Turnout is always troublesome for the Grain Farmers of Ontario’s annual district meetings but this year’s turnout at the January meetings dropped dramatically.
While it is easier to Zoom digitally into a meeting than it is to zoom there physically, the socially-distanced events lacked one of the most valuable aspects of the annual get-togethers: getting together. Turnout across the province was a bit patchy, with producers dropping in and out, said GFO communications manager Victoria Berry. But around 30 to 50 people were at each meeting. That would put overall attendance among the 15 districts at between 450 and 750 people. That’s a significant decline from the roughly 800 to 900 that have attended annually in recent years.
District 12 (Durham, Northumberland, Kawartha Lakes, Peterborough, and Hastings) saw about 50 per cent of normal attendance, said Director Jeff Harrison. “In the virtual world, it could be considered a success.” The meeting also drew a different crowd from the regulars, which was a plus, he said.
But everyone’s eager to get back to in-person meetings, he said. Farmers will often joke about the meeting schedule in the winter and about the litany of free meals at grain elevators’ and fertilizer companies’ customer appreciation days. “But that social aspect, that interaction and value outside of the meeting is of huge value and it’s taken away. I think there’s a lot of stress out there.”
District 13 (Prince Edward, Lennox & Addington, Frontenac, Lanark, Leeds-Grenville, Renfrew, and Ottawa) had a very good meeting, all things considered, said Director Lloyd Crowe. Only one resolution came forward, which is unusual but not unheard of, he said. The resolution was to adjust the date of next year’s annual meeting so that it doesn’t overlap with the Ontario Agriculture Conference.
District 14 (Prescott-Russell, and Stormont-Dundas-Glengarry) saw about two-thirds of regular attendance, said director and chair of GFO Markus Haerle. The top topics were, unsurprisingly, the carbon tax, the Clean Fuel Standard and the Business Risk Management program. Doing the meetings via Zoom was “not the perfect scenario but we’ll work with what’s available to us. Let’s just say that face-to-face is still preferred for everyone in ag.”