The ranks of the Ontario Certified Crop Advisors Association (CCA) have grown to more than 650 members, a number far higher than the industry originally expected.

When the organization was formed 20 years ago, executive director Susan Fitzgerald says that the number of CCAs was expected to plateau at 500. But times have changed.  At the organization’s annual meeting in London, Ont., last week, Fitzgerald shared that farmers’ need for agronomic information and advice is the key factor driving continued growth.

“Employers are seeing a greater need for CCAs on their staff because they’ve shifted over the years from selling products to selling advisory and consulting services,” says Fitzgerald.

There’s lots of agronomic and management information out there — sometimes too much. Farmers are looking to CCAs to help sift through the information, consolidate it and evaluate it depending on the unique needs of the farm operation and local agronomic conditions, notes Fitzgerald.

The organization also continues to offer programs and certifications to help CCAs address the challenges they see at the farm level. In a 2019 membership survey, members identified nutrient stewardship, weed resistance management and soil heath as their three leading concerns.

(Listen to RealAgriculture’s Bernard Tobin and CCA Ontario’s Susan Fitzgerald discuss the growing demand for certified crop advisors. Sorry continues after the interview.)

Fitzgerald notes that member feedback plays a key role in the education and accreditation support the association provides CCAs. The 4-R Nutrient Stewardship specialty was launched in 2016. In 2019, 16 CCAs earned the newly minted Resistance Management specialty accreditation, and a new Precision Ag program is slated for launch in 2021.

There’s also change afoot at the CCA examination level. Beginning in February 2020, CCA Ontario will offer designation examinations online. Until now, all CCAs writing exams had to be present in the same classroom on the same date. “Everyone wrote on the first Friday in February,” notes Fitzgerald. In the new online format, CCAs will have a week-long opportunity to schedule their exams, which can be completed at home or at work while the candidate is observed via webcam by a proctor.

The online examination will add needed flexibility and reduce the considerable time and travel required by many CCAs to participate in exams, Fitzgerald adds.

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