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How to attract the next generation of farm leaders

How to attract the next generation of farm leaders

Four OFA directors offer their stories about why they joined and why the ag industry needs to continue its efforts to attract the next generation of farm leaders.

By Andrew Joseph, Farms.com; Image via Ontario Federation of Agriculture

Every generation has a concern in the back of their collective head wondering just who will succeed them.

This writer isn’t as concerned about such things for the ag industry—at least in Ontario—after having had such pleasant experiences talking to and writing about our young adults for our Agriculture Day celebration this past February.

But it’s okay to be concerned about the future—especially about a future you love, and one that, you know, feeds the country and the world. Canada needs leaders. It especially needs farm leaders. Who will be next to step up to the plate?

In a recent piece penned by Ethan Wallace, Paul Maurice, Sara Wood, and Vanessa Renaud—all Directors with the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA)— these new members were asked to recount why they joined the board and offered suggestions as to how to attract the next generation of farm leaders.

Here’s what they had to say:

With a diverse and extensive list of challenges to address across the agriculture industry, it’s important to have leaders that bring their own unique skills, perspectives, and passions to the table. It serves as a benefit to the organization and its 38,000 farm business members because it allows for engaging conversations, meaningful debates, and well-rounded problem solving and decision-making. A collection of ideas and opinions are necessary to find not just any solution, but the best one that offers the greatest benefit to the collective rural and farming population in Ontario.

As the OFA enters yet another year of nominations for the position of Zone Director in five regions across the province, we encourage any eligible OFA member to put their name forward to join a leadership group focused on teamwork, collaboration and relationship building to benefit farmers across Ontario. It’s a commitment that has the potential to benefit you and the agri-food industry.

Nominations are now open in the counties of Bruce and Grey (Zone 2), Brant, Haldimand and Norfolk (Zone 3), Halton, Hamilton-Wentworth, and Niagara region (Zone 5), Lambton and Middlesex counties (Zone 6), and the region of Durham, Peterborough and Kawartha Lakes/Haliburton (Zone 10). Nominations will be accepted until June 24, 2022.

So, what does it take to be a provincial director? Leadership, passion, and the drive to initiate change for the agri-food sector and rural community in Ontario. Each year, OFA works to identify and recruit a new crop of leaders through the nomination process. Although it may not always produce an immediate result, these initial conversations about leadership and succession planning are vital to the future of the organization.

To provide insight on the role of the provincial director, OFA’s newest board members offered their perspectives on why they joined the board and the positive experiences they’ve had thus far.

Sara Wood serves as a Director-at-Large and even with a young family, has found plenty of support and balance to serve in this position and remain dedicated to her farm and family. “It has definitely been challenging at times but is ultimately so rewarding to know that we are working for the next generation,” shared Wood. “Getting to connect with our farmers across the province to celebrate their successes and address their challenges is very fulfilling.”

Being on the board for over six months now has taught her the importance of collaboration and finding a balance between listening and speaking up to contribute to progressive discussion. “As an industry, we’re stronger together and we need to work as a team,” said Wood. “Around the board table, I see lots of generational information being passed on, in addition to openness to new perspectives.”

When asked about the importance of advocacy in agriculture, Wood shared, “If we don’t have a voice at the table someone else will speak for us and miss the mark on challenging misconceptions or the real issues farmers face across the province.”

Ethan Wallace, Zone 7 Director representing members in Huron and Perth counties, was born and raised on a dairy farm where his passion lies. In his new role, Wallace has enjoyed being able to help people understand what issues the rural and urban populations face uniquely, in addition to challenges that align. “For me, it’s being a part of the solution that has always been fulfilling,” explained Wallace. “Agriculture, in general, has a lot of issues that need to be addressed and it is great to have the opportunity to sit down with an MP or MPP to facilitate conversations and make real change happen.”

Wallace believes the role has been an excellent opportunity for personal growth and the comradery of the board has provided a very supportive environment. “We come together from a wide variety of farming backgrounds and experiences which can make it difficult to see eye-to-eye but at the end of the day we share the best interest of Ontario agriculture at heart.”

Paul Maurice, Zone 13 Director representing the Peel, Simcoe, and York region, has been highly impressed with the efficiency of passions coming together to fuel constructive and valuable conversations. “We represent a very small portion of the population as farmers, but we are an economic engine to the whole of Ontario,” said Maurice. “It’s rewarding to serve in this leadership role, knowing that we are contributing to the betterment of Ontario agriculture every day.” His experience of being on the board has also opened his eyes to the variety of topics brought forward to the organization and the importance of having so many ideas, perspectives, and opinions to find the best solution.

Vanessa Renaud serves as the Zone 14 Director in Stormont, Glengarry, and Prescott and Russell, and shares that she has really enjoyed the opportunity to deal with challenges at the source and see it come full circle to the board table.

“It’s great to see how the decisions we’re making at the provincial level are having a ripple down effect to the counties and having a positive impact.” Stepping into a role of leadership can be intimidating at a younger age, but Vanessa shared that it has been a positive experience for her. “Everyone has been very supportive to help me build my network and offering assistance in any way possible. I’m happy it’s a three-year term because there’s so much to learn and this work is very uplifting.”

In a short time, these four directors have come to recognize the benefits of leadership, advocacy and teamwork to make an impact in the agriculture industry and for rural Ontario.

If you’re interested in getting involved, but don’t know where to start, Wallace stated, “Just go for it. Whether you have a young family or moving into retirement, there’s always room at the table.”

Maurice added that “if you’re interested in the future of agriculture, it is a great opportunity to be a part of the plan and development of the next generation.”

To learn more about what it means to be a provincial director or if you’re interested in submitting a nomination form, visit www.ofa.on.ca/nominations-are-now-open-for-2022-ofa-zone-directors.


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