FINDING NEW WAYS to be more efficient and net better results is always a priority for Ontario farmers; this is also true of the organizing committee behind the 2024 Ontario Agricultural Conference (OAgC) “From Good to Great”.
After three years of experimenting with new ways to deliver agricultural information and extension in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic — in 2021 and 2022, the Ontario Agricultural Conference was entirely virtual; in 2023, it was a hybrid online and in-person event held at Ridgetown, Kemptville, and Waterloo — this year, farmers will have more options to participate virtually or in-person at events in Ridgetown, Kemptville, or Waterloo.
HOW IT STARTED
In 2021, the organizers of the Southwest Agriculture Conference (SWAC), the Eastern Ontario Crop Conference (EOCC), and representatives from the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association (who formerly organized an agricultural conference annually in Waterloo and Guelph) joined forces to produce an online conference due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, which prevented large crowds from gathering. The joint event was called the Ontario Agricultural Conference and featured more than 40 live and on-demand sessions highlighting top-of-mind agricultural topics and top-quality speakers from across North America and beyond.
“Coming up with a brand new way to get agronomic information, research results, and share information with farmers during the pandemic was challenging,” says Albert Tenuta, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs field crop extension plant pathologist and co-chair of the OAgC. “But, we found that when we worked together, we could accomplish a lot more, and found innovative ways to bring the learning from the SWAC, EOCC, and Guelph conferences to even more people across the province.”
The 2021 conference was a huge success and was repeated in 2022 due to ongoing restrictions on in-person gatherings. Featuring more than 40 live and on-demand sessions, the online format allowed conference registrants to watch them when and where convenient — wherever they had an internet connection — and the sessions were available for three months. The addition of TEC Talk Tuesday, a live, online meeting place for participants to meet and take a “deep dive” into specific conference topics and pick the brains of speakers and experts, was another example of the innovative approach to agriculture extension that the OAgC committee was able to execute.
Following feedback from the 2021 and 2022 conferences, an in-person conference option — a hybrid approach — was offered in Ridgetown, Kemptville, and Waterloo in 2023, returning to a more traditional, although limited, conference format where participants could meet, network, and learn from one another in addition to the online conference.
“The online option is great for people who can’t travel or have other commitments or prefer that mode of learning,” says Tenuta. “But for others, attending in person is preferable. So we wanted to provide that option as the provincial guidelines allowed for more people to gather.”
WHAT’S NEW IN 2024?
In 2024, the Ontario Agricultural Conference is taking the best features of the online and in-person conferences to offer a customizable conference experience that meets the needs of a wide variety of participants.
Registrants from virtually anywhere in the world can take in the online OAgC, which kicks off on January 3 with four live online sessions and access to 20 ON-DEMAND sessions with topics ranging from cover crops, weed control, and pests to mental health and equipment innovations. That is just the beginning of the 66 OAgC on-demand sessions to be available.
The 2024 OAgC also marks the return of the more traditional regional in-person conferences — SWAC in Ridgetown on January 4 and 5, the EOCC in Kemptville on January 16, and the “SoilFocus” Midwest Ag Conference (MWAC) in Waterloo on January 19.
“The collaboration between the three conferences means we can bring even more learning opportunities to farmers than ever before right up till the end of March,” says Tenuta. All registrants — online and at the three in-person events — will have access to 66 online sessions until March 31 and will be invited to participate in TEC Talk Tuesdays.
Working together has a host of benefits, says Tenuta. By taking advantage of online technology, conference organizers can invite speakers from virtually anywhere in the world. This year, the online conference sessions feature Dr. Amelie Gaudin from the University of California, Davis, speaking about North American-wide crop rotation studies, and Colin Chappel from Gander Farm, the recipient of the first-ever U.K. Sustainability Award.
“The cost and time savings of avoiding travel for speakers gives us much more flexibility in building a really robust, innovative, and educational agenda for the conference,” says Tenuta. “And instead of one or two days of in-person learning, farmers get access to even more sessions (66) to view when they want through the on-demand recordings, which is an enormous value.”
• Understanding disruptive weather: From downpours to droughts, Andrew Pritchard from Nutrien Ag Solutions will discuss weather patterns from around the world.
• Tackling waterhemp and more: strategies that work to manage resistant waterhemp and other tough-to-control weeds.
• Highlights from Agritechnica: Learn about innovations from the largest farm machinery show in the world, held in Hanover, Germany.
• Marketing Mavens 1 and 2: Hear what Steve Kell and Ben Buckner have to say about the grain markets.
• Managing spring soil conditions: Dr. Elizabeth Hawkins and Amanda Douridas from Ohio State University will talk about the tools to manage and influence spring moisture and temperature.
• Soil biology and biologicals: an in-depth discussion with Dr. Jane Fife from Ohio State University about the different types of biological products.
Registration for all conference options is now open. Tenuta expects the in-person options to be popular and encourages people to register early (SWAC registration closes on December 11, while EOCC and MWAC registration closes on January 9).
More information, including program details and registration, is available at www.OntarioAgConference.ca or by calling 1-866-222-9682.
Grain Farmers of Ontario is an OAgC24 virtual conference sponsor. •