Provincial Office updates


Table of Contents


2020 OSCIA Provincial Office staff

Executive Director Andrew Graham    
Association:   Program Delivery
Amber Van De Peer Executive Assistant   Angela Straathof Program Director (Manager)
Brittany Roka Association Development Advisor   Alexandra Dacey Program Analyst
Kathleen Pentland Office Coordinator   Barbara Caswell Program Coordinator
Tracey Ryan Applied Research Coordinator   Diane Zappacosta Programs Assistant
    John Laidlaw Manager of Field Delivery
Finance:   Jordan Graham Program Analyst
Julie Henderson Chief Financial Officer (Manager)   Karen Jacobs Program Coordinator
Michaela Long Senior Financial Officer   Maria Ramirez Giraldo Program Analyst
Shawna Hollebrandse Senior Financial Officer   Micah Shearer-Kudel Program Analyst
      Samantha Lyon Program Analyst
      Sara Lin Barron Program Analyst
Information Technology
Gabriella Visontai Perry IT Manager      
Amie Melnychuk Business Developer   Larry Liu Application Developer
Brian Lloyd Website Developer   Sandy Chatterjee Software Quality Assurance Specialist

Executive Director Report – Andrew Graham

Nobody would have imagined the reach and duration of the impacts spurred by the pandemic on our businesses and individual lives, and yet here we are.

2020 was one of those years no one will ever forget – no matter how hard we might try. It was a year of constant challenges and adjustments. Personally, if it were not for the seasonal changes, I likely would have lost track of time altogether. We adjusted, and we re-adjusted, and we all learned we are capable of things we had never dreamt of.

Despite the forces of the pandemic, 2020 was an eventful year with many accomplishments for Soil & Crop. Our cumulative successes far outweighed setbacks. It was gratifying to see the willingness of our leadership, member volunteers and staff to pull together to find alternate and often creative ways to overcome the barriers and difficulties.

As will be reflected in the financial report, a difference of interpretation led to the Ministry ruling that OSCIA pay back a portion of funds claimed through transfer payment agreements to cover associated delivery costs going back to 2018. The funds we were required to return supported two internally restricted funds that were established by our Finance Committee based on a recommendation from a 3rd party accounting firm and were considered an acceptable practice for not-for-profit organizations. The eligible expense verbiage in the transfer payment agreement exposed the Association to interpretation, which in the end, led to the Ministry’s determination. Due to careful management of funds earned over the years, the Association remains in a solid financial position; however, the experiences over the past year signal the likelihood of further changes in how business is conducted. Documentation and stringent operating procedures that we have received positive recognition from auditors for in the past, must now be further bolstered. The realization we are facing continued years of change is reflected in the 3-year strategic plan that was endorsed by our Board of Directors in August.

The strategic planning process involved a rigorous review of core competencies, and a critical analysis of our current organizational structure and function to highlight specific areas that require strategic action.  Core competencies are the capabilities of an organization that enable it to deliver significant value to its members and partners, differentiating its brand from other organizations. OSCIA’s core competencies are (in no particular order): Producer Education, On-Farm Applied Research, 3rd Party Program Delivery, and Local Leadership Development. The Board will attest that the strategic planning process can be a rather demanding exercise at times, but a necessary one that through consensus, charts a clear path forward to ensure growth and continued success. Four strategic actions were identified:

  1. Generate multiple revenue streams
  2. Cultivate grassroots engagement
  3. Expand impact of on-farm applied research initiatives
  4. Foster a culture of continuous improvement

Work is already underway on all four actions and the appointed leads will be reporting progress regularly to the Board of Directors. We invite you to visit our website to learn more about the Strategic Plan 2020-2023.

Adversity brings out the mettle in all of us. We think creatively and search out opportunities where we can apply our specific skills to better the organization. We greatly appreciate the support provided by many of the Regional Communication Coordinators who eagerly jumped in to coordinate virtual platforms to facilitate local and regional annual meetings and other activities. It truly exemplified the valuable role that can be fulfilled by the RCCs. Considerable progress has been made over the past twelve months to refine the function of the RCC. This is perhaps best illustrated in the contributions made towards publishing the new e-newsletter, The Innovator.

