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OSCIA Operations Report

Provided by: Barb Caswell, Director of Operations

Barb joined OSCIA in 2013 as a Programs Coordinator and transitioned to the role of Director of Operations early in 2023. She has Master of Science degree in Animal Biology from the University of Guelph. Her Masters focused on genotype by environment interactions in beef cattle. After leaving University, Barb worked for a number of commodity associations before coming to OSCIA, bringing with her experience in developing and delivering on-farm programming in the areas of food safety, traceability and biosecurity.

In 2023, OSCIA undertook some big changes to better position the organization for current and future opportunities. The restructuring seen the creation of our new Operations Team. The Operations Team includes Guelph office staff and our Client Services Team which are located regionally across the province. The Operations Team supports workshop and cost-share program development and delivery – and 2023 has certainly kept staff busy! OSCIA continues to work closely with federal and provincial government partners to deliver educational and funding opportunities which help support Ontario farmers in being profitable, productive and sustainable!

In 2023, we seen the wrap-up of the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, the five-year agricultural policy framework that spanned from 2018 to 2023 and in April 2023, the Sustainable Canadian Agricultural Partnership (Sustainable CAP) was launched as the next five-year agricultural policy framework, running from 2023-2028.

Workshop Delivery

Under Sustainable CAP, OSCIA will be delivering the Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) and commodity-specific Biosecurity workshops. The EFP workshop continues to be delivered through a two-day, in person workshop, as well as a one-day workshop or the electronic EFP (an online version of the workbook) for those looking to update a previously verified EFP.  OSCIA has began work on developing a virtual EFP workshop, which will offer the support and opportunities to network with other farmers, similar to a two-day workshop, but through a virtual platform. The virtual workshop will be piloted in 2024.

The EFP celebrated thirty-years of delivery in 2023. The EFP has been proudly delivered by OSCIA since its inception. EFP is currently in its 4th edition, which was released in 2013. Since that time, OSCIA has been actively evaluating the process for farmers through our delivery of the workshop. In 2023, OSCIA began a review of the current workbook, with a goal reducing duplication, adding clarity, and ensuring the content continues to be relevant to current challenges faced by Ontario farmers. Release of a 5th Edition is targeted for early 2025. In parallel to that, OSCIA has also engaged Wilton Consulting Group to conduct a stakeholder consultation on the modernization of the EFP. The consultations will help form a longer-term vision for Ontario’s EFP and define opportunities, potential and industry expectations, as we look beyond a 5th Edition. Through this consultation process, OSCIA is engaging industry and farmer groups, but also others throughout the value chain. A final report on the consultations is anticipated to be released in spring 2024.

Biosecurity workshops and webinars are offered for Livestock (beef, dairy, sheep and goat), Field Crops, Bees and Poultry. In 2023, OSCIA also developed content for a new Greenhouse Biosecurity workshop that will be delivered beginning in 2024. OSCIA continues to work with technical experts, including as Veterinarians, Certified Crop Advisors, the Ontario Beekeeper Tech Transfer Team, and Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers, on delivery of the technical content in the workshops. 

Sustainable Canadian Agricultural Partnership Cost-Share Programming

OSCIA delivers Sustainable Partnership cost-share funding programs to producers. In 2023, the following initiatives were delivered:

  • Agricultural Stewardship Initiative
  • Honey Bee Health Initiative
  • Maple Production Improvement Initiative
  • Resilient Agricultural Landscape Program

The Agricultural Stewardship Initiative (ASI) provided cost-share funding to farmers to accelerate the adoption of BMPs supporting soil health, water quality and productivity. The Initiative provided enhanced funding for projects in the Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair watersheds. Projects focused on:

  • Equipment Modifications to Improve Manure Application
  • Equipment Modifications to Reduce Soil Compaction
  • Nutrient Application Equipment Modifications
  • Nutrient Management & Soil Health Planning

Applications were accepted from September 15th – 28th, 2023, for projects to be completed by February 15, 2024.  Close to 500 applications were received and processed by OSCIA.

The Honey Bee Health Initiative opened to accept applications on September 15th, 2023. The initiative is a continuous intake that will remain open until the budget is fully allocated. The Initiative helps support beekeepers in maintaining healthy colonies and growing their colonies. Supported activities include:

  • Operational improvements and adoption of BMPs to reduce biosecurity risks
  • Equipment or facilities to improve hive health management practices
  • Sampling and analysis for pests and diseases
  • Purchase of new honey bee stock

To apply, beekeepers must have ten or more colonies registered with the Provincial Apiarist. Over 150 applications were received and processed in 2023.

The Maple Production Improvement Initiative supported maple syrup producer productivity and efficiency through funding for equipment and woodlot management. Applications were accepted from November 9th to 15th, 2023.  Over 70 producers applied to the program, for projects to be completed in 2023 and 2024.

