www.OntarioGrainFarmer.ca Published by AROUND THE WORLD JUNE/JULY 2023 Embracing innovation DENMARK’S SUSTAINABILITY STORY
Featuring fun, interactive, and curriculum-linked information about grains and oilseeds, the Grains on the Go trailer is full of great resources for students and educators. Farmer-members can help spread the word! Share this information with your local teachers and schools. Grains on the Go is travelling to schools across Ontario Scan for more information: Grain Farmers of Ontario’s new education program is available to visit schools in your district in the 2023-2024 school year.
JUNE/JULY 2023 volume 14, number 7 ONTARIO GRAIN FARMERis published 9 times a year (December/January, February, March, April/May, June/July, August, September, October, and November) through Grain Farmers of Ontario. Distribution is to all Ontario barley, corn, oat, soybean, and wheat farmer-members. Associate Membership Subscription available upon request. Views and opinions expressed in this magazine are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the policies of Grain Farmers of Ontario. Seek professional advice before undertaking any recommendations or suggestions presented in this magazine. PUBLICATIONS MAIL AGREEMENT NO. 40065283. Return undeliverable items to Grain Farmers of Ontario, 679 Southgate Drive, Guelph, ON N1G 4S2. © Grain Farmers of Ontario all rights reserved. Publisher: Grain Farmers of Ontario, Phone: 1-800-265-0550, Website: www.gfo.ca; Managing Editor: Mary Feldskov; Production Co-ordinator: Kim Ratz; Advertising Sales: Joanne Tichborne 6 ON THE COVER Embracing innovation Owen Roberts DENMARK’S SUSTAINABILITY STORY From the CEO’s desk FEEDING THE WORLD 4 U.K. Yield Enhancement Network Melanie Epp 10 International farm risk management Rebecca Hannam 12 Business side Conversations with business experts 9 GrainTALK newsletter An update on Grain Farmers of Ontario news and events 16 Measuring soil health Treena Hein 14 Crop side Agronomic information from crop specialists 25 EFP - a winning model Matt McIntosh 18 A leadership journey Jeff Harrison 20 Spray drift Jason Deveau 22 March Classic 2023 Ontario Grain Farmer 24 Integrating Indigenous knowledge Jeanine Moyer 26 Good in Every Grain Updates on our campaign 30 Rural Pride Rose Danen 28 A research project is underway in Denmark to make ‘climateneutral’ rye bread and oatmeal. Overseeing that project is Jens Elbaek, pictured here in a winter wheat field in 2022. Cover photo courtesy of Owen Roberts. BIODEGRADABLE POLY
on-farm uses of natural gas and propane, which includes the cost of drying grain. At the time writing, the Bill has been sent for debate, and ultimately, a vote, in the Senate. Grain Farmers of Ontario has lobbied for relief from the carbon tax — which puts Ontario grain producers at a competitive disadvantage compared to global competitors who do not have the added expense — and we’re pleased to see the Bill receive support in the House and we will continue to demonstrate to members of the Senate the value of the Bill to our farmer-members. When it comes to fertilizer tariff relief, recent government decisions on the issue missed the mark. Grain Farmers of Ontario has lobbied for tariffs paid on Russian fertilizer in 2022 — estimated to be $34 million paid by eastern Canadian farmers — to be returned directly to farmers. While those funds have been set aside in the recent federal budget, the money will be invested in the On-Farm Climate Action Fund, a cost-share program that ‘supports farmers implementing best management practices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase carbon sequestration.’ Grain Farmers of Ontario will continue to press the federal government to return the tariffs directly to the farmers who paid them. Provincially, we have been successful in realizing the increased investment in the Ontario Risk Management Program that began in 2021. This program is an important tool to manage risk as farmers plant the most expensive crop of their careers during a period of global uncertainty. However, we know that more investment is needed to make the program sustainable and be responsive to the needs of Ontario’s grain farmers. Grain Farmers of Ontario has worked hard to build positive relationships with MPs, MPPs, government staff, andthe federal and provincial Ministers of Agriculture. We will continue to advocate for you, our farmer-members, on these issues and others, to get the support that we need to do our part to help feed the world. l 4 GLOBAL EVENTS OFthe past few years — including the Covid-19 pandemic, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, climate-related natural disasters, and rising inflation and cost of living crises — have gotten Canadians talking about farming and food production as the reality of rising grocery prices impacts pocketbooks across the country. Globally, food insecurity is a growing threat for millions of people, particularly in Africa, Southeast Asia, and Central America. All this has cast a spotlight on Canadian agriculture, the likes of which we have not seen before, as our society looks to Canadian farmers to help address these global concerns. Ontario’s grain farmers are well positioned, as a trusted source of high-quality, high-yielding, and environmentally sustainable grains and oilseeds, to help feed a hungry world — but to do so, we need government support. Grain Farmers of Ontario has been actively advocating on behalf of farmer-members on a number of high-priority issues to garner that support — in fact, fertilizer tariffs was the most-lobbied issue on Parliament Hill in 2022. However, the wheels of change move slowly in government, but we have seen some movement on issues in recent months — with some wins and some resolutions that unfortunately missed the mark. One of the “wins” was the recent passage of Bill C-234 in the House of Commons as it moves closer to becoming law. This private member’s bill, introduced by MP Ben Lobb from Huron County, will provide an exemption to the federal carbon tax for From the CEO’s desk Crosby Devitt, CEO, Grain Farmers of Ontario Feeding the world
