As autumn creeps along the edge of summer and harvest hits high gear, plans are made for agriculture’s season of annual general meetings.
An AGM used to mean a few days away from the farm, an opportunity to socialize, be educated on the latest trends and technology, celebrate a banner year or find solutions to challenges in the company of fellow producers.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought the tradition of in-person AGMs to a screeching halt, and agriculture organizations scrambled to provide a similar, pared-down virtual experience for their members.
Why it matters: Farm organizations are preparing for the potential spread of ‘no vaccine, no entry’ protocols that may drive the need for hybrid meeting solutions in the future.
The Ontario Sheep Farmers will mirror the same virtual format it adopted at the start of the pandemic for its Oct. 29 AGM, said general manager Jenn MacTavish.
“We’re proving that we can do this virtually in terms of Zoom or a variety of platforms and still be able to get the business done,” she said. “It’s going to be hard to go back to the normal that we once knew going forward.”
Even before COVID, she said there were requests for remote meetings to increase attendance and participation by sheep producers who live a significant distance away.
While optimistic for a return to a two-day, in-person itinerary, MacTavish said there’s uncertainty around COVID-19 variants and not every member is eligible for vaccines. That means the virtual option is safest.
“We’re making the best decisions we can with the information we have at this moment, and we are favouring progress over perfection,” said MacTavish.
She said she hopes 2022 will see the return of face-to-face meetings but believes it will be 2023 before they return to the ‘new’ standard that will also offer a virtual component.
“This year might look different than last year or next year. Each year is going to have a different look and feel depending on where we are with COVID and where people are comfortable,” she said. “We just have to give each other some grace.”
The sheep group is advising districts that plan to host in-person meetings to also offer a virtual component.
The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) will hold its Nov. 22 AGM virtually this year, said president Peggy Brekveld.
“Ontario wasn’t ready for that when we had to make decisions,” she said, noting convention planning begins in February or March. “We made the announcement very early, so people were not surprised.”
There is strong desire to return to in-person meetings, said Brekveld, and the OFA has booked the 2022 and 2023 AGMs to be held in-person in London.
“There is a desire to see some things come back in person (because) I know there are some great hallway conversations missing when you do it virtually,” said Brekveld. “It works for this current COVID reality, and we hope for different processes in the future.”
The Grain Farmers of Ontario (GFO) will holding its provincial AGM virtually in September. However, several districts want to offer January meetings in person, said Brendan Byrne, GFO chair.
“We want to make sure that anybody that does want to participate, wants to see what’s going on, has that ability to do so, either way, whichever way they feel comfortable,” he said. “You’ve got to be fluid with it. We’ve seen some advantages for people able to connect virtually that maybe haven’t been able to be at a meeting before.”
Byrne said it’s likely in-person meeting numbers will be scaled back, with an online component to complement them.
“It’s a nice option to have, realizing full well that we all very much would rather just be in person and connecting that way,” he said. “But we’re just kind of at the mercy of what’s going on and trying to do our best with it as most organizations are.”
Beef Farmers of Ontario will hold its AGM in February 2022 but hasn’t reached the planning stage, said a BFO representative.