The progress made in our communication activities have been stellar. The website has undergone considerable improvements, the long-awaited membership platform was launched, and www.osciaresearch.org was created to catalogue our many applied research activities in one easy to navigate site. It’s exciting times, and with continued attention to timely improvements, we will further improve services to the membership and cultivate greater grassroots engagement. We remain optimistic that the Ministry will see value in supporting our multi-year funding proposal that would permit the continued evolution of the Tier One and Two grants, and the Regional Communication grant.

Staff are essential for our continued success. Those in the office and others in field delivery across the province regularly demonstrate their wealth of experience, enthusiasm, and resourcefulness. They know the industry, the players, and they get things done. To ensure we are fostering a culture amongst staff for continuous improvement, a project was initiated in 2020 with the assistance of a respected consultant to fulfill another commitment in the strategic plan – one that advocates employee satisfaction, ensures funders continue to be satisfied with OSCIA’s abilities, ensure farmers continue to be satisfied and respect our capabilities, and increase members’ enthusiasm and engagement. The project has aggressive goals, but they are extremely worthwhile and will pay dividends in future years for the Association.

We want to welcome those individuals that chose to bring their skills and knowledge to OSCIA over the past twelve months. There are several new faces in the Guelph office as well as RCCs, and a couple of new regional directors joining the Board.

After 24 years at 1 Stone Road, the office location is moving. The decision has been contemplated for some time and discussions that took place during the strategic planning process cemented the commitment. The move starts in February. The new location at 367 Woodlawn Road West in Guelph enables us to fulfill four primary objectives:

  1. Reducing operating costs that will help us remain competitive for future delivery agreements.
  2. Improving office layout and function. Experience with COVID-19 foreshadow the new normal to safeguard the health of staff and optimize productivity.
  3. Achieving consolidation by combining the office and currently several different storage facilities all under one roof.
  4. Presenting our brand with greater independence.

This will be the fourth occasion where we have relocated the office in the time I’ve been at Soil & Crop, but this is the first time we won’t be sharing the hallways with our friends from OMAFRA. The long-standing relationship with the Ministry in both program delivery and grassroot engagement will not change. Their support is integral to the services we provide, and we very much look forward to continued collaborations.

The pandemic hi-jacked many conversations, changed workplans and cast a long shadow over so many planned activities in 2020 that one may conclude almost everything else was put on hold. Not true. Presentations taking place at the annual meeting will demonstrate impressive progress on many exciting programs that offer opportunities to the broader farm community, and special projects that engage and extend benefits to members.

We are also pleased to be extending assistance on financial administration to the Ontario Soil Network through an agreement signed in January. The 9-month arrangement provides significant hours from one of our expert senior financial officers at no cost to OSN, to provide guidance on items including accounts payable and quarterly financial statements. The individual will also hold a non-voting seat on the OSN financial sub-committee. We are very optimistic it may lead to further collaboration between the two like-minded organizations.

You will notice from the list of current agreements that we have increased our commitment of resources towards the delivery of applied research projects. The ONFARM initiative supported through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership represents a very significant step forward by the Ministry in response to recommendations in the province’s Soil Health and Conservation Strategy released in 2018. The network of sites created through ONFARM and the newly established partnerships will help build a stronger understanding of best management practices and their effect on soil health and water quality, on different soils and across a variety of farm enterprises.

You are going to be hearing much more about ONFARM in 2021 and beyond. The initiative provides an opportunity for OSCIA to pursue another action identified in the strategic plan – namely to expand impact of our applied research activities. Programs such as ONFARM and the anticipated Living Laboratory Initiative give us the unique opportunity to leverage our e-newsletter The Innovator to increase knowledge transfer and use our web presence to improve on-line access to research results. These outcomes will serve our membership and the broader farm community.

I want to recognize the tremendous determination demonstrated by our leadership, members, and staff to successfully navigate the unpredictable waters we have faced this past year and wish to end by reiterating it is a privilege to serve as Executive Director and extremely rewarding to be surrounded by such dedicated and talented leadership and staff. We thank the farmers who express their willingness to support the organization through the purchase of memberships and volunteer efforts and wish to extend gratitude to the investors from provincial ministries and federal departments that confirm their confidence by awarding promising new funding agreements to OSCIA.