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Cover story 6 WHEN UNIVERSITY OF GUELPH engineering student Shellie Boudreau Christensen moved to Denmark 18 years ago to pursue her doctorate at Aalborg University, what she calls the “undercurrent of innovation” in her new locale was palpable. “Innovation permeates throughout all sectors here, and agriculture benefits from it,” she says. “Innovation is a cultural foundation for everything we do — how we eat, sleep, travel, and even in how we decorate our homes.” Denmark was a happy landing for Hamilton, Ontario, native Boudreau Christensen. She went on to become an associate professor at Aalborg and, most lately, an entrepreneur with an innovative start-up called ContentAvenue. It is dedicated to helping clearly communicate science of all kinds, including agriculture — and in Denmark, with its strong interface between agriculture, technology and the public, balanced information is a hot commodity. Denmark has one of the highest percentages of farmland in the world, covering 60 per cent of the country (compared to just over six per cent in Canada). Danes are acutely aware of what is going on in the countryside, and further, they want a major say in how farmers run their affairs. Their interest has grown as issues such as sustainability and food security have intensified at home and abroad. LICENSE TO PRODUCE “There’s an increased scrutiny of agricultural methods and production that can impact various aspects [of society] such as drinking water, climate, and biodiversity,” says Soren Knudsen, CEO and co-founder of FarmBackup, a digital traceability tool. “As a result, there is a growing demand for farmers to prove that they are not causing harm to the environment and for technology to help farmers demonstrate their compliance and obtain a ‘license to produce.’” That license is dear to Denmark’s 9,000 fulltime farmers, and they earn it every day. The global Environmental Performance Index has put Denmark at the head of the class for two years in a row, and agriculture is a big part of it. Three years ago, Danish citizens successfully lobbied their national government to pass the 2020 Climate Act, containing the world’s most ambitious CO2 emission mandate. The Act sets a target to reduce Denmark’s greenhouse gas emissions by a whopping 70 per cent in 2030, compared to 1990 levels, with a long-term objective of climate neutrality by 2050. Realistically, can this be done without making agriculture a casualty? That is what some people wonder. This spring, the Danish Council on Climate Change, an independent body that advises the government, served a blow to livestock producers by saying the country should aim to reduce beef and dairy production by levying an emissions tax on farming to reach its climate targets. The council thinks this tax will increase the incentive for farmers to switch to crops and pork production instead, which it says produces less greenhouse gas. The government also plans to launch a corporate carbon tax in 2025 to help fund a transition to more green energy. In some countries, such measures might spark protests from the farm community. But instead, Denmark’s energy and agri-food sectors have rapidly responded. Already, an amazing 34 per cent of the gas produced in Denmark comes from biogas, created from slurry and livestock manure. Biogas production in Denmark hit a record high last year, with more than 800 million cubic meters entering the system. It does not stop there. FarmBackup’s Knudsen notes that Denmark has created the infrastructure to support digitization, including cellular coverage in rural areas and a centralized, up-to-date database of all farms and their field boundaries. “This database is accessible to everyone for the development of new products and services,” he says. Digitization supports precision farming for seeding and fertilizer application; as far back as 2021, various precision technologies were being used on almost three-quarters of Danish farmland. Embracing innovation DENMARK’S SUSTAINABILITY STORY Owen Roberts continued on page 8 • Denmark has one of the highest percentages of farmland in the word, covering 60 per cent of the country. • By contrast, Canada's farmland covers six per cent. • The global Environmental Performance index has put Denmark at the head of the class for the past two years; agriculture plays a large role. • The Danish government has passed the 2020 Climate Act, setting a target to reduce Denmark's greenhouse gas emissions by 70 per cent in 2023, compared to 1990 levels. • Danes have responded: already, an estimated 34 per cent of gas produced in Denmark comes from biogas. WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
ONTARIO GRAIN FARMER 7 JUNE/JULY 2023 UNIVERSITY OF GUELPH GRADUATE SHELLIE BOUDREAU CHRISTENSEN HOLDING DANISH RYE BREAD. PHOTO COURTESY OF SHELLIE CHRISTENSEN.
