Provincial & Local Gains, Growth & Challenges With Local VP, Nancy Van Sas
Ontario Soil Crop Improvement Association was formed in 1939 with a local association in each county/district of Ontario. The members focussed on improving their cropping systems and sharing the information with each other.
When OSCIA was asked to deliver the Land Stewardship Program for OMAFRA in 1987, the Program Delivery arm of the association was formed. The Environmental Farm Plan Workbook was developed by Farm organizations, provincial government specialists and farmers in 1993 to set an environmental agenda for agriculture. OSCIA delivers these workshops to producers across the province. They are now in the 4th edition and there is an EFP in several provinces of Canada as well as in many other countries around the world.
They also deliver Growing your Farm Profits which looks at business management skills and Biosecurity workshops where we discuss keeping livestock and crops safe from disease.
It is no surprise that today’s OSCIA has a provincial office located in Guelph, where field and office staff work with provincial and federal governments to deliver cost-share opportunities to Ontario producers seeking to improve water quality, soil health and crop production, assisting the overall operation in sustainability.
Locally, field trials, crop tours, demonstrations, workshops, and research are organized farmer to farmer via the Norfolk Soil and Crop Improvement Association, of which Van Sas is Vice President. The NSCIA is composed of vegetable, fruit, and cash crop growers throughout the County. Currently, local field trials are underway for cash crop production including soybeans and corn population plots and Alpine F18 Max trials with soybeans. The NSCIA continues its involvement plotting rainfall across the County. New members are being sought to take part in their local research trials and activities. Reports on these trials can be found at https://www.ontariosoilcrop.org/research-resources/crop-advances/.
The involvement of Van Sas within the organization has also evolved, as she entered as a learner, and now teaches others as Workshop Leader. It all started when she moved to Delhi Sandplain from Bothwell in 2014 after marrying her husband and joining Kremer Farms, her husband’s family farm operation west of Scotland. In 2016, she attended all three workshops delivered by OSCIA as a producer, where she found “the courses were excellent and were delivered by very knowledgeable field staff,” so it seemed only natural for her to wish to apply in 2018 to be Workshop Leader when opportunity presented itself.
When asked about current agricultural challenges, Vas Sas did cite supply of goods and mental health as two stand outs. “Supply of goods and in a timely fashion have certainly been a huge challenge for completing many of these projects. Something that previously would have taken a couple of weeks to obtain can now be on order for several months to a year or more. At the local NSCIA level, our Board of Directors is realizing the state of mental health and wellbeing of farmers has certainly been challenged on many levels in any given year, but especially so in the last couple of years. Stigma needs to be dismantled, and NSCIA is working towards providing opportunities where discussion around the effects of stress is normalized.
Covid-19 proved a challenge to workshop delivery, where some workshops had to be halted or offered online only, but Van Sas boasts in local farmers: “It is not every day you can deliver a workshop standing next to a John Deere combine, but thanks to the generous support of local producers field staff could continue to provide learning opportunities throughout the province.”
In spite of challenges, positive change and growth are still happening. In 2019, OSCIA was chosen to lead the “Living Lab-Ontario” (LL-O) initiative. Under this, the “Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario, Innovative Farmers Association of Ontario, Ontario Soil Network, Upper Thames River Conversation Authority (UTRCA), Lower Thames Valley Conservation Authority (LTVCA) and Essex Region Conservation Authority (ERCA), are working together with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada on reducing nutrient and soil runoff from agricultural lands into Lake Erie to improve water quality and soil health, as well as increasing biodiversity in Ontario’s agricultural lands. OSCIA, with the assistance of OMAFRA, purchased the Mobile Soil Technology Suite, a soil diagnostic mobile lab containing a large LED screen on the trailer.” OSCIA is also offering many upcoming workshops to producers across Ontario: (https://www.ontariosoilcrop.org/oscia-programs/workshops-webinars/.). In addition, OSCIA is working with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada to deliver Ontario’s On-Farm Climate Action Fund (OFCAF), intended to support Ontario farmers in reducing greenhouse gas by providing cost-share payments for enhancing N fertilizer management, expanding cover cropping practices, and normalizing rotational grazing. “OFCAF will also leverage the value of peer-to-peer learning by coupling a cost-share opportunity with participation in a Knowledge Sharing Event (KSE). OSCIA will open a late spring intake in 2022.”
Cooperation and experimentation seem to be the heart of the Ontario Soil & Crop as they continue to “Seek, Test, Adopt” as their vision for change to encourage sustainable farming. For Van Sas, she has “loved every minute” of her involvement with the organization and reports that working with various producers from across her region to make positive change is something she “greatly enjoys”. Although a true farmer at heart describing her “Happy Place” as assisting on her husband’s family farm, she adds that “There is no better reward than hearing from a producer the huge impact the project and/or workshop has made on their operation knowing that you were part of that process.”