Cattlemen’s, Soil-Crop AGM features updates in Ontario agriculture sector

This year’s Manitoulin Cattlemen’s Association and Manitoulin Soil and Crop Improvement Association joint annual general meeting, like so many other gatherings over the past year, went online.

MANITOULIN – The combined annual general meeting for Manitoulin Cattlemen’s Association (MCA) and Manitoulin Soil and Crop Improvement Association (MSCIA) took place on Wednesday, January 20, with representatives from both associations sharing updates in their respective sectors with fellow Island farmers and Jim Martin taking over the president role from John McNaughton.

First on the agenda was a review of the financials. MCA ended the year with an approximate $720 surplus, but secretary-treasurer Brent Best had not yet taken out his travel expenses from last year’s Beef Farmers of Ontario (BFO) AGM in Toronto, which will match the other attendees at $584.

On the MSCIA side, the group raised $240 from membership dues but faced expenses of $250 from provincial membership, another $25 from regional membership and bank fees of $43.50 for a year-end net loss of $77.

Jeff Hietkamp suggested that MCA should increase its annual bursary to a Manitoulin Secondary School graduate, saying it has been frozen at $200 for a long time. He suggested a new value of $300 or $500; at a directors’ meeting after the AGM, the directors voted to double the bursary to $400.

Birgit Martin noted that Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association has begun to accept membership dues electronically through its website. The portal officially launches on February 20 but is now open for testing purposes.

MCA president John McNaughton shared an update on his association, beginning with a recognition of BFO’s bi-weekly Friday updates to keep members informed and host discussion forums. 

He noted new livestock transport regulations in England, including an allowable ambient temperature range for transport as being between -5°C and +30°C. He said he was pleased that such regulations do not presently exist in Canada yet, as they may  require the purchase of climate-controlled trailers.

Ms. Martin spoke next to introduce a brief video from the provincial soil and crop body. Highlights included a new online-focused newsletter called The Innovator, a note that a few large-scale research projects are concluding this year and a new set are being launched, a strategic planning update from the board, updates on continued soil health advocacy work and finally, updates on last year’s app launch called ‘Soil Test Manager.’

More details about the association’s research is shared at OSCIAresearch.org, including a Northeastern Ontario project that tested inoculating certain plant species to enhance health and growth rates by creating mycorrhiza (a symbiotic pairing of funguses with roots to benefit their respective health).

The inoculation test showed that oats could improve yields by 1.5 percent or $10 per acre, soybean yields increased by two bushels (or $22.38) per acre and potatoes were estimated to fetch 15 percent higher yields, though the data was not entirely certain due to challenges at harvest time.

The Northern Ontario soil and crop group is seeking input from farmers on what barriers they may have to access funding, because intake has been lower in this region than elsewhere, said Emily Potter, executive director of Northern Ontario Farm Innovation Alliance.

Ms. Martin suggested that farmers should have potential expansion projects at the ready so they can apply quickly when funding intakes happen; she said a few recent intakes filled up in a matter of hours.

BFO representative Richard Horne introduced an update from his organization alongside director-at-large and Island farmer Jordan Miller. The 36-minute presentation from the provincial board detailed a year marked by volatile prices and a lower overall ending price from the start, though the end price was still above comparable jurisdictions. 

Once the pandemic hit, demand for Ontario cattle dropped alongside American exports because the latter were struggling to maintain domestic volumes. On a week-over-week basis, volumes increased in the fall though final tallies are not yet available.

BFO scored a win this year when the province added $50 million to the risk management program and, while the representatives said there was still a fair way to go, it was a significant boost for the program. The group is seeking enhancements to the AgriStability program because its current makeup does not meet the needs of beef producers, they said.

The provincial group approved an annual $200,000 payout for research and approved 11 projects last year. 

It also outlined a commitment to diversity and inclusion in the wake of last year’s growth of the Black Lives Matter movement. While many of the farm-based producers do not compose a diverse demographic, many processors and high numbers of end-consumers are from marginalized communities, so BFO developed a value statement about how Ontario beef producers can be an ally to these individuals.

Mr. Miller noted that an uptick in processing in the past year can be partly attributed to an increase in freezer product demand. He also noted that there is a new abattoir and processing facility coming soon to the Bruce Mines area at Penokean Hills Farms. That producer previously took up much of the region’s abattoir capacity and producers were pleased that some of that pressure would be removed while increasing output potential. 

The former abattoir has been sold and indications are that it will continue as a provincial facility.

Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Mike Mantha attended the AGM and shared some of his priorities for the region, including pushing for mental wellness initiatives—especially those for farmers. He said he was pressing the government to better explain its emergency order parameters and working to describe how closing small businesses has a more profound impact in Northern Ontario.

Onto MCA board elections, there were two director positions available. Mr. Hietkamp nominated Andrew Vokes and Nickolas Martin nominated Cameron Runnalls; both accepted. Nickolas Martin, who has been the advisory councillor for three years, stood for his position, while Jim Martin was named alternate advisory councillor.

Mr. McNaughton and Mr. Vokes will be the local voting delegates at the virtual BFO AGM coming up next month, while Brent Best will serve as alternate voting delegate.

Bill Reach will be the local delegate for the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association AGM, with Mr. Hietkamp serving as alternate.

Cameron Runnalls nominated Jim Martin to be the new president of MCA and Mr. McNaughton agreed to vacate his outgoing presidency. Mr. Best will remain as secretary-treasurer.