CONSERVATION EFFORTS For conservation, Danish farmers plant 30 per cent of their land in cover crops, deterring erosion and runoff. True, they are mandated by the government to do so. But besides cover crops’ functionality, farmers know their appearance in fields is a winner with the watchful public. Agriculture in Denmark also benefits greatly from the services of SEGES Innovation, a private, independent, non-profit research and development organization. It is considered the leading agricultural knowledge and innovation centre in Denmark, with a huge extension mandate. One of SEGES’s most interesting consumerfacing projects is an exercise to produce 8 climate-neutral rye bread and oatmeal (rye is a Danish staple). Program director Jens Elbaek and a team oversee the effort; they are in the throes of developing a life cycle assessment throughout the bread’s value chain, starting in the fields in which it is grown, with minute detail. When they are done, they will know exactly what it costs to produce Denmark’s bread of the future, and those costs will be reflected in the price of the climate-neutral bread, which will be sold at grocery stores. Elbaek is looking forward to offering consumers a glimpse of what climate neutrality means at the checkout counter. “Like the rest of the world, Denmark has been hit with inflation,” he says. “Danish consumers have started buying discount commodities, especially food, like never before. It is very exciting to see how that will affect the sale of my slightly more expensive rye bread.” FINANCIAL SUSTAINABILITY But most indications are that Denmark’s giant leap to full sustainability will not slow down. “Politicians are pushing farmers to be greener,” says Christopher Weis Thomasen, CEO of the robotics company Seasony, which serves the vertical farming sector. “There is some tension, and farmers are pressedto balance sustainable business with sustainability. The harder question to answer is, how to create the right financial environment.” Indeed, many have big concerns. Some say legislators are ill-informed about farm production and management realities, such as the effort required to transition from livestock to crops. They wonder if the government is making decisions and setting targets based on sound science. And huge questions have surfaced about the potential effect of ever-increasing environmental standards on food imports, along with protectionist calls to reduce imports that do not live up to Danish standards — which, in reality, could be imports from almost all countries, given Denmark’s sky-high standards. That could prompt trade retaliation and spell disaster for an export-dependent country like Denmark. After all, Danish agriculture accounts for one-fifth of Danish exports; despite its size, it is a major exporting nation. “We can do all we can to lobby, but politicians are the ones who will make the decisions,” said one farmer during a field tour during last year’s International Federation of Agricultural Journalists’ congress in Denmark. “I’m extremely worried about protectionism. We must keep markets open and promote peace.” And at the same time, the agriculture sector must keep driving forward with the kind of innovation that entrepreneurs like Knudsen and Thomasen bring to the table. When it comes to environmental sustainability, Denmark’s on top of the world, and as far as the Danes are concerned, there is no turning back. l continued from page 6 CLIMATE-NEUTRAL RYE BREAD PRODUCTION MEASUREMENTS. GRAPHIC COURTESY OF SEGES INNOVATION.
9 (J.M.) WHAT LAWS GOVERN FARM EMPLOYERS AND EMPLOYEES IN ONTARIO? (S.L.) Four Ontario workplace laws apply to all employers and workers under provincial jurisdiction (including farm workers): • Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) — sets the health and safety standard requirements for employers and workers in the workplace. • Employment Standards Act (ESA) — includes rules around minimum wage, hours of work, and more. • Employment Protection for Foreign Nationals Act (EPFNA) — provides expanded protections for people who are working or looking for work in Ontario as temporary foreign agricultural workers. • Workplace Safety and Insurance Act (WSIA) — provides injured workers with disability benefits, health care, and other services and assists in an early and safe return to work. Farm employers should also be aware of some specific regulations under the OHSA that apply, including Regulation 414/05: Farming Operations and provincial guidelines for health and safety in farming operations that include operating equipment and tractors and common hazards. WHAT DO FARM EMPLOYERS NEED TO CONSIDER, ESPECIALLY DURING THE BUSY GROWING SEASON? As an employer, it is important that you are familiar with what rights and responsibilities exist under the ESA and OHSA. Understand what you need to provide to keep your workers safe, including clear communication about health and safety. You are responsible for offering health and safety awareness training, providing information, instruction and supervision to your workers, advising everyone about workplace hazards, and taking reasonable precautions to protect your workers. Farm employers should have a worker orientation or onboarding program that outlines everyone’s roles and responsibilities, common hazards, equipment training, and where or who to go to for more information or report a hazard. A farm is a busy place, especially during spring seeding and harvest, and despite the rush, employers are responsible for the health and safety of workers. During such busy seasons, questions about work hours may come up. The ESA has rules about daily and weekly limits on hours of work, hours free from work, and eating periods. Certain farm employees are exempt from some of these rules, and exemptions include those employed on a farm and if their employment is directly related to the primary production of specified commodities such as grain. If you or your workers have questions or concerns about the rules and farm exemptions governing work hours, visit the Hours of Work section under the ESA guidelines. ARE THERE ANY COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT AGRICULTURAL LABOUR AND RELATED REGULATIONS? The OHSA applies to virtually all farming operations with paid workers, regardless of the worker’s immigration status, including temporary foreign workers and contract workers from temporary help agencies. Additionally, a worker’s immigration status does not affect whether they qualify for workplace insurance benefits. Farm employers should also know that ESA covers foreign nationals working in Ontario. If you use employees from a temporary help agency, they are also covered by the ESA and its regulations. Clients of temporary help agencies (including agricultural operations) may be held liable for any unpaid wages by the agency. Everyone has a role to play and a responsibility for keeping themselves and their workplaces healthy and safe, especially on a farm. Under the OHSA, employers have the greatest responsibility for health and safety in the workplace and have a legal obligation to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of