The 15th anniversary edition of the FarmSmart Conference was an overwhelming success. Strong producer confidence and agriculture industry enthusiasm drew over 1200 farmers, agri-business representatives, faculty and students to Guelph for what will be remembered as the largest FarmSmart to date.
For many attendees, FarmSmart is an annual don’t-miss-it event.
Tom Hayter, of Hayter Farms, says he has attended every January conference since its inception and describes it as a “world class event”. “It provides information beyond the normal farming information we receive at local meetings and includes topics that we need to be aware of if we are to be successful in business,” Hayter says.
The FarmSmart conference is an excellent opportunity to profile some of Ontario’s own homegrown industry success stories, but organizers also seek high-caliber speakers from beyond Ontario’s borders to provide a robust program and give producers as many new learning opportunities as possible. “This gives our participants a broader perspective and access to different points of view (and) this year’s great contingent of international speakers did not disappoint,” says Ian McDonald, applied research coordinator with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) and FarmSmart co-chairman.
Joe Schwarcz, Director of McGill University’s “Office for Science and Society” and Bob Weaber, the Cow-Calf Extension Specialist with Kansas State University shared headline duties as feature speakers. Other international speakers included – Dr. Shawn Casteel, Purdue University; Rita Emmett, Chicago; Dr. Frank Gibbs, Ohio; Dr. Willie Huot, North Dakota State University; Dr. Joe Lauer, University of Wisconsin; Odette Menard, Quebec and Dr. Jack Rabin, Rutgers University, New Jersey.
But while attendees look forward to the speaker presentations, the speakers themselves left the event with very positive impressions. “Canadian agriculture has a lot to be proud of,” says Gibbs, sentiments echoed by Emmett.
“As a professional speaker, I have participated in hundreds of conferences over the years (and) the FarmSmart Conference is one of the very best I’ve ever attended. The people I met are sharp, positive, intelligent, enthusiastic, and committed to finding more and innovative ways to making this a better world through farming,” she says.
Organizers are always looking to present expanded and innovative programs for their participants and two years ago the Beef Symposium joined with the FarmSmart Conference, a partnership which continues to prove successful. “We were pleased with the attendance including those that were able to connect in northern Ontario through Webex and encouraged by the number of young producers that participated,” says Brian Pogue, OMAFRA beef cattle lead. “The quality of this year’s speakers seemed to resonate well with producers and we look forward to building on this momentum for next year’s program,” says Pogue.
The newest addition to the FarmSmart family for 2013 was a dedicated day on the Friday before the main conference to host Ken Ferrie from Crop-Tech Consulting Incorporated of Illinois in a program named CornSmart. “The expansion into a full day program on the Friday before the conference adds to the value of the FarmSmart franchise to all who participate in our events,” says McDonald. Ferrie was a popular presenter at the 2012 FarmSmart Conference and for this special day-long workshop he spent the entire day with over 250 corn producers and agri-business people, enlightening them on his knowledge of corn production. “CornSmart was such a success that we will immediately make plans for a similar program next year such as SoySmart, WheatSmart, SoilSmart, depending on the feedback we find in the CornSmart evaluations,” says McDonald.
The FarmSmart philosophy has always been to develop a program that would appeal to the whole family and the youth program continues to be popular with attendees. This year the youth program explored the University of Guelph campus, including the recently expanded Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) and the Controlled Environment Research Systems Facility. “The passion of the Ontario Agricultural College (OAC) student volunteers was contagious,” says OMAFRA’s Shannon McCarthy, coordinator of the FarmSmart Youth Program–an enthusiasm that she says is positive for fostering and attracting future attendees to the University campus. “It was exciting to hear one youth program participant indicate her intention to pursue an agriculture degree at the University of Guelph because of exposure to its programs and facilities in past youth programs,” says McCarthy.
In response to the suggestion last year of some young adult participants that they would like to see some programming options unique to their demographic, this year organizers also developed a special Young Farmers Forum, which provided sessions and topics of interest to participants aged 18 to 29. Response was positive to this new initiative.
A special highlight at this year’s conference was the presentation to OMAFRA weed specialist Mike Cowbrough, named as this year’s recipient of the T. R. Hilliard Distinguished Agricultural Extension Award. Named in memory of the late T. R. (Dick) Hilliard, a former Deputy Minister of Agriculture, the annual award was established by the OAC Alumni Foundation to recognize persons who are making outstanding contributions to agricultural extension in Ontario. Previous winners of this unique and coveted award include some of the best-known names in Ontario agriculture and Mike joins a very distinguished list of honourees.
“Mike is very good at finding ways to connect with stakeholders and has moved the bar on weed science extension in the province in his relatively short time with the ministry. He is a very valuable and valued resource,” says McDonald, congratulating his colleague on the recognition.
The next FarmSmart event will be the in-field crop diagnostics and demonstration day offered at FarmSmart Expo on Thurs. July 11, 2013. The FarmSmart Expo youth program will follow on Fri. July 12. Follow on Twitter @FarmSmart1 for details on this summer event.
Plans are already in motion for the 2014 FarmSmart Conference scheduled for Sat. Jan. 18, 2014.
FarmSmart is a partnership of the Golden Horseshoe and Heartland Regional Soil and Crop Improvement Associations, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), the Ontario Agricultural College (OAC) of the University of Guelph, the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association (OSCIA), the Ontario Cattlemen’s Association (OCA), and various agri-business sponsors including Presenting sponsor DuPont Pioneer and Platinum sponsors BASF Canada Inc., Bayer CropScience, DEKALB, Farm Credit Canada and Syngenta Canada Inc.
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