WEST LORNE — One of the first presidents of the Ontario Corn Growers Association leaves behind a legacy of financial protection for grain farmers, Ontario’s substantial fuel ethanol industry, and a lifetime of calm, quiet leadership.
Cash crop and former tobacco farmer Edward Kalita of West Lorne, in Elgin County died last month at age 89.
Once a tobacco farmer, he switched to cash crops, namely corn, soybeans and wheat decades before the buyouts of 2008.
It wasn’t long before he got involved with the then-nascent Ontario Corn Producers’ Association, said grain farmer and former University of Guelph crop scientist Terry Daynard. Daynard worked under Kalita after Kalita took over the association as president in 1984. Though that association is no more, having merged with the soybean and wheat growers in 2008 to form the Grain Farmers of Ontario, much of it, and his work, remains.
The catalyst for one of Kalita’s major achievements took place just the year before he became president. A grain elevator at Smithville, between Hamilton and Niagara, went bankrupt. It was a major grain buyer and the bankruptcy had broad consequences. Many farmers lost a lot of money, Daynard said. Insurance programs at the time didn’t cover bankruptcies.
Farmers needed something better. Inspired by a program that the then-Ontario Cattlemen’s Association (now the Beef Farmers of Ontario) had, the corn producers put something together. The Grain Financial Protection Plan, now under the purview of Agricorp, was the result, said Daynard. “It works so well, you never hear anything about it.”
Kalita also helmed the producers’ association as it lobbied the government extensively through the 1980s for a tax incentive for fuel ethanol. The industry was miniature in those days, said Daynard; now, it’s one of the biggest buyers of Ontario corn.
Apart from his work on farm finances, Kalita was also instrumental in farm advocacy. A loose coalition of commodity groups, general farm organizations and pesticide industry people in the mid-1980s resulted in the AGCare, a farm advocacy group that later became Farm and Food Care Ontario, after merging with the Ontario Farm Animal Council.
Through it all, Kalita was a calm, quiet consensus-builder, Daynard said. He was congenial, but no glad-hander; he wouldn’t jump out in a crowd, but he could get things done. Said Daynard: “Through his quiet charm and thoughtful approach to difficult issues, he was an exceptional farm leader. All of rural Ontario benefitted from his efforts.”
Kalita is survived by his wife Thelma, his sister Jannette, and his numerous children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.