By Connor Lynch
Attendance at Grain Farmers of Ontario annual district meetings are up, albeit only by a trickle.
Two years ago, across nine Western Ontario districts, 512 of 18,395 GFO members attended their annual district meetings, a 2.8 per cent attendance rate. That number was slightly up this year, at 544 members, a 2.9 per cent attendance rate.
Across the province, 915 farmers of GFO’s 26,926 total membership attended meetings in 15 districts, up from 835 two years ago. Membership numbers are based on 2015 statistics, which GFO communications manager Meghan Burke said were not likely to have significantly changed.
Western Ontario didn’t see too many standout issues bringing farmers out to meetings this year.
District 2 (Kent) saw an increase in attendance, going from 54 two years ago to 70 this year. Director Mark Huston said it was business as usual this year. “Issues tend to bring people out. But I didn’t see a strong, consistent issue this year.” Vomitoxin has been an issue in his area, he said, and that probably didn’t hurt in getting people out, but added that the GFO’s been busy and that makes farmers curious about what’s happening. “I think there’s a lot of things we’re doing so farmers have questions about what’s going on.”
District 9 (Perth) director Mark Brock and chair of the GFO saw attendance for his area go from 42 members two years ago to 53 this year. Neonicotinoids, phosphorus runoff into the Great Lakes, the upcoming ag policy framework in 2018 all helped pull people in this year he said. “There’s a lot going on.”
Brock added that the main time he sees a significant uptick in attendance is in the rough times. “You’ll see a lot of people when you have $3 corn. But the people who do come out have plenty to say and there’s good dialogue.”
District 10 (Grey, Bruce, Wellington) saw numbers creep up from 60 attendees two years ago to 67 this year. Director Henry Van Ankum said that new and younger faces are helping push numbers up. It was a nice clear day, he said, which probably didn’t hurt in getting people out, not to mention the Tim Hortons gift cards they gave to any farmer who brought a buddy.
“We always wish that every member could come out to district meetings, but everybody has a different level of interest. Certainly I think we’re pleased by the numbers we’re seeing currently.”
The GFO has been trying for years to increase attendance at its annual district meetings. Two years ago they were handing out work gloves to farmers who brought a buddy to their district meeting, giving out 45 pairs in Western Ontario.
January being a busy time for meetings, as well as poor weather conditions and sheer distance some farmers would have to travel are often cited as the main reasons for chronically low attendance numbers.