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Executive Officer Report

Andrew Graham, Executive Officer

Welcome everyone to our 84th annual general meeting. It has been another exhilarating year for the Association, and I’m pleased to share an overview of our activities and highlight some of our many accomplishments.

I have always been impressed by the calibre of people we are collectively able to attract to this organization as volunteers, employees, and service providers, and will give a shout-out to those who have invested many years with Soil and Crop and continue to help foster success within the organization. Your skills, commitment and curiosities will carry us far. Positive people have always been integral to our success. I want to welcome those individuals (regional directors, staff, and Regional Communication Coordinators) that chose to bring their skills and knowledge to OSCIA over the past twelve months.

Along with measured success in a variety of areas, the past year has also seen its share of turbulence; and the pressures were not only external. The Board of Directors have had to navigate their own challenges with communications and the vagaries of financial markets that have seemingly neutralized the performance of the investment portfolio that is essential for the Association’s future. The increase in the provincial portion of the membership fee is one way to offset the rising costs of insurance that extend benefits to the local and regions, and enables us to leverage government dollars to support grassroot activities. The increase came into effect last October, and it has been gratifying to see broad acceptance across the local associations who recognize the important services and funding opportunities provided to them by the provincial organization.

The strong leadership, vision and integrity of the Board and Executive Committee and their determination to make the right decisions for the betterment of the organization’s future, is to be congratulated.

We acknowledge that some of the local associations are having their own challenges with apathy and shrinking membership, and are exploring ideas and making some changes to turn things around. It is not an easy time for volunteer organizations. We encourage you to lean on one another to share ideas and tactics, and make use of the resources at the provincial office.

Over the past year we have expanded our delivery capacity, introduced new efficiencies in our operating procedures, and built upon a successful hybrid work environment, but the management team in the provincial office have not been immune to challenges that test their mettle either. In spite of good intensions, our progress over the past year with commitments to bolster workplace culture have not progressed as we far as we had hoped. The four core values developed by employees and introduced in my report last year, succinctly outline what is needed, and how to get there. Unfortunately, the sheer volume of work generated through our success with programming, coupled with adjusting to new realities in the workplace and the need to adhere with unescapable government regulation that capped employee earnings at a time of extraordinary increases in the cost of living, created undue stress across the workforce. We strive to provide an agency that is stimulating, collaborative, rewarding and provides opportunity for personal growth for everyone, but that goal sometimes gets pushed aside by greater, immediate forces. We know what we need to do as an employer to attract, retain and motivate top employees and we have had notable success in achieving this in the past. It is an area of operations where we need to make more investment in strategic thinking and positive action to overcome the adversity and keep the workplace in balance and functioning as it should.

As a not-for-profit, farmer-centric, province-wide organization, the farming community has long looked to OSCIA as the leader in delivering program opportunities that support environmentally sustainable farming practices, and rightfully so. We are uniquely qualified to reliably deliver all aspects of stewardship programming across Ontario. OSCIA is a leader in partnering with government, other farm organizations, and industry to offer tools and programs that support both large and small farmers in creating, maintaining, and building upon a sustainable, responsible, and dynamic agricultural sector for Ontario.

Diversification in programming reflects our strengths and capacities, provides stability to our operations and staff, and entirely aligns with the strategic action to generate multiple income streams. We have evolved over the years and continue to expand our partnerships and collaborative efforts to best position Soil and Crop to meet new program challenges. Re-inventing ourselves while holding firm on our traditional values.

We are grateful for the ongoing confidence in our work expressed by a variety of Branches in provincial ministries including the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, and the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks; and federal departments including Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, and Environment and Climate Change Canada.

The decision to condense the overall time committed to this year’s AGM, regrettably does not allow for presentations by key staff to share achievements in education, cost share and applied research programs, or celebrate accomplishments reached through special projects with our grassroot organizations. I strongly encourage you to read the reports posted on the website that have been prepared by Angela Straathof, Tracey Ryan, Gabriella Perry, and Brittany Roka. The reports capture impressive progress on many exciting programs that offer opportunities to the broader farm community, and special projects that engage and extend benefits to members.

Our reputation in this province as the top delivery agent for stewardship programming to farmers is widely recognized and respected. Hard work, creative thinking, and a willingness to adapt got us here, and will keep us here. We have proven our resiliency.

