March 3 Heartland Spring Production Meeting

By Brett Israel, 3Gen Organics

It has been said that “you don’t know what you have until its gone,” and that sentiment is abundantly true reflecting on our spring production meeting. Taking place on March 3, 2020 at the Listowel Ag Hall, Heartland’s Spring Meeting was one of the last few events prior to the implementation of physical distancing measures to combat COVID-19. Since then, our world has changed a great deal. We have had to become comfortable with Skype and Zoom video conferencing, flour and beans were out of stock in the grocery stores, and for the first time in a generation businesses around globe ground to a halt. The strong bonds that hold our agriculture community tighter have been tested, but our resolve has endured. As I sit writing this on June 18, we are starting to see things return to some sense of normal (at least in the field.) Corn rows are up and looking good, winter wheat is heading out, and first cut is coming off day after day. Given that, I wanted to take a moment to reflect back on some of the key takeaways from our Spring Meeting. Pre-COVID or post, the information shared remains just as relevant.

The Spring Meeting featured two keynote speakers as well as insight from a number of Heartland Region farmers. Gary Zimmer (The Biological Farmer) shared lessons learned over his multi decade career as a Dairy Nutrionist, Field Crop Consultant and most importantly, farmer in southern Wisconsin. Key takeaways from his presentation included the importance of a biological focus to address agricultural production. Diverse crop rotations, “sensible tillage” and integration of livestock were all central to achieving improved biology in farming systems. Gary highlighted how simple changes can be made to make our farms more sustainable, in a very energetic fashion. Both educational and entertaining, Gary’s presentation was enjoyed by those who attended.

Following Gary, the second keynote speaker of the day was Peter “Wheat Pete” Johnson. Familiar to many Heartland members, the former OMAFRA cereals specialist and current Real Agriculture resident agronomist focused his presentation on climate change. Peter presented thorough data to show how climate change is impacting Ontario agriculture. It was interesting to learn that there are both potential positives and negatives surrounding the warming of our climate. Peter explained that there are more frost-free days in Southern Ontario, which has allowed for a longer growing season. This benefit is however tempered with the increase in severe weather related to climate change. Swings in temperature as well as prolonged periods of intense drought and excessive precipitation are all part of the drawbacks of climate change. The key takeaway from Peter’s presentation is that climate change is a clear and present impact on Ontario agriculture, and that producers should look to build more resilient farm systems to take advantage of its benefits while mitigating its risk.

We were so fortunate to hear from Gary and Peter; I am sure that their presentations will help to make Heartland Region Farmers more successful and sustainable in the years to come. Thank you for taking the time to read this update! I sincerely hope that you and your families have been able to weather this storm and are off to a successful 2020 cropping season.