OFA’s showcases ongoing projects and initiatives during inaugural Research Day

OFA Viewpoint

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By Louis Roesch, Director, Ontario Federation of Agriculture

The pandemic has fostered many firsts, especially when it comes to virtual learning and engagement. For the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA), that came in the form of our first ever Research Day. The event provided the organization an opportunity to share updates, information and progress on projects and initiatives we’re directly involved in.

OFA is proud to work with many collaborative partners on key challenges and issues facing Ontario farmers. The inaugural event garnered the attention of 168 attendees, comprised of members, industry stakeholders and government representatives. We were pleased to see the participation of our memberships during a very busy time of year for farm businesses. This day was an opportunity to educate, inform and engage attendees on current research projects in a presentation, Q&A style format.

In a busy and ever-evolving sector, it can be difficult to keep up with the latest research and technology developments. Research Day was an opportunity to provide insightful and valuable sessions to members in a transferable way that shares knowledge and data collected from these projects that can be easily retained. OFA hosted eight sessions in total, and attendees were welcome to come and go throughout the day based on personal availability and interests. Sessions covered environment and climate change, farmland values, agriculture financial assessments, mental health and wellness, and skilled labour.

Dr. Franco Berruti delivered the opening session on the thermochemical conversion of waste. Dr. Berruti’s research through Western University facilities, is funded and supported by OFA as a partner on the advisory committee. This session highlighted economic and environmental opportunities that farmers can pursue in the future to reduce their carbon footprint. Dr. Amar Mohanty, a research chair in Sustainable Biomaterials at the University of Guelph, delivered a similar message with the concept of biodegradable bale wraps. OFA supports this research of the alternative use of plant material for bale wraps as opposed to plastic to reduce farm waste.

Charles Lalonde carried the theme of environmental stewardship through the two sessions he led. The first discussed phosphorus runoff through the Thames River that has contributed to the growth of harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie. The Thames River Phosphorus Reduction Collaborative (PRC) is administered in part by OFA and includes Mark Reusser, Vice President as Co-Chair of the collaborative. Thames River PRC aims to provide members with the tools and knowledge to significantly improve the state of water in our Great Lakes.

On our farm near Chatham, Ontario, we host one of the testing stations and we want to share these efforts so more members know what is going on behind the scenes. The research into different technologies that intercept and extract phosphorus from runoff will continue over the next two years. Charles also discussed the new Resilient Fields app, funded in part by OFA. This tool is supported to provide farmers with the resources to implement sustainable cropping solutions with the help of industry experts.

These sessions segue into the financial assessment on the federal carbon tax delivered by Dr. Al Mussell, Founder and Research Lead of Agri-Food Economic Systems. OFA hired Dr. Mussel to measure the carbon footprint of Ontario farmers, and determine if this matches the tax burden imposed on farmers. OFA was pleased to share the cost and analysis report with members and industry stakeholders in an effort to illustrate the financial impact the carbon tax will have on our farm businesses. Professor Brady Deaton, from the University of Guelph, also provided an assessment on farmland rental values. This data has been collected through surveys distributed by OFA over a five-year period to fill a knowledge gap. We generally have a lot of data on farmland value, but this data collection provides insight and helpful information for members that are renting land or rent land to others.

OFA staff, Janine Lunn and Peter Sykanda, hosted a discussion surrounding the ongoing mental health initiatives that OFA is involved in. Mental health and wellness continues to be a key priority for the organization, and working with strong community partners has allowed us to move from advocacy and awareness to action. The ‘In the Know’ mental health training sessions and the Farmer Wellness Program are supported by OFA. Both of these initiatives provide members and rural communities with resources and training tailored to the farming population to be more accessible, relevant and affordable.

The Feeding Your Future initiative was established by OFA shortly after the onset of the pandemic as a response to labour shortages on farms across Ontario. Staff members, Danielle Collins and Michelle deNijs shared many opportunities available for agri-food employers to connect with job seekers. To ensure new hires are suitable for Ontario farm operations, there is a Worker Safety and Awareness Certificate available at a discounted rate.

We thank all members, industry stakeholders and government representatives for joining us and engaging in OFA’s inaugural Research Day. It was a great opportunity to educate and ensure our members are aware and knowledgeable about the projects and initiatives OFA is working on for the betterment of agriculture.

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