By Tom Collins
KENT COUNTY Despite the threat of provincial restrictions on the use of neonicotinoid-treated corn and soybean seeds, only three per cent of Grain Farmers of Ontario (GFO) members attended the day-long annual district meetings in January. Almost all corn and soybean seed is treated with the neonic insecticide.
Only 835 out of 26,926 GFO members attended meetings in the 15 Ontario districts last month. It was lower in the nine Western and Southern Ontario districts. Only 512 of 18,395 farmers attended the meetings, a 2.8 per cent attendance rate.
While some saw the turnout as apathy run amok, district directors said the numbers were respectable although they would like to see more farmers. To fill seats, the GFO once again handed out work gloves to those who brought other farmers. In Western and Southern Ontario, 45 pairs of work gloves were handed out this year to farmers who brought a friend.
In district 2 (Kent County), 54 people showed up. The annual meeting averages 50 to 70 people.
“Im not as overly concerned about the number as much as the activity of the people who attend,” said district 2 director Mark Huston. “Its always better to have a smaller group that is more engaged.”
Usually more farmers attend when income drops, said Huston. Despite the price of corn dropping to a five-year low of $3.23 on Sept. 29 at the Chicago Board of Trade, farmers are still riding out some good forward-contracted commodity prices.
The hope is that people come to the meeting more than once, as they are more likely to volunteer on the second or third time out, he said.
Kevin Armstrong believes the late harvest had a big impact on lower-than-normal attendance in district 7 (Waterloo and Oxford). Only 41 members attended the meeting, down from 70 in 2014.
“Its a bit of a double-edged situation,” Armstrong said. “We were running into a harvest where it really ran into the new year. I know people that wrapped up on Jan. 1 and Jan. 2. So, after such a prolonged harvest, I dont blame them for wanting to spend some time at home with family.”
Ideally, Armstrong would like to see somewhere between 70 and 80 people at the annual meetings. “We dont have fantastic grain prices right now, but I would imagine if grain prices fell any more, there would be a much higher attendance,” he said. “I think it is certainly true that the harder times we fall on, the higher the attendance.”
But those who show up are “the movers and shakers of the grain-growing community,” he said. “Theyre the ones that influence their neighbours.”
Director Dave Park was pleased that 89 people attended the district 3 (Lambton County) meeting. While he would like to see attendance 10 per cent higher, 85-90 is what the group has averaged the last few years.
“We were happy with the turnout and had a lot of good discussion,” he said.