I have never been more excited about this association. OSCIA is a mature organization like no other, with proven ability to scale up to seek more projects – this applies equally to the Guelph office operations and to the locals across the regions. It is so inspiring to hear the stories of members who are improving the health of their soils. Steady progress is being made in soil conservation practices, and our network has been a steadfast contributor. It is true that in-person interactions are second to none, but we have seen changes over the past year that will forever alter how we reach out and influence decision making in agriculture. We want you all to feel welcome and we are very pleased that you are part of OSCIA. Thank you and enjoy your annual meeting.


Association Development Advisor Report – Brittany Roka

Association Development Advisor, Brittany Roka

With several new skills development resources in place and membership engagement noticeably growing, continuing to increase engagement is still a priority for OSCIA. The positive decisions made by the Board of Directors to develop online training modules is an outcome of listening to what the local and regional associations needed and acting upon it.

To measure video performance and achieve optimal satisfaction across our 60+ voluntary boards, each training module has been uploaded onto OSCIA’s YouTube channel and linked back to the Skills Development Resource page on OSCIA’s website (https://www.ontariosoilcrop.org/association/skills-development/ ).

The webpage currently displays:

  • Constitution templates
  • Four training modules
  • Strategies for pulling together a successful project/event
  • Two guidebooks on board governance
  • A director’s handbook,
  • A copy of the association handbook
  • Links to mental health initiatives

Although we have completed our two-year funding agreement through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, OSCIA’s Executive is pleased with the results thus far and is committed to keeping the momentum going. The completed training modules will continue to be incorporated in our skills development workshops and promoted through OSCIAs e-newsletter, The Innovator – News from the Grassroots.

For those local and regional associations interested in participating in a virtual training session, here is a list of the current workshops offered:

  • Strategic Planning
  • Virtual Platform training via Zoom
  • Board Governance Training
  • Secretary-Treasurer Training
  • Identifying Roles & Responsibilities
  • Ways to Recruit and Retain Members
  • How to Run a Successful Meeting
  • Conducting Elections

Last year, OSCIA embarked on a bold new approach to move to a single comprehensive on-line newsletter that would provide effective knowledge transfer opportunities to members on innovative practices that facilitate responsible, economic management of soil, water, air and crops. Since then, OSCIA has successfully released 3 issues of The Innovator – News from the Grassroots to members across the province.

With over 3,700 members now receiving an electronic copy of The Innovator, and less than 700 by mail, Regional Associations are able to re-direct funds into other communication activities.

To ensure we continue to meet the needs of our membership and foster the relationships with local industry partners, regions have been provided with a landing page within the e-newsletter template to display regional sponsorships, upcoming events, local articles and more. Each region can customize their content and update the page as often as they want. Regions who already have an active website have chosen to redirect their landing page to their website for consistency.

The next issue of The Innovator – News from the Grassroots is currently being developed and will be released to members on March 20th. If you are a current OSCIA member and have not received an electronic copy of The Innovator, please contact us at newsteam@ontariosoilcrop.org

Excitement continues to grow around the capabilities and ease of use of the new OSCIA membership platform. Over the past several months, more than 30 local associations have eagerly volunteered to participate in a virtual training session on the new site.

Members can now access the platform and generate an account through the OSCIA website.  The platform can be used to register for events, renew or purchase multiple memberships for different local associations, access The Innovator, and stay up to date on activities taking place across the province. OSCIA aims to have all regions moved over to the new membership site by February 20th.

We look forward to the upcoming changes in 2021!


Programs Report – Angela Straathof

Programs Director, Angela Straathof

Delivery of cost-share programming and program development is conducted by OSCIA’s six programs analysts: Sara Lin Barron, Maria Ramirez Giraldo, Samantha Lyon, Jordan Graham, Micah Shearer-Kudel, and Alexandra Dacey; two program coordinators: Karen Jacobs and Barb Caswell; our Manager of Field Delivery: John Laidlaw; and the indispensable support of OSCIA’s IT and Finance departments.

