest period.  Our information supports that the pool should not be an option of last resort when prices are low, but rather should be a part of a farm’s risk management strategy.  Putting wheat in the pool every year has shown to be a viable marketing option that pays farmers back.

Communications at GFO set ambitious goals for the 2010/11 fiscal year that included a weekly e-newsletter and radio commentaries, a monthly newsletter in the Ontario Farmer and a 10x annual Ontario Grain Farmer magazine all focused on delivering information to add value to farm businesses. The Communications team also launched a Blackberry app called SellSmart in December to deliver market prices at basis points across the province directly to our members’ cell phones.

Regular communication with members has also increased through our new Member Relations position, hired in June by GFO to work closely with members, delegates, directors and staff to bring grassroots issues into the forefront at GFO and ensure an informed and active grain farmer community. Member Relations is hard at work developing our new leadership program, Grains in Action, that will launch with two classes early in 2010.

When communicating to the general public, GFO broadcast our concerns over the Canpotex cartel through two of Canada’s media networks – the Globe and Mail and CBC Radio One – to bring the issue of high fertilizer prices and their impact to Canadians. We have also started educating families about the value of grain farming to Ontario through regular articles in regional newspapers and websites, our popular display at the Plowing Match and Royal Winter Fair and through social media including our blog at WhatsGrowingON.ca, our Twitter account and on YouTube.

Government Relations has been busy securing an extension to the Risk Management Program for 2010, work with Research to secure federal research funding for breeding projects and join the national Farmers for Investment in Research to rebuild A-Base research funding levels. At the end of the year, we have also secured an interim resolution to the deferred payment issue through a regulatory change. In the next year, Government Relations will work toward a permanent solution to the deferred payment issue, implement our broad federal and provincial GR plans including a permanently funded RMP and broad based partnerships for the federal business risk management lobby effort, outreach to both levels of government to introduce GFO’s strategic plan and starting the work on the next iteration of Growing Forward in 2013.

As you can tell from this lengthy report, we have accomplished a lot in 2010 and have plans for great things in 2011. Our organization has hired a Vice President of Strategic Development to oversee Research & Innovation, Market Development, Communications and Government Relations and to take the implementation of our strategic plan to the next level.

We encourage you to become involved through your district committees and provide your input to our organization throughout the year. I have thoroughly enjoyed my first year working for the members of this organization and I look forward to a productive year ahead. •