WHEN THE 2020 March Classic was cancelled last minute — a casualty of the first of the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns — no one imagined that a year later we wouldn’t be able to hold the 2021 March Classic in person.
Grain Farmers of Ontario’s yearly event brings together farmer-members and industry representatives and has established itself as a premier event within the agriculture sector.
The 2021 virtual event lived up to that reputation, offering engaging speakers, interactive contests, and networking opportunities.
The theme for this year’s conference was ‘Marching Ahead Together’, which was a build on the theme ‘Marching Ahead’ originally developed for the 10th anniversary celebrations planned for the 2020 March Classic.
“We wanted a theme that reflected on the past but also looked towards the future,” says Brianne Curtis, the communications coordinator for Grain Farmers of Ontario who leads the planning for the event. “For this year, reviewing all the plans that we couldn’t go through with last year, the theme just seemed to fit. We are marching ahead despite the challenges created by COVID-19, and we now need to focus on the next challenges and what is on the horizon for the industry in the next 10 years and how we can collaborate and work together as an industry.”
The virtual March Classic was held over two days, with opening remarks, presentations by Grain Farmers of Ontario, and an evening reception setting the stage on the Monday evening ahead of a full day of speakers on the Tuesday.
The first Canadian focused panel of the U.S. Farm Report with Tyne Morgan featured insights from well-known market commentators Philip Shaw, Darin Newsom, and Dan Hueber. They discussed their perspectives of the markets, including the ethanol market, old crop versus new crop prices, the impact of the value of the Canadian dollar, the influence of China, and how weather is impacting global supply.
Jim Handman, a science journalist, focused on some of the issues with the reporting of medical and science stories and how people need to use a critical eye when reading reports of scientific studies in the news. It is important to discern opinion versus fact, gain a true understanding of the numbers and percentages used to make claims, and remember that science is not magic — it is based on evidence and data. Journalists without science training often confuse correlation with causation and offer up anecdotes as evidence to support the angle of their story.
“In these times of fake news and misinformation, it is more important than ever for the media to be careful, diligent, and prudent, while fact-checking and using data and evidence to support any claims,” says Handman.
Jo-Ann McArthur, president of Nourish Food Marketing, specializes in understanding the trends within the food and beverage industry. She discussed the way the COVID-19 pandemic changed consumer’s relationship with food and altered how we spend our time, energy, and money during the lockdown.
“Consumers trust farmers, but they don’t necessarily trust farming. We are seeing a lot more conversations around how things are grown and how the planet and the people are treated,” says McArthur, noting that consumers don’t necessarily view our farm practices in the same light as we do — even if they are good for farm productivity and are safe.
Consumers are interested in buying products with specific attributes and perceived benefits, such as product origins (buying Canadian), societal care, and lifestyle diets. Farm-direct sales increased during the pandemic, as did online sales. New partnerships between traditional grocers and meal preparation services have gained in popularity and are blurring lines across the food system. Ethics-based eating has also increased, solidifying the necessity to prove the environmental sustainability of how food is produced.
Althia Raj, political commentator, discussed federal election speculation, the potential reasons for the NDP to prop up the Liberal government, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the political leadership balance, and Canada’s relationship with the new Biden administration in the U.S. Raj also offered her perspective on new Conservative leader Erin O’Toole and the disconnect between the conservative base and people interested in voting conservative.
Raj expects a federal election will not be called until the COVID-19 pandemic is stable in Ontario.
Grain Farmers of Ontario is already working on the 2022 March Classic and hopes to be able to offer an in-person event in London, Ontario.
You can watch a recording of the Grain Farmers of Ontario opening panel discussion and our 10th anniversary video on our YouTube channel www.youtube.com/user/grainfarmersontario/. •