A new organization has been formed to represent agriculture contractors in Ontario.
The Ontario Professional Agri-Contractors Association (OPACA) held its first meeting Sept. 13 in Woodstock, with about 25 people attending.
“We were looking forward to having a united voice,” says OPACA’s Acting President, Sonke Claussen, who runs a diverse agriculture contracting business with his brother near Brucefield, in Huron County.
“There’s a lot of big companies, lot of young companies, spending lots of money in equipment, sending lots of personal enthusiasm and engagement into this and I think the business is so big, it warrants it has its own representation and not be under someone else’s umbrella,” he said in an interview at Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show.
The organization has been developing for almost three years, when a meeting on the Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea (PED) virus opened contractors eyes to the need for an organization.
Manure haulers were asked to come up with a plan to manage manure to limit the spread of PED.
Claussen says that it was determined that about half of the manure was handled by contractors. There was government funding for farmers hauling manure, but none for contractors, because they had no organization to apply for the funds.
“We wanted manure haulers incorporated in one association and then we thought, why don’t we try to get more into it to form a bigger group,” says Claussen. “So now we want all the harvesters, balers, whoever does any kind of land-based custom farming in this group.”
Since then, the group has been working with OMAFRA staff Jacqui Empson LaPorte, an environmental specialist, and Chris Brown, field crops sustainability specialist, to figure out what the need for the organization would be in an industry where there are already many organizations serving the agriculture industry.
“Chris and I also work with manure brokers, custom applicators, the drainage contractors, and a bunch of those other groups, and we realized they have some common interests that we think would be represented by this group, so things like safety, innovation, and certain standards we think could really improve agriculture industries,” says Empson LaPorte.
She says there’s a role for the organization in coordinating and promoting best management practices (BMPs).
“The environment and agriculture is so complex and we need everybody to do their part in terms of implementing BMPs. We just can’t put that burden on landowners and farmers because that landscape is just getting so different.”
OPACA expects to be involved in education of rural residents and in helping with demonstration days, says Claussen.
“The public notices us. First it is big equipment, and second we are working on the land. When anything is applied, when it is fertilizer, chemicals or when it is manure, the public notices and public doesn’t really know enough about what it is we are doing.”
The organization was already involved a manure handling demonstration day near Ripley, Ont. for nearby lakeshore residents.
The OPACA was incorporated earlier this summer and will continue to set up the organization, including the planning of its first annual meeting.