Program delivery would not be possible without the outstanding commitment and wealth of knowledge provided by our field staff located across the province. They continued to deliver Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) and Grow Your Farm Profits workshops (GYFP), and facilitate Biosecurity workshops, while getting farmers the information they need to participate in cost-share programming.

Canadian Agricultural Partnership
The Canadian Agricultural Partnership (the Partnership) is a five-year federal-provincial-territorial initiative to strengthen the agriculture, agri-food, and agri-based products sector and increase its competitiveness, prosperity and sustainability. 2020 was the third year that OSCIA delivered Partnership cost-share funding programs to producers and associated other agri-business operations. In Ontario, strategic initiatives under the Partnership focus on achieving key outcomes related to 3 Priority Areas: Economic Development, Environmental Stewardship, and Protection and Assurance.

In 2020, OSCIA opened two intakes for the Partnership: the first opened on January 8 and closed January 29. 1312 applications were received from 858 unique farm operations and more than 670 projects were approved following the competitive, merit-based application intake. 60 of those approved applications were in the Priority Area of Economic Development. 373 were approved in the Priority Area of Environmental Stewardship. 239 were approved in the Priority Area of Protection and Assurance.

The second application intake for the Partnership opened on December 9 2020 and closed on January 6 2021. This intake will support an investment of up to $7.5 million to support farmers in making enhancements to their operations.

A third continuous application intake was offered under The Partnership throughout 2020, called the Targeted Intake to Support Managed Bee Health. This initiative supports specific beekeeping activities in two project categories: Advancing Beekeeper Business Capacity and Honey Bee Health Management.

Workshop Delivery under the Canadian Agricultural Partnership
Workshop delivery was challenged during the COVID-19 pandemic. Eased lockdown restrictions from September to December allowed for some delivery of EFP and GYFP workshops in accordance with local public health guidelines. Biosecurity workshops moved to 100% online delivery. Electronic options of EFP (eEFP) and GYFP (eGYFP) have also supported these learning opportunities through the pandemic. OSCIA will continue to monitor local and provincial public health guidelines in 2021 in the hopes of returning to in-person workshop delivery when possible.

Lake Erie Agriculture Demonstrating Sustainability (LEADS)
Under the Partnership, OSCIA also delivers the geographically targeted program Lake Erie Agriculture Demonstrating Sustainability (LEADS). LEADS aims to make measurable improvements to soil health and meet nutrient reduction targets by supporting and accelerating the adoption of BMPs on agricultural lands within the Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair watersheds (the LEADS eligible area). LEADS includes two components, the Farmland Health Check-Up, and the LEADS cost-share program. The Farmland Health Check-Up is a field-specific risk assessment completed by a farmer working one-on-one with a participating technical specialist, to help farmers identify areas of concern and priority best management practices to improve soil health and reduce nutrient loss from their fields. An application intake of the LEADS program opened on January 15 2020 and funding was fully allocated by January 22. 235 projects will be supported under the 2020 intake of LEADS, an investment of more than $2.5 million.

Species at Risk Partnerships on Agricultural Lands (SARPAL)
Species at Risk Partnerships on Agricultural Lands (SARPAL) is an Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) initiative that is focused on working with farmers to support the recovery of species at risk on agricultural land. SARPAL funds conservation actions currently focused on supporting 12 target Species at Risk. OSCIA offered two SARPAL application intakes in 2020: March 1-3 and September 8-22. These intakes and the funding from ECCC are supporting over 60 projects. OSCIA is looking forward to opening another SARPAL intake in Spring 2021.

Species at Risk Farm Incentive Program (SARFIP)
The Species At Risk Farm Incentive Program (SARFIP) supports Ontario’s SAR by creating and preserving their habitat on agricultural lands. In 2020, OSCIA was awarded funding from the Species at Risk Stewardship Program from the Ontario Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP). This supported administrative developments to enable us to offer a SARFIP 2021 Spring intake, pending funding from MECP.

