Sitting on multiple boards during a lifetime is an invaluable experience. Having dedicated board members involved in policy and agriculture commissions can spark real change for agriculture in Canada.

Jeff Nielsen spent time as a director of the Alberta Barley Commission, and as the chair — through the position’s various names — of Grain Growers of Canada (GGC). After chairing the board for the past two years, Nielsen stepped down in late 2020.

“It’s an interesting group, when you look at the cross-section of associations, from literally across Canada that Grain Growers of Canada represents,” says Nielsen.

The organization had some transition issues, and the ebb and flow of members is partly what made the group unique. How the group united and became the national voice of grain growers in Ottawa was surprising to Nielsen. He says the group never saw what people would call “clear wins”, but were greatly involved in moving legislation forward for the railway transportation modernization, Bill C-49, and how to proceed with the Canada Grains Act stand out to Nielsen.

Getting involved in the GGC is a bit of a stepping stone process, says Nielsen, but involvement with a local grain commission is the first step, then becoming a director, and finally, asking to be a representative for that commission at GGC.

An awareness of the lack of diversity is growing in agriculture, especially involvement with boards of directors, but Nielsen says we need more diverse voices going forward, whether it’s backgrounds or demographics.

Rural internet is, of course, a struggle holding when board meetings virtually, and that connectivity is key to the success of these boards as well.

Listen to the full conversation between Nielsen and Kara Oosterhuis below:

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