workers. Supervisors must take appropriate steps to identify and address workplace hazards, and workers must report hazards they know about to their employer or supervisor. WHERE CAN FARM EMPLOYERS FIND ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ABOUT LABOUR REGULATIONS? All employers play a key role in providing information to employees. To help farm employers understand their obligations and employees know their rights, the Ministry offers a library of educational resources, available at Ontario.ca under the Your Guide to the Employment Standards Act tab. Resources for farm employers include a suite of interactive tools and calculators, information sheets, tip sheets, FAQs, a comprehensive Guide to the ESA, and several educational videos. The Ministry also provides employment standards information in many languages at www.Ontario.ca/ EmploymentRights. Information about how special rules and exemptions apply (including farm exemptions) under the ESA can also be found at www.Ontario.ca, under Industries and jobs with exemptions or special rules. l Jeanine Moyer Sandra Lawson, Assistant Deputy Minister (Acting), Fair, Safe and Healthy Workplace Division, Ontario Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skill Development Agricultural labour laws BUSINESS SIDE WITH... Business side ONTARIO GRAIN FARMER 9 JUNE/JULY 2023
10 IT HAS BEENjust over 10 years since U.K.-based independent agricultural and environmental consultancy, the Agricultural Development and Advisory Service (ADAS), launched its Yield Enhancement Network (YEN) project, and what a success it’s been. The network has helped British farmers improve management practices and boost crop yields through tracking, reporting, and benchmarking. Participants have made significant gains over the past 10 years; some have even gone on to achieve world-record yields. Their success served as inspiration in North America, where industry stakeholders established the Great Lakes YEN. INSPIRED BY THE OLYMPIC GAMES Roger Sylvester-Bradley, head of crop performance at ADAS, said the inspiration to develop the Yield Enhancement Network came from the 2012 Summer Olympics, which were held in London the same year YEN was established. Not only are the games recognized as the standard of excellence for the world’s greatest athletes but as Sylvester-Bradley noted, spectators and athletes alike trust that the system by which the athletes are judged is both honest and fair. ADAS consultants believed they could create a similar competition with clear performance indicators — but for crop production. “We wanted to understand why the winners win and why the losers — well, don’t win,” Sylvester-Bradley said. YEN is much more than a yield competition, though. Participating in the contest has driven change in how growers understand yield determination and helped them make U.K. Yield Enhancement Network CELEBRATING 10 YEARS OF SUCCESS Melanie Epp objective management decisions that improve production. Being a member of the extended network offers perks, but it also comes with responsibility. Upon joining, new members receive a soil health check. Throughout the growing season, they are expected to keep comprehensive records of crop inputs and are asked to track crop growth stages. They are also expected to submit grain and tissue samples for analysis. Once analysis is complete, participants receive a detailed personal report on crop growth and possible yield constraints. What growers perhaps find most exciting about the 24-page report is that it shows yield potential within the selected field. Yield potential is determined by the crop’s ability to utilize available resources — moisture, Agronomy
sunlight and nutrients — and convert them into biomass and grain. The formula calculates for soil-available moisture as well as precipitation. Once finalized, the comprehensive report tells growers what per cent of their potential yield they actually achieved. It also points to factors that could be seen as possible yield constraints. The final report includes some 60+ factors, including the number of grains per head, 1,000-grain weight and nutrient content. While the data is submitted anonymously, sharing the results within the network allows growers to see how they measure up to their peers. YEN offers participating members educational opportunities too. Growers receive regular newsletters, as well as technical sessions with leading crop experts. They are also invited to participate in networking sessions and an annual conference where competition winners are recognized. Since its inception, the ADAS YEN has studied the yields of barley, oats, wheat, oilseed rape (canola), peas, and faba beans. The network recently added two new components, one to enhance nutritional efficiency (YEN Nutrition) and one to reduce carbon intensities of cropping (YEN Zero). According to Sylvester-Bradley, to date, the U.K.-based YEN has accumulated over 5,000 crop yields with over one million explanatory data points. All of this has led to some pretty outstanding results. This past year, Tim Lamyman, a grower from Lincolnshire, set two new world records when he produced 267.7 bu/ac (18 mt/ha) of wheat and 240.9 bu/ac (16.2 mt/ha) of barley. Obviously, Lamyman’s yields are not the norm, but Sylvester-Bradley believes yield potentials are high. “We think 14 mt/ha [208.2 bu/ac] is achievable almost anywhere,” he said. YEN COMES TO CANADA In 2020, Sylvester-Bradley and his colleague, Ruth Wade, spoke at the Southwest Ag Conference (SWAC), bringing the research and learning from the ADAS YEN to Canada. “Instead of researchers doing small plot research and trying to extrapolate that to growers’ fields, researchers tracked what growers did and what the outcome was,” said Peter Johnson, SWAC program committee member and resident agronomist with Real Agriculture. “[This is] a very different and cool way to try to move the bar forward.” Johnson also found the concept of evaluating crops and fields based on their yield potential particularly intriguing. “This isn’t just a yield contest that the farmers on the best dirt always win,” he said. “Instead, growers could look at how good they were at maximizing output from the sun and water they received.” Finally, he liked how the competition did not pit growers against one another; rather, it helped create a network of motivated individuals who were learning from one another. “All of these factors were very cool to me,” he said. Sylvester-Bradley and Wade’s talk at SWAC served as a catalyst in the development of the Great Lakes YEN. Following the talk, members of the Great Lakes Wheat Workers, a group of industry experts, including breeders, agronomists, and extension specialists from the Great Lakes region of Canada and the U.S., got together to discuss launching their own version of YEN. The pilot project, launched in Michigan and Ontario in 2021, focussedon winter wheat production, and was led by a collaborative group including Grain Farmers of Ontario, Michigan Wheat Program, Michigan State University, Certified Crop Advisors, OMAFRA, and the University of Guelph. In the 2021 pilot project, Grain