Ontario Grain Farmer March 2024

22 Industry News The next chapter BRENDAN BYRNE FINISHES TERM AS GRAIN FARMERS OF ONTARIO CHAIR Mary Feldskov LIKE MOST GOOD STORIES, THE STORY OF HOW BRENDAN BYRNE ended up as chair of Grain Farmers of Ontario doesn’t follow a straight line. With a few twists and turns and a cast of supporting characters, Byrne made his way from Essex County farm kid to chair of Ontario’s largest farm organization, taking him on a journey that saw him travel across Canada and around the world, meet with provincial, national, and international leaders, and lead the organization through not one, but several, unprecedented global crises. BEFORE GRAIN FARMERS OF ONTARIO Byrne grew up in Essex County, where his family has been farming for over 100 years. He describes his farm as a “typical corn, soybean, wheat farm.” About 20 years ago, Byrne says he was offered the opportunity to come home to manage the farm full time — but becoming a farmer wasn’t always in the cards. “I now say to my kids, chase any dream that you have, and the farm is going to be here … if you want to come back, great, but if you have something that is your passion and that you love, follow that.” Byrne followed that advice by pursuing a business and economics degree at the University of Windsor, with the goal of establishing a career path in business. From there, he went on to sell high-end art for a number of years and worked in feature film and music video production. The farm was something that he would come back to when he could; a ‘part-time’ pursuit, he describes. GETTING ON BOARD When he first returned to the farm full-time, Byrne’s dad encouraged him to attend some of the local farm meetings. “My dad said, ‘I don’t always have time to go to all these meetings, so why don’t you go and see what they’re up to and what you can bring back to us,’” says Byrne. Getting involved first with the Essex Soil and Crop Improvement Association, Byrne took on a board position and later a role on the local soybean committee. When Grain Farmers of Ontario was formed in 2010, Byrne was elected as a delegate, then chaired District 1 (Essex) for several years and sat on several Grain Farmers of Ontario committees. Taking the next step into a board position came at the encouragement of Leo Guilbeaut, a past president of the Ontario Soybean Growers and District 1’s (Essex) first Grain Farmers of Ontario director. “He would keep checking in with me … he thought I could step in after him,” says Byrne. In 2015, Byrne was elected to the Grain Farmers of Ontario Board of Directors. THE PATH TO CHAIR Byrne joined the executive committee in 2018 and, a year later, was elected as vice chair. Following Marcus Haerle’s term as chair, Byrne says there was “overwhelming support from the board for me to move into the chair.” “Barry [Senft] was very supportive, in the time that he was there as CEO, in the same way that Crosby [Devitt] has been,” says Byrne. “Over the years, the executive and chairs and members of the Board, like Mark Brock, Mark Huston, Henry Van Ankum, Marcus Haerle, Kevin Armstrong — those are the ones that I spent time learning from.”