Our delivery portfolio expanded over this past year with a couple of new federally-funded initiatives targeting climate change through the sequestration of soil carbon that permitted us to stretch our thinking on program design to optimize outcomes. The opportunities associated with the On-Farm Climate Action Fund have been embraced by the farm community, and we are hoping for similar success when the Nature Smart Climate Readiness Program is introduced later this year. We are actively scoping out new opportunities associated with the Sustainable Canadian Agricultural Partnership (S-CAP) and the next iteration of Living Lab, and making it clear to government investors that we are open for business.

Another notable milestone this past year was the debut of our new website that offers superior navigation, a consistent look throughout, and provides an excellent foundation for future growth. The website is the gateway to many services including cost-share programs, workshops and events, research and resources, and of course, membership information. Take the opportunity to get acquainted with it:

It is worth drawing attention to the terrific response we have enjoyed with Mobile Soil Technology Suite in its first uninterrupted season. The LED screen-mounted trailer and associated equipment was featured at 17 days of local, regional, and provincial events this past year that led to direct interventions with well over 2,500 attendees. We introduced the Supporting Partners initiative last year with a focus on the MSTS, and are extremely pleased with the response by corporations wanting to provide their backing. These cash contributions allow us to offset some operational costs and reduce user-fees for member organizations. Numerous groups and organizations are recognizing the enormous potential to enhance knowledge sharing events by incorporating use of the MSTS. Many more events are already booked for this summer.

OSCIA linked up with TruEV Solutions late last year to assist with a pilot program to evaluate the capability of electric tractors on farms across Ontario. These are 130-horsepower electric tractors developed and manufactured in Turkey, with the first unit scheduled to arrive here later this month.TruEV is bringing ten of these e-tractors to a diverse group of Ontario farms to perform research on the capabilities of the tractor, receive real-time feedback, produce a report in partnership with OSCIA, and use the project to develop and manufacture an enhanced version of the vehicle ready for the North American market. Ontario is the only jurisdiction on the continent currently involved with the pilot project. We think it provides OSCIA a front-row seat to test a new green technology that promises lower environmental impact, lower total cost of operation, and high performance. We were pleased to see 39 farm businesses respond to the call we put out through Grassroots Matters, and we are now working closely with the experts with TruEV to select the farms that will receive the e-tractors for testing this year.

OSCIA continues as a keen participant in programming and investigations in support of the Soil Action Group, which is centered on following through on the recommendations formulated in the province’s Soil Health and Conservation Strategy that was released in 2018. This initiative has the support of numerous farm groups, environmental organizations, and government. It is now moving into the implementation phase and will be a driving force to influence priority actions in soil health.

In closing, we want to thank the farmers who express their willingness to support the organization through the purchase of memberships and volunteer efforts, express our appreciation to the private and corporate businesses who generously support our activities. Finally, we wish to extend gratitude to OMAFRA and other provincial ministries, federal departments and corporations that confirm their confidence by awarding promising new funding agreements to OSCIA.

As a footnote, this will be my final annual meeting, as I will be retiring from Soil and Crop this coming June. That will mark 33 years of my career with this organization – more than eight of those as your executive director.

I landed here in 1990 with ten years experience in soil and water conservation gained at Upper Thames River Conservation Authority in London, and then with OMAFRA at the Woodstock office. My arrival coincided with the roll-out of Land Stewardship II program by the province, and the Permanent Cover Program supported through the federal government. There has been dozens and dozens more educational, cost-share incentive, and research programs delivered since then. Together, we have learned much, and have had the opportunity to re-invest those learnings and apply new science to assist producers in the adoption of best management practices that elevate sustainability and production.

Soil and Crop offered me what I was looking for in my career with freedom to make decisions, challenging work, trust in my abilities, a committed and friendly work force to lean on, and the patience to grow my own expertise and confidence. The investment by our leaders over the years has allowed me to develop my career and grow professionally.

It has been extremely rewarding to be surrounded by such resolute and talented leadership, staff, and volunteers. Deep appreciation goes out to all those who make this organization an integral part of Ontario agriculture. It is not everyone who can say they served under thirty-three presidents, but that is the uniqueness of Soil and Crop. I have profound respect for and have thoroughly enjoyed the many professional relations forged over the years and will cherish the many friendships.

I certainly join others in welcoming Harry Stoddart as the new Executive Director. I’ve gotten to work closely with Harry over the past few weeks on a number of fronts, and I will confidently declare the Board has chosen an extremely capable individual who is well-equipped for the role.

It has been an absolute privilege to be part of this organization for so long. I start this next chapter with genuine enthusiasm, energy, and countless fond memories. Thank you, enjoy your annual meeting, and stay safe.