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Time right for group’s relaunch

Grand River Conservation Authority conservation specialist Anne Loeffler and photogrammetry analyst Jill Marshall are working to educate the Waterloo agricultural community on the issue of soil erosion. [Scott Barber / The Observer]

Regional chapter of Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association straddles town and country

Waterloo Region is often hailed for its geography, a combination of urban bustle and rural landscapes. An upcoming resurgence of a local branch of the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association (OSCIA) chapter may help that image grow.

Craig Martin is a former president of the local Soil and Crop Improvement Association, the rural outreach organization that was put on hold 15 years ago. With a renewed interest from volunteers and the agricultural community, a new board of directors will be elected on December 11. [Elena Maystruk / The Observer]
Craig Martin is a former president of the local Soil and Crop Improvement Association, the rural outreach organization that was put on hold 15 years ago. With a renewed interest from volunteers and the agricultural community, a new board of directors will be elected on December 11. [Elena Maystruk / The Observer]
The Waterloo branch has lain dormant for nearly 15 years, lacking interested parties to lead research and education initiatives. Now, a group of determined local producers, volunteers and agriculture enthusiasts are hoping to return the association’s services through collaboration with research facilities, local universities and the public.

Winterbourne’s Craig Martin, the group’s president before it went on hiatus, believes that with a resurgence of good fortune and interest in the agricultural sector in recent years, there are renewed incentives to kick-start the association’s research and information distribution efforts.

“Waterloo is a unique region. We have been able to, in the past, coexist with a large urban centre: have agriculture around the outside and this larger urban centre. So there are a lot of times when that large urban centre is looking for input on … the agriculture that is going on around the outside of it. That’s where the Soil and Crop [group] provides more of a role again,” he said.

The OSCIA, started in 1939 (the Waterloo chapter was born not long after), will be celebrating its 75th anniversary next year. It encompasses 50 local associations within the province. The branches then organize field days, crop tours and workshops locally to connect farmers and agricultural business owners to innovative technologies, skills and emerging research. Though it’s not yet clear how a new Waterloo chapter will run things – Martin says his days as president are over – but the future looks promising.

“There’s been some support from the provincial group and staff and individuals that have tried to get a local chapter going in Waterloo again. There’s a group of individuals that either have farms themselves or work in the agricultural sector in the farm supply business that see an interest in it. Essentially, there’s some new blood coming to the table and would like to see things move forward.”

Martin noted that the local association even had some money left when they “parked” operations for a decade and a half. The decision to put things on hold came at a time when the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs had such a strong handle on the industry and there was so much for members to concentrate on in their own backyards that volunteers started to drop away.

“In the mid to late ‘90s we were in a situation where we did not have a board anymore and so we kind of parked it. It was just a loss of individuals who wanted to help plan the meetings and just run [the organization]. A lot of organizations run into that. At that time, there was still a fair bit of Ministry of Agriculture and Food staff to help farm organizations exist and operate.

“During the ’90s we saw a lot of that disappear. We did see some attrition in some of these farm organizations where you didn’t have that OMAFRA person to help you drive it.”

With the ministry scaling back operations to include only some technical specialists, it’s increasingly incumbent on organizations like OSCIA to deliver information to the producers, he explained.

Today’s technologies are changing, and the agri-food sector is explosive, Martin said. With information, research and practices in the industry rapidly shifting and changing, stewardship of issues important to producers helps to keep farmers responsible and in business. Part of the mandate for the OSCIA is to make new research available to farmers, and its strategic directions include producer awareness, the development and delivery of stewardship programs, the growth and development of local associations and creation of strategic alliances while addressing consumer concerns.

For its efforts, the association receives some federal funding, and often has good rapport with universities and corporate partners who contribute research and information.

The group’s first annual meeting in 15 years will be held on December 11 at Floradale Mennonite Church. The main speaker, Micah Shearer Kudel, will talk about the relationship between urban and rural environments. OMAFRA soybean specialist Horst Bohner and cereal grain specialist Peter Johnson will also speak.

“There will be someone from the Ontario Soil and Crop to talk about what they do and projects that may be available and then we are going to try electing a board of directors,” Martin said.

The event is open to the public. More information about OSCIA can be found online at www.oscia.cloverpad.org.

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