Operation Pollinator
Operation Pollinator is a Syngenta program that promotes the health and well-being of bees and other pollinators, entered its third and final year of delivery by OSCIA in 2020. Participants offset up to 2 acres that they prepare a seedbed for and receive seed mixes to promote pollinator plant species. 29 acres across 15 participating sites were seeded in 2020.

On-Farm Applied Research and Monitoring (ONFARM)
ONFARM is a four-year, applied research initiative that began in 2019 which supports soil health and water quality research on farms across Ontario. This program is funded by the Partnership. ONFARM was developed by OMAFRA and is delivered by OSCIA with the support from five Conservation Authorities and The Soil Resource Group. 2020 was the first full year of the program and the first field season among the 25 on-farm field sites where site characterization, baseline soil health testing, and best management practice implementation was conducted between March and November. Water quality and quantity monitoring also took place over the year at seven edge of field monitoring sites that have been established in six subwatersheds of the Lake Erie and Lake Huron Basins. These seven sites will examine key soil health indicators and monitor the impact that different BMPs and agricultural practices have on nutrient loading and water quality.


Applied Research Report – Tracey Ryan

Soil health and water quality continue to be research priorities for both OSCIA, OMAFRA and the broader agricultural community.  OSCIA is pleased to continue to be the lead on a number of these initiatives.

 

Living Labs has been in development for over a year and is expected to be launched in early 2021.  Living Labs is an Agriculture and Agri food Canada (AAFC) initiative that bring producers, scientists, and partners together to evaluate BMPs in a real-life context. OSCIA is the lead applicant on a collaborative proposal that includes Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario (EFAO, Innovative Farmers Association of Ontario, Ontario Soil Network (OSN) and three Conservation Authorities in the Lake Erie Basin.

This consortium of farmer-trusted organizations identified continuous cover and minimum tillage as priority management practices/systems by which to address soil health and water quality issues at the farm scale and watershed level. There are several innovative on-farm trials proposed by the partners that can provide a gradient of landscape, production system and management practices to be tested and evaluated through co-development with farmer participants. Assessments of watersheds will be co-developed with Lake Erie conservation authorities, to demonstrate benefits of BMP implementation at larger scale.

The Living Labs proposal has been codeveloped with staff in AAFC’s Science and Technology Branch. The co-design and co-development of the activities will ensure complementarity and producer engagement on the identified priority issues.  A project management committee for the project has been established to guide the collaborative process.

The objective of the project is to increase the adoption of BMPs (cover crops and minimum tillage) that enhance soil health and protect water quality in the Lake Erie watershed.  This will be addressed through the following objectives:

  • Innovative on-farm trials and demonstration to evaluate the benefits of the BMPs
  • Socio-economic analysis of adopting BMPs on a farm and watershed scale
  • Assessing ecological impacts of BMP adoption on a farm and watershed scale
  • Communicate the benefits of BMP adoption through social media, virtual events, demonstrations, workshops, and peer-to-peer learning opportunities.

During 2020 AAFC scientists began collection of baseline data at 6 farms.  The lead farmers met with researchers to discuss their fields, farm practices and their research interests.  The program will continue to engage the landowners and farm organizations in collaborative research design over the next two years.

The Living Labs initiative will be a valuable opportunity for producers, agricultural organizations, and conservation authorities to work with federal government scientists to evaluate and communicate the socio-economic and ecological impacts of cover crops and minimum tillage. This project will leverage and complement data collected through ONFARM.

OSCIA has been involved with the University of Guelph and Grand River Conservation Authority assessing the benefits of riparian buffers for reducing greenhouse gases.  The program is funded through AAFC.  This project will be completed in March of this year.  OSCIA will be able to showcase a series of five videos that communicate the value of riparian buffers as a farming practice and show the range and impact of research on this topic being undertaken at the University of Guelph.  This project also funded the OSCIA research website the was launched in 2020.

OSCIA has been leading a project for OMAFRA to assess the barriers that keep farmers from planting cover crops and doing regular soil sampling.  In 2021 OSCIA will be piloting a program design to specifically address barriers to these practices.  The pilot will be testes in three watersheds.  The pilot program will be evaluated and reported on by March 2022.