Legacy of leadership
CELEBRATING TWO RETIRING DIRECTORS
THE GRAIN FARMERS OF ONTARIO January District Meetings are an opportunity for farmer-members from across the organization’s 15 districts to gather to hear about important updates, present resolutions, and elect delegates, alternates, and District directors. This year, two directors stepped down from their roles, making way for two new directors to take their place: Kevin Armstrong, from District 7 (Oxford, Waterloo) and Emery Huszka, from District 3 (Lambton).
Kevin Armstrong has been a steady presence at the Grain Farmers of Ontario Board table for more than a decade. First elected as director in District 7 (Oxford, Waterloo) in 2012, Armstrong’s involvement goes back even further, having served as a delegate to the Ontario Corn Producers’ Association and the Ontario Soybean Growers (two of the organizations that, along with the Ontario Wheat Producers’ Marketing Board, amalgamated to form Grain Farmers of Ontario in 2010). Following the amalgamation, Armstrong stayed on as a delegate to the newly formed organization, serving on the Grain Farmers of Ontario Communications Committee from the very beginning.
“When the amalgamation happened, it just seemed a natural fit to stay on as a delegate. I got more involved with the organization … from there, I was asked to step into the director role, and I did. I’m really glad I did,” reflects Armstrong.
Armstrong says there have been a lot of challenges over his 11 years on the Board.
“The biggest challenge is dealing with a government that doesn’t understand the ins and outs of what we do. That’s a perennial challenge; it was there in 2010 when the amalgamation happened, and it’s still there today. The challenges are getting more complex, but they are always there. In relaying our concerns and our working environment to the government, that’s the biggest challenge that we have,” he says. But, despite the challenges, Armstrong says the Board usually finds success … eventually.
“All of our successes, they rarely come immediately. I know it can seem frustrating to people watching from the outside, but the successes do eventually come.”
Armstrong points to the neonicotinoid issue as an example. “We went to the wall, we took the government to task and took them to court. We weren’t successful then, but years later, the ban was lifted, and we were able to use those products again. The things we are doing right now, with the carbon tax and with the tariffs, something is going to happen, it might not be exactly what we want, but something will happen to help alleviate those problems.”
Though this was Armstrong’s last term on the Board — Grains Farmers of Ontario mandates a maximum 12-year term, and District 7’s directorship was up for election in 2023 — he is continuing as a delegate, and he will continue to be involved at the district level with Grain Farmers of Ontario. Though he says he will miss sitting at the board table, he is looking forward to investing some time in hobbies and activities, like mountain biking, which have taken a back seat for the past few years.
“I’m going to farm for a while,” he says with a laugh. “Taking some time for myself. I’m going to read more fiction — I’m looking forward to a break from reports, and meeting briefings and minutes and things like that.”
Emery Huszka, who has served as director for District 3 (Lambton) since 2019, says he has been involved in politics, in one way or another, since he was 16 years old. After receiving a BA focused on political science from King’s College at Western University, he worked for several years on Parliament Hill. Huszka got involved in farm politics when he returned home to Lambton County, attending many farm group meetings,
including Grain Farmers of Ontario, becoming a delegate and District chair, and then in 2019, he assumed the role of Board Representative for District 3 (Lambton). Previously, he had served three years as president of the provincial National Farmers Union, one of Ontario’s three accredited general farm organizations. “I think I caught the bug when I attended my first Ontario Corn Producers’ Association Meeting in London while at University,” says Huszka.
“As life transitioned back to the farm, it seemed like a natural thing to be involved in the local groups that have an impact on our industry,” says Huszka. “I’ve been proud to have been able to represent Lambton in farm politics. Thank you, Dave Park and Kevin Marriott (past District 3 directors), for inspiring me to accept this challenge.”
A highlight for Huszka during his Board tenure was chairing the 2022 March Classic, which was the first in-person event after two years of cancelled and virtual events during the pandemic. Hosting guest speakers like former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, hosting the first Canadian taping of the U.S. Farm Report, and meeting the Honourable Jodi Wilson-Raybould stands out.
“Grain Farmers of Ontario also afforded tremendous opportunities to make a difference, such as the Board’s achievement of stronger provincial support for the Risk Management Program,” he says.
Huszka says that his time on the Board was a period of transition. He points to an evolution of the Board’s governance, the emphasis on improved diversity and inclusion as one of the things the Board accomplished that he’s most proud of.
“We want to make sure that our organization is truly able to represent all of us that produce grains and oilseeds in this province; all grain producers should feel welcome,” says Huszka.
As past director for District 3, Huszka wants to play the same role in encouraging young and emerging leaders in Grain Farmers of Ontario. He continues to serve the District as a delegate.
“I’d challenge anybody with any desire to make a difference to start by attending your Grain Farmers of Ontario District Meeting to strive to become a delegate,” he says.
“I’m really proud of the people we have in this organization … the staff, the delegates, the directors; it’s a truly wonderful farmer-based group, and it’s exciting to see what this bright, innovative, and progressive bunch of people will accomplish next for our industry.” •