The Birth of an Ontario Custom Applicator Group
By Treena Hein
The Ontario Professional Agri-Contractors Association has been formed to improve representation and communication among contractors plus provide educational opportunities for members and the public.
By Treena Hein
It was during the peak of the porcine diarrhea epidemic in the winter of 2014-2015 that the need for the Ontario Professional Agri Contractors Association (OPACA) became clear to what would become its group of founding members.
“At that time, the government had provided some funding for equipment improvements to help contain the outbreak,” explains OPACA founder Sonke Claussen of Claussen Farms Custom Farming in Brucefield, Ont. “However, that funding was only available to farmers and not the contractors who were applying approximately 50 percent of Ontario’s manure and biosolids.”
This made contractors like Claussen realize that they needed to be officially recognized.
“A group of us met to discuss the fact that agricultural contracting had become a serious business in the province and that we needed to unite to represent our interests.”
They would form an association and although the original founding group held numerous face-to-face meetings and conference calls over the next two and a half years, everyone’s busy workloads precluded OPACA from becoming registered as a non-profit incorporated association until this summer. Along the way, it was decided that the organization shouldn’t only include manure haulers, but all land-based farm contractors, including balers, harvesters, seeders and spray applicators. “In addition to representation and allowing much better communication among contractors about all the common problems and issues we face daily, the association has many other important goals,” Claussen explains. “These include collaboration with regulatory agencies and other farming and ag contractor associations, providing education to members, customers and the general public, engaging in research partnerships and developing and implementing BMP’s (Best Management Practices) relating to the promotion of sustainable nutrient application and responsible use of crop management technology.”
Staff from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) have been enthusiastically involved in getting OPACA off the ground from the very beginning.
“We need to name and thank especially Christine Brown (sustainability specialist for Field Crops) and Jacqui Empson Laporte (environmental specialist) and their supervisors for their support and encouragement to proceed with the formation of our group,” Claussen says. “OMAFRA shared our vision right from the get-go that a custom contractors’ association would be a benefit for all people of the province of Ontario.”
As time passed, the founding group members also found inspiration in many examples of active agricultural contractor associations around the world, working to the benefit of their members as well as their clients and the public.
“The Canadian Custom Harvesters Association, for example, has a big convention every year in winter, very well attended and respected,” Claussen notes. “Wisconsin has a very active manure haulers’ association, organizing meetings and manure application demonstrations.”
There is also Germany’s BLU (Bundesverband der Lohnunternehmer), which Claussen says started a contractors’ business certification program about 30 years ago and now offers a special training program with a certification for farm contractor employees.
“The BLU also has staff set aside just for economical advisory services, benchmarking, legal support, mentoring and mediation support for their members,” he says. “It also organizes a FarmShow called DELUTA every two years just for members, very focused on farm contractor and equipment manufacturer needs.”
Indeed, all European countries have a farm contractors’ association and that they all are united under the European Farm Contractors Association (CEETTAR). Claussen says many of the things these associations are doing are also things OPACA may take on in the coming years.
Communication is hoped to be an important function of the association. Claussen has seen lots of new ag contracting firms start up in Ontario over the last few years, and while they are all working hard in his view, he does not think they are not communicating well enough amongst each other about common issues. There were concerns for some manure haulers this spring, for example, in getting timely NASM (Non-Agricultural Source Materials) certification and also issues surrounding consistency in layout of lab reports.
“These are areas where OPACA could work with the institutions to discuss possible support, solutions or just by raising the awareness of a possible problem,” Claussen notes. “We are all facing similar problems and we must start viewing ourselves as like-minded professionals and not necessarily just as competitors. If everyone looks around, they can see there is enough work for all of us and that fair and respectful competition can be beneficial, as long as we are open-minded and willing to learn and adapt as we move forward.”
Legislation is another area OPACA will likely be active. The Nutrient Management Act is constantly updated, Claussen says, and road legislation changes are on the way to address certification, dimensions, speed limits, weight limits and more.
“It just makes sense that we could be part of the discussion,” Claussen says. “We see our association as competent to offer advice and help with the discussion of changes so that new legislation is beneficial and works for all groups – citizens, farmers and contractors.”
He says actions like speed reduction in urban areas and limiting field work during nights and/or weekends could be promoted by OPACA to its members as voluntary measures before legislation is forced upon them. Insurance rates are another challenge, with strong interest already from existing OPACA members for the organization to help negotiate better rates for manure haulers at the same time it educates insurance companies on their professionalism with regard to the knowledge, equipment and technologies they use every day.
In 2017, as well as registering as a non-profit association, OPACA has hired an executive director. Acting board members have been working to finalize the constitution. OPACA is also growing its membership, and has sent out a questionnaire to over 30 potential members asking about their expectations. It held its first AGM on September 13 in Woodstock, Ont.
“We also need to reach out to other farm groups and associations and introduce ourselves so that we can start working with them,” Claussen says. “We also want to contact equipment manufacturers, dealers, and suppliers and ask them for support and collaboration because we all rely on each other and we need to work together.”
He believes that as it has elsewhere, custom farming and ag contracting will continue to gain importance here in Ontario.
“It has become a business with big commitments by company owners that expose them to financial and liability risks,” he says. “Huge pieces of specialized equipment need to be paid for and generate a return, and the use of new technologies, especially relating to precision farming, will grow.”
Legislation, especially in the field of biomass application, will get more specific and restrictive, circling back to the need for more and more specialised equipment.
Agricultural contracting in Ontario is not going anywhere in Claussen’s view, and a strong association representing the interest of all its members is very important.
“The most important goal is building the membership, with regular, associate and affiliate members,” he says. “Without members, we are not an association!”
To join the OPACA or find out more information, call 519-233-3198 or email email@example.com.
OPACA current acting board members and founders
- Greg Males of Bartels Environmental
- Todd Nason of Double TT Manure Management Service
- Steve Gloor of Ontario Greenways
- Mark Janiec of Terratec Environmental
- Walter Gross of Husky Farm Equipment
- Jacqui Empson Laporte of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs
- Ralph VanderWall of Vanagri Custom Services
- Sonke Claussen of Claussen Farms Custom Farming