Farmers of Ontario senior agronomist Marty Vermey said the YEN project collected over 250 data points from 43 locations across Ontario, Michigan and Ohio. The network has widened considerably this year and now includes over 180 field locations within the Great Lakes region. Provincially, data points stretch from Essex county to the Ottawa Valley, which means percent of potential is being calculated in various growing environments and in different soil types. Like their U.K. peers, participating Great Lakes YEN growers receive a detailed report at the end of the year. The report allows wheat growers to discover how their field measures compared to others and can pinpoint to where there may be some deficiencies and areas for improvement. “‘Per cent of potential’ has been a mental game changer for some farmers, though,” said Vermey. “Instead of worrying about not being able to compete against those who consistently achieve high yields under favourable conditions, they’re excited to compete against achieved per cent of yield potential with others, and improve their own potential each year,“ he said. At last year’s wrap-up meeting, Vermey said farmers ended the season with a greater understanding of wheat production and how their management decisions contribute to overall quality and yield. “The end goal of the project is for farmers and agronomists to learn how to improve their percentage of yield and to get improvements in their production,” Vermey concluded. “And I think farmers who have been in the project for a couple of years are already making production improvements on their farms.” To learn more about Great Lakes YEN and how you can get involved, visit: www.GreatLakesYEN.com. l ONTARIO GRAIN FARMER 11 JUNE/JULY 2023 YEN is much more than a yield competition, though. Participating in the contest has driven change in how growers understand yield determination and helped them make objective management decisions that improve production.
12 International farm risk management A NUFFIELD SCHOLAR UPDATE Rebecca Hannam AMY CRONIN, PICTURED HERE IN THE SOUTH ISLAND, NEW ZEALAND. PHOTO COURTESY OF AMY CRONIN. Agronomy WHILE AMY CRONIN’Stravel plans were delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Nuffield scholar improvised by starting her studies in Canada. She was able to kick off her global tour last spring and has since learned a lot about how farmers around the world manage risk. Cronin, who farms hogs, chickens, and crops with her husband Mike in Ontario, Iowa, and Missouri, was awarded a $15,000 Nuffield Canada scholarship in 2020, sponsored by Grain Farmers of Ontario. She chose to study farm business risk management strategies, a topic inspired by her own experience in farming. A year after she initially planned to start her travels, Cronin was eager to begin her project, but international travel was still challenging. Instead, she hit the road with her family and visited Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. "The entire trip was spent meeting farmers and touring farms," she says. "It really allowed me to think about my approach as I started to plan global travel." INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL RESUMES Cronin was finally able to start travelling internationally in the spring of 2022. She first visited Scandinavia to participate in the 23rd International Farm Management Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. The pre-conference tour involved a week in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. She then continued on to explore Spain, France, and the Netherlands to meet with farmers and others involved in the agriculture industry. "It really kicked off this whole idea of getting on farms, talking to farmers and trying to understand how they define and approach risk," Cronin says of the six-week tour. "I was able to meet with farmers, government officials, and people involved in agri-business in each country and really get into some indepth conversations on risk management." While Africa was not on Cronin's initial itinerary, she couldn't let the opportunity to visit Zimbabwe with 18 other Nuffield scholars pass her by. Not only was it on her bucket list of places to visit, but she also loved the idea of meeting farmers and visiting farms in a third-world country. "I learned so much about the way in which a third-world country works and how the first world and the third world have a lot in common, especially when it comes to agriculture," she says. "It was a way for me to look at my topic of risk management in a completely different light and to hear answers to questions that I would never hear in the first world." Cronin also visited Australia and New Zealand for five weeks in March and April 2023. Thanks to the existing Nuffield network of alumni and supporters, she was able to visit a large number of farms and learn about many different commodities. RESEARCHING RISK She selected jurisdictions to visit based on the diversity of government policies and programs related to farm risk management. In each country, Cronin talked to farmers about what risk management means to them, how they approach risk, and what challenges they face. She was also interested in how government programs influence (or do not influence) on-farm decision-making. "The interesting thing is that every country approaches agriculture differently, and every country creates policies and programs differently, which absolutely impacts the decisions that farmers make," she says. "When talking to farmers, I was really looking for things that were original or different than I would have heard in other places." Reflecting on her learnings thus far, Cronin says farmers share a lot of commonalities no matter where they are in the world. "All farmers face a lot of challenges, and while they differ from one area to another, there are certainly challenges that I experience on my farm in Ontario that are exactly the same as they experience in Denmark, Zimbabwe, and Australia and all of the other countries that I went to." But she took note of the different ways farmers perceive and manage risk and what
ONTARIO GRAIN FARMER 13 JUNE/JULY 2023 This project received funding from Grain Farmers of Ontario. the agricultural sectors in some countries could learn from others. WHAT'S NEXT? Cronin is planning one final trip to the United Kingdom late this summer and will then be finalizing her Nuffield report. "By the time I'm done, I will have spent 18 to 19 weeks travelling, so I have a lot of thoughts from a lot of farmers," she explains. "Now the big challenge is going to be to pull it all together and determine what rises to the top for this project." In addition to the formal presentation of her Nuffield report, Cronin wants to find ways to share her learnings with groups across Canada and around the globe. "When it comes to risk management, there are all kinds of work done on this by professionals, but when it comes from one of your peers, I think the information is sometimes interpreted and accepted differently," she says. "I have seen a lot of really interesting ideas and approaches, and I'm hoping to get out and talk about it." Cronin's final report will also outline risk management recommendations for farmers, industry, and government. She sincerely thanks Grain Farmers of Ontario and the other sponsors who supported her travel. Without the industry's financial support, her study would not have been possible. l
