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That project taught me some important lessons like just because something looks profitable in Excel does not necessarily translate into actual profitability.  That project was an unmitigated disaster from a production standpoint and the timing coincided with a run up in corn values and collapsing hog prices.  As fall turned to winter in 2012, our financial position deteriorated rapidly and losing everything that Mum and Dad had built became a real possibility.  I internalized this, blaming myself entirely for the failure of the project and causing the extra level of vulnerability for my parent’s finances.  I could not sleep nor could I communicate with loved ones as I retreated down the dark path of depression.  My self-hate knew no bounds, I would scream at myself in the barn when I made simple errors, I would be paralyzed in the seat of my car when I got to the barn, dreading actually going in to the building.  

Everyone was frustrated and angry about the cows being sick, frustrated about losing money, frustrated that we were failing, but my husband seemed to take the full weight of our troubles onto his shoulders.  If he was in a bad mood, nothing I could say would be able to cheer him up.  He was never angry towards me or the rest of the family, but he would just be so mad some days.  I would worry when something else bad happened, fearing how he would react.  I would put a lot of effort into trying to hide as many problems from him as I could.  I was beginning to feel that I had to constantly be ‘up’ to balance him being so down.  Many days, I wanted to rant and be angry too but I bottled it up not wanting to add to his worry.

These two excerpts are taken from blogs written by Ontario farm families who have bravely shared about their mental health journeys.

Until recently, there wasn’t data about the mental health of Canadian farmers.  Dr. Andria Jones-Bitton and PhD Candidate Briana Hagen of the Ontario Veterinary College are changing that.  During Phase 1 of their project (September 2015 to January 2016), they conducted a nationwide survey on producer stress levels and resilience, with 1,132 farmers responding.  The results showed that approximately 45 percent of farmers surveyed were classified as having high levels of stress, while 58 percent were classified with varying levels of anxiety and 35 percent met the definition for depression.

Evidence of higher than average stress levels among farmers is perhaps unsurprising given the unique patchwork of risks and challenges – drought, pests, disease, extreme weather, volatile prices, pressure to carry on family legacy, etc.  However, these scores were two-to-four times higher than previous studies of farmers in the United Kingdom and Norway using the same scales.  Even more alarming, the results showed that we have a long way to go on the stigmatization of mental health: 40% of farmers said that they would feel uneasy seeking professional help because of what other people might think and one-third said that seeking such help can stigmatize a person’s life.

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Dr. Jones-Bitton and Hagen are passionate and committed to transforming these results into action that will leave a positive impact on our industry.  For Phase 2 of the project, they will be conducting one-on-one interviews with producers, industry support staff, government personnel, and veterinarians to discuss their thoughts and experiences with respect to mental wellness and resilience in the agricultural community as well as hear ideas about what resources and support the industry needs.  From these interviews, a mental health literacy training program will be developed specifically for agriculture, along with a mental health emergency response model for times of crisis (i.e. outbreaks, barn fires).

What an opportunity this is to share our stories and be a part of improving mental health in Canadian agriculture!  Please consider making time to participate in this worthwhile project.


Interviews will take approximately 1 hour and can be scheduled in a location of your convenience between now and early fall.  In appreciation for your time and valuable insight, an honorarium will be provided.  Please contact Briana Hagen (bhagen@uoguelph.ca  or 306-381-8927) or Dr. Andria Jones-Bitton (aqjones@uoguelph.ca or 519-824-4120 ext. 54786) if you are interested in participating.

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flooded corn fieldIn 2016, many areas of the province saw very warm and dry conditions, and many wells were still dry leading into the winter. In other years, like the start to the 2017 growing season, the province experienced periods of excessive rain, leading to saturated soils and flooding. Both situations create many challenges for livestock and poultry farmers.

No one can control the weather, but we can plan for it. The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) encourages you to plan for future weather – conserving water and using it efficiently can help during low water conditions, and having effective drainage systems in place can help with saturated soil and runoff.

Things to consider for low water conditions:

  • Plan ahead: Know how much water your animals need and try to predict how long it would take for your water sources to run dry. Have a contingency plan ready that you can carry out in case your water sources have maxed out. Use the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association’s Emergency Plan low water worksheet to help you with the contingency plan.
  • Include a list of alternative water sources in your contingency plan. This can include water haulers and well drillers. Keep in mind that these sources may be unavailable at the height of low water conditions, so you’ll need to plan ahead.
  • Think about installing water-metering equipment to get accurate measurements of water use.
  • Apply for a Permit to Take Water through the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (special rules and circumstances apply).
  • Monitor heat stress in your livestock and have management solutions on-hand when heat stress runs high, but water levels run low.
  • Look at your feed inventory now. If stocks are low for this time of year, consider looking for additional or alternative feed for fall and winter. It’s not too early!

