by SUSAN MANN
Ontario’s agriculture ministry is planning to hire extension staff in several commodities to replace staffers who have either retired or left the ministry, and farm groups say that’s good news.
Two long-time ministry staffers in crop extension, Greg Stewart for corn, and Peter Johnson for cereals, both left the ministry in the winter. Sheep farmers are waiting to see more details on the sheep extension person the ministry plans to hire, while canola growers have received confirmation that the ministry plans to hire a new specialist to replace Brian Hall, who retires at the end of June. Up until April, canola growers were unsure if the ministry would maintain the extension position.
Susin Micallef, spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), says by email the ministry is in the process of recruiting staff for the sheep, cereals and corn specialist positions. She did not mention when recruitment of the canola position would take place and didn’t know when new staff for the other positions would be in their posts because the hiring process is still ongoing.
In the meantime, farmers can contact other ministry specialists or the ministry to get production and pest management information. The information is available through the ministry’s website, the Agriculture Information Contact Centre, social media accounts and ministry publications.
Barry Senft, CEO of Grain Farmers of Ontario, says for corn and cereals farmers “there is a void right now.” But with the ministry in the process of filling both positions “we’re happy and pleased. It’s good they’re going to have people dedicated to those specific commodities” because they are very big in Ontario.
Senft says farmers currently have other people they can contact with questions, including Johnson, who is now an independent crop consultant.
Farmers value the ministry’s extension people because “they are an independent voice,” he says. “They (farmers) can have an independent opinion on issues they face in the production of those crops.”
Carrie James, general manager for the Ontario Canola Growers Association, agrees on the importance of ministry extension staff. For canola, the ministry extension person is valued for providing “information seen in the field and on issues that come up during the growing season” along with reports on cropping research.
Sheep producers have been waiting a while for new extension staff. Dennis Fischer, chair of the Ontario Sheep Marketing Agency’s board, says one sheep extension person left three years ago, while another person who was a sheep, beef and cattle nutritionist left a year and a half ago. There are still two people remaining on the ministry’s “sheep team,” he says.
Fischer says he understands the ministry is planning to hire for an extension position that would specialize in sheep and goat and possibly something else. The position may be located in eastern Ontario.
Extension staff are “very important to the industry,” he says, adding they deal with farmers’ questions about livestock nutrition, health and handling facilities.
The agency and ministry have encouraged sheep producers to use their veterinarians more for answers to questions. In addition, there are still some experts within the agriculture ministry who can handle sheep-related questions. BF