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Ontario Grain Farmer Magazine is the flagship publication of Grain Farmers of Ontario and a source of information for our province’s grain farmers. 

The problem solvers: Joanna Follings

A PASSION FOR BUILDING GROWER CONFIDENCE

JOANNA FOLLINGS, CEREALS SPECIALIST AT THE ONTARIO MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE, FOOD AND RURAL AFFAIRS, IS LIVING HER DREAM. Growing up on a dairy and grain crop farm and working with field crops and farmers during her summers and master’s degree at the University of Guelph, she developed a strong passion for helping farmers improve crop production. “Extension really works, and I’m honoured to be a part of making it better all the time,” Follings says. “We see strong uptake in innovative practices when the farmers see them in action. Extension is so critical for them because it cuts through the enormous amount of information out there and provides them with the practical take- aways. They wear so many hats and it’s so great to be able to help them wear one less hat, to help them make the best decisions for their farms.”

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Of course, this information must actually reach farmers to be of use. “We’re back to normal in terms of holding events again and getting really good attendance, but Covid showed us how important it is to continue to hold webinars and use the internet in other ways,” Follings explains. “For many farmers, those with young children, for example, it’s hard to get to a meeting even an hour’s drive away. So we’re working hard to continue to provide information in multiple formats so that it’s accessible to everyone.”

Follings and her colleagues are also striving to make information access more efficient. They’re very excited to announce that the Field Crop News Agronomy Guide is being updated with a format that will make it much easier for farmers to find what they’re looking for quickly. It will be launched this fall.

SHARING RESULTS

Of all the ways Follings helps make farmers’ lives easier and their decision-making better, her role as a member of the leadership team of the Great Lakes Yield Enhancement Network (YEN) stands out. The YEN concept started in the U.K. in 2012 and was brought to Ontario in 2021. “This initiative has been incredibly powerful for growers in my view,” says Follings. “They are seeing how making different decisions with their wheat is really having an impact. They’re really seeing the value in growing wheat, and there’s more chatter about it than ever before.”

Over the past two years in particular, Follings has seen a big leap in the level of confidence farmers have with growing wheat. “I see their confidence in how they are sharing what they’re doing with each other, and they are confident in doing that because they’ve seen the results on their farms,” she says. “I feel they now view wheat as really integral to their operations, and it’s because they’re managing it with the same care they manage corn and soybean, and they’re seeing great results. They’re now very excited to have other growers on their farms and show them what they are doing. There’s so much collaboration. They’re really helping each other move forward.”

This year, Ontario is hosting the Great Lakes YEN summer tour, which will provide participants with a convenient opportunity to attend and share even more of what they’re doing with each other.

Follings concludes that wheat expertise is growing in that growers are now asking very complex questions. “I’ve seen this again and again over the last couple of years at the YEN events,” she says. “It’s really impressive.”

Follings wants nothing more than to continue to build excitement about cereals and empower growers to have even more confidence in their decisions. “It’s very satisfying to see that happening,” she says, “It’s fantastic to be able to live my passion in my daily work.”

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