The last strategic plan launched by the Canola Council of Canada (CCC) set the goal of 26 million tonnes of production by 2025. Tucked in to that strategic plan was also a shift in the Council’s approach to agronomy.
“Agronomy changes over time,” says Clint Jurke, agronomy director for the CCC. “In 2018, we did a pretty deep review of how we support agronomic extension. It’s pretty hard to support 43,000 individual farmers on our own, and so it became pretty apparent to us that we need to try working more closely through partners and partnerships and collaborating more with those that do have dedicated agronomic staff that have more opportunity to interact directly with farmers.”
Jurke says that the CCC is committed to agronomy for Canadian farmers, however, what that looks like has evolved and will continue to evolve from agronomists visiting individual fields.
The CCC has had several agronomists move on to other positions in the last year to 18-months. Most recently, vacancies have opened up in Manitoba and Alberta, and some farmers have voiced concern that these positions would not be filled. From 11 agronomy staff in 2018, the current team numbers six, led by Jurke.
Jurke says that these two positions will be filled, but that the vacancies do offer an opportunity to reevaluate the team’s strengths and identify knowledge gaps.
“We try to make sure that we have a diversity of skill sets and perspectives within our team,” Jurke says. “We are trying to target the expertise that we need the most within our team.”
He adds that each agronomy specialist has a leadership role within the team on a specific topic. For example, an agronomist may take the lead on fertility, seeding and establishment, or weed control. Each agronomists is expected to work locally, nationally, and internationally to stay current on their particular subject, and bring that knowledge and expertise back to the team and to the extension network.
Knowledge gaps are part of the consideration, but Jurke adds there is still a need for regional representation.
“Every agronomy specialist still has a territory; every agronomy specialist is expected to maintain a territory and interact within that territory, in order to keep on top of what new issues are developing, and to provide support within that territory if there is needed,” he says. That said, compared to, say, a decade ago, each agronomist spends less of their day within each territory, he says.
So what does the next five years look like?
“I envision that it will be a continuation of what we’ve set up currently,” Jurke says. “Our focus is on hitting our yields and production goals. That 26 million tonnes by 2025 is our target, and we have some really specific messaging that we believe that if the industry adopts and we see a lot of growers make some changes to their practices, we can hit these yield targets. But Mother Nature does need to cooperate.”