Fostering feedback

GFO drives towards success with input from farmer-members

starting as a grassroots movement to merge the corn, soybean and wheat organizations, Grain Farmers of Ontario continues to ensure the organization reflects its roots. After one year of operations, GFO continues to grow and recently took steps to review their progress and plan for the future at meetings across the province in January.

gathering feedback
At district meetings, all attendees went through an exercise to collect ideas and get feedback on GFO’s main areas of focus. At each meeting, farmers were split into six groups to talk about what they would like to see GFO accomplish in both the short- and long-term. Communications, marketing, production information, market development, government relations and research were the six different topics of focus. These topics are GFO’s strategic areas of interest as outlined in our Strategic Plan.

Upon a short discussion period, each group was asked to present their ideas. “We recorded and collected all of the ideas presented,” says Valerie Gilvesy, Member Relations at GFO. “It’s these discussions with our members that will drive our organization going forward. Farmers know what they want and need and we know we need to listen,” she continues.

Since the meetings, all of the ideas have been gathered and plans have been put into action to include this feedback in future planning.

communications
Whether with farmers, politicians, industry or the general public, communication is an important part of GFO’s operations. Farmers across the province have brought forward excellent ideas that will both add and improve current GFO communications. 

Several districts mentioned that GFO should continue and consider expanding their current farmer-focused communications efforts.

One idea from farmers suggested that GFO consider establishing specific farmer-spokespeople for agriculture that can be highlighted in non-farm and urban media. Myth-busting and educating the general public about the importance of agriculture was a theme brought up at many meetings. Many farmers suggested that this process start young and GFO establish teachers’ kits about farming for elementary and high schools.

“I was really excited to see the ideas brought forward at the meetings,” says Erin Fletcher, Manager of Communications and Public Affairs. “We have projects with Ontario Agri-Food Education to create a teachers’ kit aimed at elementary teachers. It’s just getting started and there are many more ways we can use our members’ ideas to educate the public.”

marketing
Another topic GFO asked farmers to reflect on was marketing. “Through our wheat marketing and our market intelligence geared towards corn and soybeans, GFO works hard to provide a valuable service to our members,” says Todd Austin, Marketing Manager at GFO. “We’re looking closely at the suggestions made in the district meetings and we’ll definitely explore adding these ideas to our upcoming plans,” he continues.

Many of those suggestions revolved around market intelligence. Accessing real-time information on markets is imperative for farmers. GFO got a start on providing real-time data with their SellSmart Blackberry application which provides local pricing information to smartphone users, but farmers are asking for more. Many farmers have been requesting a SellSmart app for other smartphones like iPhones. An iPhone application is being created and a March release is targeted.

Another suggestion from the countryside was accessibility to market intelligence in other forms. “Many farmers suggested that GFO offer marketing seminars and provide more information on specific issues like moisture standards,” says Gilvesy.

production information
More information was also the common theme in suggestions from farmers regarding production information. Farmers called for a simplification of all management tools. “There are so many different tools available that sometimes it’s hard to sort the wheat from the chaff,” says Henry Van Ankum, director of District 10 and facilitator of some of the brainstorming sessions throughout the province.

Specifically, farmers requested more information on comparing no-till and conventional practices, GM versus non-GM yield data, refuge management, and disease management. 

market development
Ideas for market development at GFO were varied and extensive. Many farmers suggested a more aggressive approach to trade missions abroad. “Farmers want to see our grains promoted on an  international scale,” says Crosby Devitt, Manager of Research and Market Development, “and we intend to work hard to meet these needs.”

In addition to promoting our grains both domestically and internationally, farmers at the meetings were anxious to see research and development in seed varieties and quality management to ensure the needs of our end users are met.

Farmers were also keenly aware that the weather doesn’t always allow for the highest quality grains. Members at the District 13 meeting brought forward the idea that GFO should explore uses for grain with inferior quality to accommodate production years when crop quality doesn’t turn out quite as expected.

government relations
Federal and provincial funding for the Risk Management Program was the biggest ask from farmers across Ontario. Many were pleased to hear of GFO’s plans to continue relationship building with elected officials and bureaucrats.

In addition to discussions about a permanent RMP, many brought forward concerns about government funding for important research programs, regulations over deferred payments and environmental regulations.

“Lots of important issues were brought forward at these meetings and we are taking this feedback very seriously,” says Fletcher. “GFO will continue to monitor legislature that impacts farmers and we plan to develop a systematic approach to addressing issues as they arise.”

research & innovation
The final focus of brainstorming sessions throughout January highlighted lots of short- and long-term opportunities for GFO’s research department. “It was overwhelmingly clear that farmers want a political and economic environment where agricultural research can thrive,” says Devitt.

Specific topics that farmers would like to see research on that were also discussed included soil fertility, residue management and variety performance trials and breeding. “GFO has many projects on these topics underway and we will continue to poll our members to establish our research priorities and allocate our research investment in the highest priority areas,” says Devitt.

In addition to surveying farmers on what research they deem necessary, which currently takes place among delegates, producers suggested that GFO consider surveying end users on their research requirements to ensure our products are meeting their needs.

Another excellent idea that GFO will be taking into consideration was the creation of a forum where farmers can share their personal field trial data with one another.

moving forward
“We’re very pleased with how this exercise turned out,” says Don Kenny, GFO chair. “We learned a lot about what our farmers are looking for in an organization. Some discussions reaffirmed our current approach and others will set us in motion to explore new activities.”  •