THERE IS A common saying, ‘you learn something new every day’. This certainly rings true in agriculture — and more so this spring and summer as we all learned how to adapt to numerous challenges and changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Farmers have many opportunities to learn outside of a formal education and many of us seek out these opportunities at farm shows, industry events, and in talking to our crop advisors and neighbours.
COVID-19 cancelled these opportunities as we all practiced physical distancing and followed isolation guidelines to reduce the spread of the pandemic. We had fewer opportunities to connect with other farmers as field days and meetings were cancelled. We couldn’t even stop by the neighbours or meet up at the coffee shop.
But our desire to continue learning remained strong.
The Ontario grain industry and farmers embraced virtual meetings with video conferencing, social media interactions, and virtual farm shows. Even the Ontario Crop Diagnostic Days — popular summer events for agronomists and crop advisors — were able to transition to a video format. Thanks to sponsorship from Grain Farmers of Ontario, our farmer-members were also able to access the video sessions at no cost.
Grain Farmers of Ontario also made the decision to hold its Annual General Meeting online. It was the best solution to ensure the health and safety of our farmer-members, delegates, and staff while still providing important updates on the work of our organization and presenting our financial statements.
There are usually challenges when you adopt new technologies and adjust to a new way of doing something. But the strength of the Ontario grain industry shone through.
I believe there are several reasons why we saw such great success with virtual events and staying connected as farmers.
Grain Farmers of Ontario has a focus on farmer-member communications which are delivered in various formats to meet the diverse needs of our membership. Print, through this magazine, is still important; but in recent years we expanded our communications to webinars, podcasts, and e-mails. Our ability and willingness to seek out new means of information-sharing and utilize it to the benefit of our farmer-members helped us transition to online meetings.
We recognize that there are limitations when access to high-speed internet is required and not available to all our farmer-members, but access is improving, and we are doing our best to ensure that those that want to participate online can do so.
We have a strong team of crop specialists at the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs who are dedicated to supporting farmers and getting information out to them. They are willing to put in the extra time and effort it takes to make videos, to participate in webinars, and respond to farmers’ questions.
We have researchers dedicated to their work and sharing their results with farmers who can use them to better their crops. Even the private ag sector is embracing new digital ways to service their farmer customers.
And farmers themselves, those that are eager to learn and find new ways to make their farm better, are putting in the extra effort to make the time to sit down and participate in online events and meetings. The upcoming winter meeting season is bound to be different as well, with many events already planned to go virtual. I hope you will continue to participate in these learning opportunities in their new form.
I believe the Ontario grain industry is resilient — we will learn from all our experiences this year and be the better for it. •