The Resilient Agricultural Landscape Program (RALP) provides funding to support Ontario farmers in making their agricultural lands more productive and resilient through projects which reduce greenhouse gas emissions and sequester carbon. Eligible projects focus on:

  • Natural Grassland Establishment
  • Perennial Biomass & Warm Season Pastures
  • Reduced Tillage
  • Tree & Shrub Planting
  • Water Retention Features
  • Wetlands

RALP opened to accept applications on October 24th, 2023, and will remain open until the funding has been fully allocated. The program is a five-year program that will have multiple intakes.  Under RALP, farmers receive a per acre payment for implementing and maintaining an eligible project. The farmer must commit to maintaining the project for a set amount of time, which is outlined in a Land use agreement between the farmer and OSCIA. The program also encourages strong collaboration with technical experts, through a requirement for applicants to provide letters of support or assessments with their application. This encourages sound project planning and support throughout project implementation and on-going maintenance.

Canadian Agricultural Partnership (the Partnership)

In 2023, OSCIA wrapped up delivery of programming under the Partnership, including province-wide producer programming, the Targeted Intake to Support Honey Bee Health, and the Lake Erie Agriculture Demonstrating Sustainability (LEADS) program.

Under the province-wide programming, strategic initiatives focused on achieving key outcomes related to Economic Development, Environmental Stewardship, and Protection and Assurance. Since the program’s launch in 2018, OSCIA has processed almost 6000 applications and just under $35 million in cost-share funding was invested towards successfully implemented projects.  Final claims were processed early in 2023.

Under the Targeted Bee Intake, two application intakes were held with the final intake closing in 2022, and cost-share claims processed into early 2023. Across both intakes, close to 800 applications were supported with close to $2 million in cost-share funding provided.

The Lake Erie Agriculture Demonstrating Sustainability (LEADS) Program aimed to make measurable improvements to soil health and meet nutrient reduction targets by supporting BMPs on agricultural lands within the Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair watersheds (the LEADS eligible area). Since the program’s launch in 2018, close to 1800 applications were received and processed, and over $11 million in cost-share funding invested towards successfully implemented projects.  Final claims were processed early in 2023.

Species at Risk Partnerships on Agricultural Land (SARPAL)

Species at Risk Partnerships on Agricultural Lands (SARPAL) is an Environment and Climate Change Canada initiative that is focused on working with farmers to support the recovery of species at risk. SARPAL funds conservation actions focused on supporting 12 target species at risk. The SARPAL program opened an intake in spring 2023 that resulted in 45 projects receiving a funding allocation. The claim deadline for those projects was December 2023. The next intake for the SARPAL program will be open in May 2024. Work has been completed to support delivery of the SARPAL program through OSCIA’s online program guide and online application portal.

Species at Risk Farm Incentive Program (SARFIP)

SARFIP provides funding to agricultural landowners interested in completing habitat creation, enhancement, and protection BMPs that support species at risk. SARFIP is funded by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks through the Species at Risk Stewardship Program (SARSP). Two SARFIP intakes were held in 2023. The first intake was part of an extension of SARFIP programming from 2022. The intake opened in spring 2023 and resulted in 30 projects receiving a funding allocation. The claim deadline for those projects was December 2023. A second intake was held in June 2023. The second intake was part of a new agreement under the SARSP for SARFIP program delivery by OSCIA until 2026. The second intake resulted in an additional 39 projects receiving a funding allocation, with a claim deadline in January 2024. The next intake for SARFIP will open in April 2024. Applications will be accepted through OSCIA’s online application portal.

On-Farm Climate Action Fund (OFCAF)

OFCAF provides cost-share funding to farmers to support the implementation of BMPs that tackle climate change by reducing emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and supporting increased carbon sequestration. Funding for OFCAF is provided by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada through the Agricultural Climate Solutions – On-Farm Climate Action Fund. Cost-share support (65%) is available to farmers under three categories: in-field Nitrogen management, Cover cropping and Rotational grazing. OFCAF applicants must participate in an eligible Knowledge Sharing Event (KSE). A KSE is an event recognized by OSCIA (but not necessarily organized by OSCIA) which supports the learning and adoption of BMPs specific to addressing climate change challenges in Ontario.  A KSE is both a learning and networking opportunity where farmers can benefit from seeing the latest applied research demonstrations, hearing first-hand experiences from other farmers and industry experts, and gaining access to information networks and resources. OFCAF entered it’s second year with an intake in January 2023. Just under 1200 applications were received for practices to be implemented throughout 2023 and claimed by January 2024.  Another intake is being planned for early in 2024 to support practices implemented in the 2024 growing season.

Nature Smart Climate Readiness Program

The Nature Smart Climate Readiness Program (NSCRP, or Nature Smart) helps support nature-based solutions to store and capture carbon, mitigate the impacts of climate change, improve water quality, and contribute to biodiversity on farms.

OSCIA has been working on program development throughout 2023, with an intake planned for early in 2024, The intake will support projects implemented after April 1, 2023. Nature Smart is a competitive reverse auction program focusing on conservation or restoration of grasslands, wetlands, and riparian buffer zones to non-agricultural production uses. Applicants must identify the total costs for the proposed project and a cost-share funding request (or “bid”) in their application. Successful applicants will have demonstrated the most potential for environmental benefits through carbon sequestration, greenhouse gas emission reduction, and other co-benefits such as preservation of habitat for Species at Risk.