Agricultural community milestones

MANY CELEBRATIONS IN 2013

in the profession of farming, nobody can become truly skilled by reading books alone. In the days before the internet, smart phones and social media, farmers would get together to share wisdom, compare their skills with friendly competitions and promote the advancement of the agricultural industry. These gatherings have become part of the culture of farming in Ontario and developed into prominent agricultural institutions: 4-H Canada, the International Plowing Match (IPM), and Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show (COFS). All of these groups are celebrating significant milestones this year.

international plowing match 100 years old

Bert Vorstenbosch, Executive Committee Chair of the 2013 IPM, promises some high grade talent, including Canada’s Snow Birds, to honour the 100th birthday of the plowing match this year in Perth County. This will be the IPM’s fifth year in Perth (which previously hosted in 1930, 1972, 1988, and 2005) and while officially overseen by the Ontario Plowman’s Association, Vorstenbosch is proud that the event itself is run almost entirely by local volunteers. Roughly 1,000 people are preparing over 900 acres for the match, hoping to draw an even larger crowd than the 75,000 who attended the 2012 IPM in Waterloo. Community commitment is part of the rich tradition of the IPM, says Vorstenbosch and is as timeless as the incentive that keeps bringing farmers back every year.

“100 years ago farmers were always looking for better ways to till the soil, the same as they are now,” says Vorstenbosch. “Farmers are always looking for something new; new inventions, new innovation, easier ways to do the work.”

Even with the rise in popularity of reduced tillage systems, Vorstenbosch says there’s always been widespread interest in plowing. He marvels at the technological advancement agriculture has enjoyed in the last 100 years when he considers that the first IPM was all done with horses. Farmers have morphed over time too he says, with many now as aptly dressed for work in a suit and tie as they used to be in coveralls and rubber boots.

“The farmers of today are businessmen, and I’m not saying that they weren’t 100 years ago, but the whole agricultural industry is totally different,” said Vorstenbosch. “We like to think our farmers are very economical people, they know how to work, and they know how to produce.”

4-H canada’s centennial year
Rob Black believes 4-H has also developed in accordance with the needs of the times. The organization began its 100th anniversary celebration at its birthplace in Roland, Winnipeg this spring with a massive street party, conventions and several campaigns. Throughout the year, in addition to the nationwide celebrations in honour of the national achievement, there will be financial tributes (both to a legacy fund and food banks) and contributions to 4-H’s Living History project, where members and alumni share their 4-H experiences online. Black says the submissions not only document how 4-H has changed but also helps demonstrates why it originally came into existence.

“Back in 1913, one of the reasons 4-H was started was to get extension information to kids so that it could work up through the farm family unit,” said Black. “Today, that focus has shifted and is now on personal leadership development and life skills training.”

Much like Vorstenbosch, Black doesn’t believe you can ever talk about his organization without talking about the 8,000 or more volunteers that keep it running annually. 4-H leaders continue to play an important role, transferring knowledge to future generations. But with time and change, come challenges. “Back in the day, you became a 4-H leader starting from when you finished 4-H and you might still be 50 years later,” said Black. “Today, we’re seeing more folks who jump in for a time, and then move on and that’s OK too.”

Black says his organization is looking for ways to address the more recent problem of maintaining group knowledge after the loss of key individuals. The issue serves as yet another testament to the importance of person to person knowledge transfer when it comes to promoting growth.

canada’s outdoor farm show turns 20
Compared to the IPM and 4-H Canada, Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show is still only in its infancy; but unlike those organizations, that means it can still boast having some of its original founders still at the helm. COFS President Doug Wagner has been with the show ever since it started in Burford, Ontario back in 1993. The COFS team differentiated themselves from other farm shows of the day by hosting everything outside, on sod, where the emphasis of the show could be on demonstrations. Wagner says a sprayer clinic, tillage equipment demonstrations, and actually harvesting potatoes during a show were all features in the early years that the farm community was really asking for. He remembers the summer before the very first show pretty clearly, when the plots were looking really tough through July and questions were being raised about the team’s probability of success. Mother Nature cooperated in the end, but it wasn’t until moving to the permanent Woodstock site in 1997 that things started to get a little less tense.

“We did all that fun stuff that everybody does when they’re starting a new business,” recalls Wagner. “We started working out of the trunks of our cars, dug a hole in the ground to make a little well so we could wash up, and when it got dark you used the headlights in your car to see what you were doing.”

Wagner says the team soon learned that exhibitors were the best form of advertisement and he knows many are planning special launches in conjunction with the COFS anniversary show this year. Over the years, he says the exhibits have changed in many ways, such as increasing the livestock section from practically nothing to now occupying one third of the full show. In the field crops area, seed and crop protection have become far more entwined than in the early years thanks to the explosion of biotechnology in the late 1990s to the early 2000s. Wagner says it has been an exciting time to be a part of COFS as the industry has advanced, and he’s optimistically eager to find out what the future of the show, and the industry, has in store.

“Agriculture is a pretty dynamic industry and Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show is a celebration of what this vibrant, exciting, high energy, ever-changing industry is all about,” he says. •