14 Treena Hein THE ROUND, CRUMBLY SOIL AGGREGATES AND EARTHWORMS FOUND IN THIS ALBERTA SOIL ARE INDICATORS OF GOOD MANAGEMENT THROUGH CROP ROTATION, MINIMAL SOIL DISTURBANCE, COVER CROPS, AND COMPOSTS. PHOTO COURTESY OF CAMERON OGILVIE. Agronomy THREE YEARS, USD $6.5 million, and 124 sites across Canada, the United States, and Mexico — these were the basic ingredients that came together in a successful effort to identify the three most effective and widelyapplicable measurements of soil health. These measurements have been validated in North America and may benefit farmers with similar soils in other parts of the globe. The North Carolina-based Soil Health Institute (SHI) partnered with over 100 scientists at 124 long-term agricultural research sites in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico to evaluate over 30 soil health indicators and narrowed it down to three. SHI research scientist Dr. Dianna Bagnall explains that by using these three measurements of soil health, farmers can try various ways of improving soil health and discern how much of a difference they have made. “Crop growers need a small, affordable, and reliable suite of tests,” she asserts. “These tests can provide good insight, if measured over time, to see the direction their soil health is going, or farmers might want to compare the measurements between different practices they are using.” Soil health is complex, says Bagnall, and it has not been easy for growers to answer important basic questions about soil health, Measuring soil health THREE INDICATORS IDENTIFIED AS THE BEST such as ‘how healthy is my soil right now?’ and ‘is what I’m doing making a small, large or no difference to improve soil health?’ “Now, they have a way to get clarity about what actions are having an impact,” she says, “and to know when they have gotten the job done when they’ve reached their target level of soil health.” THE FINAL THREE One of the three indicators is soil organic carbon or SOC, which is mostly non-living organic material in the soil, such as decomposed plant materials, plus soil-borne organisms. High SOC levels contribute to
ONTARIO GRAIN FARMER 15 JUNE/JULY 2023 “These tests can provide good insight, if measured over time, to see the direction their soil health is going, or farmers might want to compare the measurements between different practices they are using.” better soil structure and higher levels of microbial activity, available water and available nutrients. The second is carbon mineralization potential, which reflects the size and structure of microbial communities in soil, thereby influencing nutrient availability, soil aggregation, and resilience to changing climatic conditions. The third, aggregate stability, describes how strongly soil particles are held together. This influences whether a heavy rainfall will infiltrate the soil or run off the field, taking valuable nutrients with it. Aggregate stability also influences oxygen availability in soil, root growth, and how well plants can access nutrients. NARROWING DOWN The team started with 30 measurements and used several selection criteria to narrow those down. The chosen trio had to represent soil health, be sensitive to changes in soil management across a wide range of soil types, climates and crop production systems, and also offer a reasonable cost, be practical, and be readily available through labs (or through an app farmers can use themselves). Using these criteria allowed the scientists at SHI to narrow it down to a small group from which they would choose the most meaningful and direct measurements. They then worked to choose the three that provided the best distinct information, but when taken together, they provided a very good picture of overall soil health. Reflecting further on the selection process, Bagnall notes that “there were other ways to measure aggregate stability, but the way we recommend is through taking a picture of soil. We have a free app for this, for growers to do it themselves, and we are now partnering with the University of Sydney in Australia to develop an improved, more user-friendly version. (The Soil Health Institute’s new SLAKES app is expected to be released in late summer 2023.) However, we also offer a standard procedure for measuring aggregate stability at soil testing labs, where staff have high-powered computing systems and multiple cameras at their disposal.” SOIL TYPE AND MEASUREMENT CONTEXT Soil type obviously matters in terms of interpreting any measure of soil health. A certain score for one of the soil health measurements, for example, SOC, would not indicate a high soil health level in a clay-loam soil, but it would indicate good soil health in a sandy soil. Most large-scale crop farmers in Canada or the U.S. have mapped the soil types on their land, and hopefully, more in other parts of the world will be able to achieve this over time. And once you have the three soil health measurements and you know what type of soil they relate to, it is a matter of using the information in various ways, says Bagnall. “These measurements can be used to make comparisons over time or by comparing between two different practices,” she explains. “So, if you have two fields with the same soil type and drainage and you use cover crops on one and not the other, you can see the effect of cover crops on soil health using your three measurements for each field.” However, at the same time, it is quite important to know the ideal soil health measurement that can be reached for a given field. “For aggregate stability, for example, maybe it’s a maximum of 80 per cent that you can reach by doing many management changes over time,” says Bagnall. “You could get a sense of that maximum by doing the three measurements in an area of nearby pasture that’s got the same soil type and drainage as the field or do sampling along a fence row. Maybe it’s a spot of pasture on a nearby neighbour’s farm. You just want to try to get a sense of what is the best that can be achieved so you know you are getting there.” However, the three measurements can also be used to reach specific goals, such as increasing a soil’s available water-holding capacity or water infiltration. “You can calculate water-holding capacity using SOC plus your soil texture (the amount of sand, silt, and clay in your soil), and you can see how much more water your soil holds over time as you increase your soil health,” says Bagnall. “You can also add to the three measurements. If you want to see how water infiltration is changing over time, you can add infiltration measurements over time to the three basic soil health measurements and see how it’s improving.” The report can be found at www.soilhealthinstitute.org. l DIANNA BAGNALL IS A RESEARCH SCIENTIST WITH THE SOIL HEALTH INSTITUTE, SEEN HERE SAMPLING SOILS IN TEXAS. PHOTO COURTESY OF CAMERON OGILVIE.