Things to consider for excessive water conditions:

  • Look at your feed supply, as excessive rain can affect planting and harvesting times.
  • Make sure you have enough straw or other bedding materials.
  • Examine your property, your buildings and hard surfaces (like loading areas and parking lots) for flood risk areas. Install eavestroughs to redirect water away from your buildings and create a drainage plan. Plan the steps you’ll need to take to move livestock, feed and equipment in the event of a flood.
  • Create a plan to manage barnyard/feedlot runoff. Determine if you have enough liquid manure storage capacity to store extra material from wet barnyards, and have a plan ready if you don’t (such as using a neighbour’s storage). Also consider what you’ll do to avoid manure storage overflow from rain and flood water.
  • Have a plan ready in the event that manure spreading is delayed due to rain and your storages are full.
  • Think about your electricity generators – are they adequate for your farm’s needs in case of a power outage?
  • Pre-plan alternate routes to avoid travelling on flooded roads, considering services both into and out of the farm (such as feed trucks).

OMAFRA is working with other provincial ministries, conservation authorities and other partners to develop ways to help you manage water. There are existing resources that can help you, too:

Ontario has business risk management programs in place to help you when factors beyond your control affect your operation. Contact Agricorp for more information about these programs.

Visit OMAFRA’s Adverse Weather, Low Water, Irrigation and Drainage web pages for resources to help you prepare for various weather conditions.

Do you have questions about contingency planning? Contact OMAFRA’s Agricultural Information Contact Centre at 1-877-424-1300 or ag.info.omafra@ontario.ca.

For the very first time, the 2016 Census of Agriculture asked, “did this operation sell any agricultural products directly to consumers for human consumption?”  With this simple question, we now have a glimpse into direct sales of Ontario’s local foods that we’ve never had before!

Ontario leads the country with 7,474 farms reporting direct-to-consumer sales, followed by British Columbia and Quebec with 5,667 and 5,459 farms respectively.  Overall, 15.1% of Ontario’s farms are making local foods available for direct purchase by consumers.

At the regional-level, fascinating patterns emerge in the prevalence of direct-to-consumer farm sales.  Click to see maps by the number and percentage of farms reporting direct sales.  Ontario’s Central West Region is a direct marketing powerhouse with over 330 farms engaging in direct-to-consumer sales in each of Grey, Wellington, Niagara, Simcoe, and Waterloo.  It is also notable to look at regions with the highest proportion of farms engaging in direct-to-consumer sales.   By this metric, Haliburton leads the province with 53% of farms engaging in some form of direct sales, followed by Muskoka with 48%.  In Thunder Bay, Algoma, Parry Sound, and Kenora, roughly 40% of all farms are engaging in direct-to-consumer sales – an indication of the importance of direct marketing as a sales channel for Northern Ontario producers.

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Top 5 Regions for Number of Farms Selling Value-Added Products Direct-to-Consumer
  County/Region # of farms
1 Niagara 54
2 Simcoe 45
3 Grey 41
4 Durham 36
5 Prince Edward 32

What is being sold?

Nearly all of Ontario’s direct marketers (97% or 7,265 farms) are selling unprocessed agricultural products, while only 12% or 907 farms are selling value-added products.  This represents a potential area for growth as Ontario is lagging behind Quebec, most Maritime Provinces and the national average of 14%.  Niagara Region has the highest number of farms reporting direct sales of value-added products at 54.

How is it being sold?

The predominant sales channel for Ontario’s direct marketers is on-farm retail (farm gate/stand/kiosk/u-pick) with 90% (6,709 farms) using this channel.  Farmers’ markets are the second most common channel: 1,619 farms sell their products at one or more farmers’ markets.  This represents 3.3% of all Ontario farms, just above the national average of 2.8%.  In Ontario, Niagara Region has the most farms reporting farmers’ market sales (122 farms) while Kenora, Thunder Bay and Algoma have the highest proportion of farms reporting farmers’ markets sales.

Top 5 Regions for Number of Farms Selling through Farmers’ Markets
  County/Region # of farms
1 Niagara 122
2 Simcoe 85
3 Haldimand-Norfolk 72
4 Wellington 67
5 Grey 65

Across Ontario, 403 farms report selling through Community-Support Agriculture or CSA.  These farms are fairly evenly dispersed throughout the province; every county/region has at least one farm reporting CSA sales, with the exception of Rainy River.  Grey, Durham, and Wellington have the highest number of CSAs at 19 farms each.

Of the 24,510 Canadian farms reporting direct-to-consumer sales, 30% call Ontario home!  This Local Food Week, let’s celebrate the value of our direct farm marketing sector, not only for the economic opportunities it creates, but also for the access to local food it affords, the community it fosters, and the agriculture and food literacy it builds.

Note: all data for this blog was sourced from CANSIM Table 004-0244 Census of Agriculture, farms reporting selling agricultural products directly to consumers in the year prior to the census.

 

Give your company a competitive edge – take free eLearning courses to learn more about industry best practices and to be more competitive in the marketplace!

Access the new Food Safety and Traceability eLearning courses online on the Agriculture and Food Education in Ontario online learning system through the University of Guelph, Ridgetown Campus.

