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Ontario Farm Lobby Group Plans for the Future

Succession Management Part of OFA’s Strategy to Reach Out to Young Farmers

By Amanda Brodhagen,

The Ontario Federation of Agriculture, or OFA, is welcoming young farmers to get involved with its organization.

Recently, it has had great success hosting a series of events geared towards young and beginner farmers.  

On Wednesday, March 5, OFA held a tailgate-style social in conjunction with the London Farm Show. Unlike traditional tailgate parties the event wasn’t held around an open tailgate of a pickup truck, but it was a casual evening of mingling over food and drinks.

More than 80 people attended the event, including 65 young farmers from across the province. Several OFA directors and staff were present along with members from the Advanced Agricultural Leadership Program, also known as AALP.

“We had reached room capacity for the venue so we were very pleased with the turn out,” said Karl Soetemans, OFA Member Service Support Representative for Western Region.

The province’s largest general farm group wants to secure its membership for the future, which includes young farmers. Last fall, OFA hosted its first young farmer-centred event at Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show in September. Building on the event’s success, OFA has hosted several tailgate socials this year, including a young farmers’ summit at John Deere Canada’s headquarters in Grimsby, Ont.

“Succession planning within our organization is a large part of what we are trying to accomplish to improve the industry for present and future farmers,” explained Soetemans.

The events are meant to provide an introduction to OFA, while highlighting some of the leadership opportunities to get involved within the organization.

“We have seen many young farmers become more involved and interested with the OFA, which is very gratifying,” he said.

The sense in the room that evening in London was that young farmers were encouraged by OFA’s lobbying efforts, but that some of its lobbyists were also young farmers.

In a strategic approach, OFA has chosen two of its star young farmer directors to be spokespersons at these events – Joe Dickenson and Drew Spoelstra.

Dickenson and Spoelstra spent some time addressing the young farmers in the crowd sharing their stories on why they got involved and some key policy issues that OFA is pushing for, including greater access to natural gas.

“Young farmers have to step up, but the only way they are going to step up is if they see other young people doing it,” said Dickenson. “We can be effective, not only as lobbyist but as farmers…we have to be both,” he said.

One couple that attended the event, Graham and Allison Learn who farm near Norwich, Ont., say they are pleased that OFA is reaching out to farmers like themselves.

“Today's young producers have to be very innovative and you can learn a lot by listening to what other people do,” Graham Learn said in an interview.

Learn is appreciative of OFA’s efforts, and says that he would like to see more events in the future, including some at the county level. “The meetings are great for networking and meeting other young farmers,” he said.

(Photo: Young farmers waiting to get into the tailgate social at the London Farm Show March 5, 2014).

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