16 An update on Grain Farmers of Ontario news and events YOUNG LEADERS WANTED Grain Farmers of Ontario seeks applicants for the American Soybean Association Corteva Young Leader program. This program provides a two-phase training program that engages in leadership training that will enhance your farming operation and your service in other organizations, gives you tools to tell your story better, and provides an opportunity to meet and learn from agriculture industry leaders and other farmers. One soybean farming couple or individual will be selected as the Ontario representative for the Class of 2024. Training takes place in Iowa in November and in conjunction with the Commodity Classic in March 2024. Applications will open in early June at www.soygrowers.com. For more information, read about the experience of Daniel Chiappetta, the 2023 Ontario Young Leader, at www.ontariograinfarmer.ca; or contact Rachel Telford, manager of member relations, at firstname.lastname@example.org. YOUR GRAIN FARMERS OF ONTARIO TEAM Here is our next installment of profiles of your Grain Farmers of Ontario Board of Directors and staff to help introduce you to the team. LISA ASHTON, SUSTAINABILITY AND ENVIRONMENT LEAD Lisa Ashton comes to Grain Farmers of Ontario with a background in research and consulting, focusing on environmental sustainability in agriculture. By combining lessons learned from her family’s farm, academic research, and industry experience, Ashton strives to take an informed, strategic, and systems approach in her work. She has collaborated on several sustainable agriculture projects with organizations, including Wilton Consulting Group, Arrell Food Institute, WSP, and Nature United. These projects included developing strategies to improve environmental outcomes across agri-food value chains and informing the development of a sustainability initiative that could help streamline data asks of farmers. Her academic training began with an International Development degree from the University of Ottawa, followed by obtaining a Masters in Global Change: Ecosystem Science and Policy from University College Dublin, Ireland, and Justus Liebig University, Germany. Ashton is completing her Ph.D. in the Geography, Environment and Geomatics Department at the University of Guelph. GRAIN FARMERS OF ONTARIO LEGACY SCHOLARSHIP Grain Farmers of Ontario has launched the 2023 Legacy Scholarship program. Ten scholarships, valued at $5,000, are available to students enrolled in full-time postsecondary studies. Up to five scholarships are available for students studying in nonagriculture-specific programs. More information, including application instructions, is available at www.gfo.ca/ legacyscholarship or by contacting Rachel Telford, manager of member relations, at email@example.com. Applications close July 31, 2023. FIELD OBSERVATIONS The Grain Farmers of Ontario agronomy team, Marty Vermey and Laura Ferrier, publish a weekly field observations report on the Ontario Grain Farmer website and in the weekly GrainTALK e-newsletter. Find out more at www.OntarioGrainFarmer.ca. CONNECTING WITH CONSUMERS The Grain Discovery Zone and Grains on the Go trailers will be travelling across the province this summer, visiting festivals, fairs, and events to help connect consumers with information about grain and oilseed production. A highlight FROM THE CHAIR A Q&A with Brendan Byrne, chair of Grain Farmers of Ontario. With summer approaching and planting well underway, it is a high-stress time for farmermembers. What would you say to someone struggling this season? This spring has been difficult for me and my District (District 1, Essex). One of our farmermembers lost their life to suicide in the early spring. I am so very sorry for his family’s loss, and I am humbled to be reminded of all the work we still have to do to ensure people know that there is help available and to support them so that they know they can reach out. Our farmer wellness committee and Sarah Plater Findlay, Grain Farmers of Ontario’s human resources manager, have created great mental health awareness resources in partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association and Do More Ag, which can be found at www.gfo.ca/farmerwellness. Mental health is health; we need to understand the signs and treat it like any disease or illness. I’d also like to say Happy Pride to our 2SLGBTQ+ readers, family, friends, and supporters. Just know that you belong in agriculture and are accepted and valued in our membership. Looking back on the history of Pride, it’s amazing to see how this celebration — borne from honouring the 1969 Stonewall Uprising — has grown and helped so many. We will continue to do our part to break down barriers and make our organization more inclusive. • Do you have a question for our chair? Email GrainTALK@gfo.ca.