The new Traceability eLearning courses show how good practices can:

  • maximize productivity, improve business efficiency, reduce costs and improve business processes
  • be used to increase competitive advantage by accessing new markets
  • improve supply chain management

The new Food Safety eLearning courses will help you to:

  • identify food safety hazards that can occur in your operation
  • understand best practices and develop programs to control these hazards
  • decrease the likelihood of food safety hazards that can lead to a foodborne illness outbreak or product recall

Visit the University of Guelph website to register for a FREE account. Then simply log in and begin learning – wherever and whenever is convenient for you! Accessible versions of the courses are available. For more information, contact the University of Guelph, Ridgetown Campus at rcagfood@uoguelph.ca or 519-674-1500 ext. 63295.

Do you prefer classroom-based learning? Food Safety and Traceability courses and workshops are still offered by the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association (OSCIA). Visit their website for the dates and locations of upcoming in-person opportunities.

Online course development was funded through Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative that encourages innovation, competitiveness and market development in Canada’s agri-food and agri-products sector.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs is rolling out a total of 21 new soil health publications. These publications provide best management practices to help you preserve and conserve soil while improving soil health and crop production. Check out these five new titles on our Soil Health in Ontario web page:

  • Adding Organic Amendments
  • Erosion Control Structures
  • Cropland Retirement
  • Soil Health in Ontario
  • Field Windbreaks

You know that high quality, healthy, productive soil is the foundation of a strong, sustainable agri-food system. These publications, part of our Best Management Practices series, can help you plan and implement practices to improve soil health and increase yields. Unfortunately, the health of Ontario’s soils is on the decline. While many farmers practice good land management practices, there is much more that can be done to improve soil health and protect soil for long-term productivity.

The five titles above are just the beginning. Check our web page regularly for future publications, which will include:

  • Cover Crops and Manure
  • No-Till for Soil Health
  • Perennial Systems
  • Subsurface Drainage
  • Soil Erosion by Water
  • Plus many more!

Our soil health publications were developed to support the upcoming Agricultural Soil Health and Conservation Strategy. We’re working in partnership with stakeholders and experts to develop the Strategy with the goal to sustain Ontario’s strong agricultural production while protecting the environment and adapting to a changing climate.

All of the titles can be ordered through ServiceOntario once published. You can find the ordering information on the Soil Health in Ontario web page.

Do you have soil health questions? Contact our Agricultural Information Contact Centre at 1-877-424-1300 or ag.info.omafra@ontario.ca.

 

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The agri-food sector has always been innovative in running businesses, adapting practices and collaborating to compete in the world economy. To help spur and to celebrate this innovative spirit, the Government of Ontario created the Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence Program.

Have you developed and implemented a unique product or process that helps foster innovation in Ontario’s agriculture and food sector? Apply and you could be eligible to receive one of these awards:

  • Premier’s Award (one award valued at $75,000)
  • Minister’s Award (one award valued at $50,000)
  • Leaders in Innovation Awards (three awards valued at $25,000 each)
  • Provincial Awards (45 awards valued at $5,000 each)

Primary producers/farmers, processors and agri-food organizations are invited to apply. You can apply with a range of innovative projects, including projects that have shown innovation in environmental stewardship and bio-energy. Some examples of previous environmental project award winners:

  • In 2009, Leamington Area Drip Irrigation won the top level Premier’s Award for their project to improve water efficiency on 13 partner farms. The final pipeline is 36 kilometres long and the system can precisely monitor the amount of water being delivered from Lake Erie to 2,500 acres of tomatoes in the Leamington area.
  • Truly Green won an award in 2014 for their system that uses by-products from a neighbouring ethanol plant to make their greenhouses carbon neutral.
  • Van Arkel Farms won an award in 2016 for their soil health projects. Some of their innovations include experimenting with different cover crops for soil protection and rapid sequestration of nutrients, pioneering a reduced tillage system and developing a custom manure injector that decreases runoff and minimized soil disturbance.

There are many different areas and projects that could qualify beyond environmental stewardship. Download the 2017 Program Guidebook and Application Form at ontario.ca/agrifoodinnovation. The guidebook gives ideas for different innovative areas and projects, but applicants are not limited to this list. Read about past Premier’s Award winners at ontario.ca/agrifoodinnovation for more project ideas.

Apply today for a chance to be a Premier’s Award winner! Applications will be accepted until 11:59 p.m. on Friday, April 28, 2017. You can find submission information in the guidebook.

Contact the Agricultural Information Contact Centre at 1-877-424-1300 or email premiersagrifoodinnovationaward@ontario.ca for more information.

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OMAFRA is once again looking to identify qualified representatives for potential appointment to the Business Risk Management Review Committee (BRMRC).  The ministry has launched a recruitment process to appoint a part-time Chair, Vice-Chair and Members to this agency.

The BRMRC is a ministry agency responsible for reviewing program participant requests in the case of disagreement on how program rules were applied to applications to select BRM programs by the program administrator. It is important that the BRMRC have representation from a cross-section of Ontario’s diverse agricultural sector.  Background information on the agency as well as job advertisements to the different positions can be found on the Public Appointment Secretariat website (https://www.pas.gov.on.ca/scripts/en/advertPositions.asp).

Anyone interested in applying can do so directly on the Public Appointment Secretariat website at (https://www.pas.gov.on.ca/scripts/en/advertPositions.asp ) until March 7, 2017.