The Ontario Soil Network has created a COVID-19 safe way to participate in field visits this year
By Jackie Clark
This summer farmers can take a virtual (or actual) road trip to visit fields across Ontario where their peers are using innovative techniques to improve soil health.
Participants will post ONTARIO SOIL ROADTRIP signs beside their fields, and farmers will be able to download an app that links to photos, videos and more information.
The initiative, spearheaded by the Ontario Soil Network, will allow for virtual visits and, when COVID-19 travel restrictions allow, drive-by observing of fields.
“Every farmer that has a site will post videos and pictures, ideally every month,” Melisa Luymes told Farms.com. She’s the communications coordinator for the organization. “You can ‘like’ a field and then keep getting updates on it when the farmer posts new content.”
The idea came from the Ontario Soil Network’s 2021 online cohort. Participants were discussing “how do we be better at communicating?” Luymes explained. “We really feel that there’s a soil crisis, but it’s also stemming from a crisis in leadership and a crisis in communication.”
Debates around best practices for soil can be polarizing, so the organization wanted to find a way to keep productive dialogue going between farmers, instead of waiting for more solutions from government or researchers, she said.
This goal is especially important now, she added. “During this pandemic, we can’t have field meetings. Farmers know that they learn best from the experience of other farmers.”
Reuben Stone, a seed producer in the Ottawa Valley and 2021 cohort participant, spoke up with the idea of putting signs up beside fields and connecting them to an app or website where other farmers can follow along with soil health practices in that field.
“We all thought it was a great idea, so we ran with it,” Luymes said. “We’ve all been building on it since then.”
The Ontario Soil Network has been collaborating with farmers, OSCIA, and conservation authorities to turn the idea into a reality. Currently farmers across the southern part of the province are involved, and organizers are hoping to work with Northern Ontario Farm Innovation Alliance (NOFIA) to connect with producers farther north.
“The hope is that it really represents agriculture all across the province,” Luymes said. The field will showcase diverse agronomic practices that promote soil health, including conservation tillage, cover crops, organic amendments, robotics and more.
“The sky is the limit. We don’t want to keep it to just the usual suspects, this is a bigger conversation,” Luymes explained. “It’s open to anyone if they can demonstrate and talk about what they’re doing differently and why. (Farmers) in every area has a different set of best practice for that area, for that soil type, for those heat units. So, it’s going to look different across the province.”
To protect farmers’ privacy, they can decide how much they want to engage on the app, she explained. They can choose to list their e-mail, phone number, Twitter handle or other contact information attached to their field for peers to engage.
The Ontario Soil Network aims to release the app by July 1st.