18 ANDREW GRAHAM, LONG-TIME executive director for the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association (OSCIA), retires in June 2023. With 33 years of experience in the organization, eight of which were in the executive role, Graham says he is proud EFP - a winning model ANDREW GRAHAM REFLECTS ON OSCIA’S SUCCESS Matt McIntosh ANDREW GRAHAM RETIRES FROM OSCIA AFTER 33 YEARS. PHOTO COURTESY OF OSCIA. of OSCIA’s longevity, outreach and program delivery model, and particularly its flagship initiative — the Environmental Farm Plan (EFP). Graham came to OSCIA after beginning his career at Upper Thames River Conservation Authority in London, followed by a stint at the Oxford County office of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs in Woodstock. His initial role with OSCIA involved designing and delivering numerous stewardship education and incentive programs, as well as other special projects for the farm community. “There have been dozens and dozens of government-funded programs, applied research projects, incentive type programs, since I moved to OSCIA in 1990,” says Graham. “OSCIA was building a tremendous reputation for capacity and ability to deliver programs. The farm community was very accepting of that approach. It brought a lot of credibility and stability.” “There are always unknowns when delivering government programs as a third party — if it’s going to come through, and what it is going to look like — but we have had significant opportunity over the years to influence program designs both on the educational side and incentive program side.” SUCCESS OF THE EFP Graham considers the Environmental Farm Plan program one of OSCIA’s greatest successes. “I was there when the idea was first being discussed. At the time, we didn’t even know what an EFP would entail. It was the start of quite a journey to figure out what the EFP would be for Ontario. We leaned on a program that was being delivered in Wisconsin at the time called Farm Assist. We got Industry News
permission to break down their model and built it back up in a way that helped farmers here recognize environmental risks and also present proven methods to address that risk,” says Graham. “To be still involved 30 years later and see the tremendous success it’s been not only in Ontario but across Canada is extremely rewarding.” INTERNATIONAL RECOGNITION Recognition of the EFP’s value has come from very far afield. Graham and OSCIA colleagues frequently hosted delegations from, among many other places, Indonesia, New Zealand, and the Nunavut territory. While the application of technical details may not have been relevant to each visiting party, the structure of the EFP – and specifically, how it was employed as a vehicle of knowledge transfer — proved valuable. “It’s always impressive to host groups from countries you would least expect. It wasn’t the technical information in the book, it was the adult education system they were interested in – the idea of assembling a system that would empower their farmers,” he says. Delegates from Nunavut, for example, thought the EFP format would be valuable in identifying specific risks in the area and putting into practice tactics that would reduce those risks. “In their case, the risk was polar bears coming in your front door. It opens your eyes to a lot of different circumstances.” HARRY STODDART TAKES EXECUTIVE ROLE Graham has shifted to the executive officer role until he retires in June. Harry Stoddart, a veteran farmer and consultant in agri-food business strategy and policy design, has taken on the executive director position. Stoddart brings to OSCIA considerable consulting experience in agri-food business strategy and policy design, including roles with the Lindsay Agricultural Society as general manager and operating a 2,000-acre family farm. He authored a book on his farming experiences titled Real Dirt: An Ex-industrial Farmer’s Guide to Sustainable Farming. “From my perspective, my first goal is to listen to the members, staff, and others in the organization to understand where they see the challenges and growth opportunities,” says Stoddart. More generally, Stoddart hopes his long-standing interest in environmental stewardship and range of experiences in consulting and primary production — including hog and beef production — will support his understanding of challenges and opportunities. “The environmental piece has always been a passion of mine,” he says. “The big thing I want to do is continue to build on OSCIA’s reputation and put it in a leadership position for environmental issues. Climate change and greenhouse gas reduction are going to be prominent in the coming years. We need research and good policy.” GOING FORWARD Graham says the need for continued research and comprehensive reviews of the EFP itself is also important. “A lot has changed in 30 years. There are changes in regulation, new ideas, technologies, and issues that weren’t being discussed when the current fourth edition was being rolled out, which was 10 years ago. It needs to have a thorough review, and we hope there will be an opportunity for other organizations to be consulted to determine their needs, desires and opinions.” l ONTARIO GRAIN FARMER 19 JUNE/JULY 2023 Recognition of the EFP’s value has come from very far afield. Graham and OSCIA colleagues frequently hosted delegations from, among many other places, Indonesia, New Zealand, and the Nunavut territory. Since the EFP was introduced in 1993, it is estimated that more than 75 per cent of Ontario farm businesses have participated at one time or another. Many have come through the door of workshops more than once to keep their plan updated. By 2021, several tens of thousands of Ontario farm businesses had voluntarily participated in over 3,750 educational workshops delivered by OSCIA workshop leaders. Records reveal OSCIA has administered well over $265 million in cost-share incentives to farm businesses over the years through a variety of programs. Most of these government funds have been invested in environmental improvements. Source: Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association. BY THE NUMBERS