A lot has changed for Ontario Certified Crop Advisors over the past two decades. The provincial agronomist organization now boasts 675 members, specialized programs for 4R nutrient and weed resistance management, and an increasingly diverse membership.
Last week marked the 20th anniversary of the organization’s first annual meeting; it was also a time to acknowledge the work of a long-time force behind the organization, executive director Susan Fitzgerald, who announced late last year that she would be stepping away from the organization and transitioning to retirement.
Fitzgerald started working with the CCA program when it came to Ontario in 1996, taking over the executive director responsibilities from Tom Sawyer in 2000. Over the years, she says the organization and its members have worked hard to earn recognition and credibility for the CCA designation and also earn respect and relationships with growers and governments.
Fitzgerald says changes to the Ontario government’s commitment to agricultural extension was one of the catalysts that drove the growth of CCAs. “I think the agronomists have now filled that role to some extent. And they utilize the government extension people as their resources as well,” says Fitzgerald who notes that growers now benefit from a management team approach that includes agronomists, extension specialists, and crop researchers.
The process of earning the CCA designation is a good example of the changes the organization and agronomists have tackled over 20 years,” says Fitzgerald. “When I first got involved, everyone got together on the same day. It was the first Friday of February and it didn’t matter where you were in North America, you showed up at your local site, and you wrote your exam. It was paper and pencil. Now it’s online, and now it’s on demand. So you can sign up and when you are ready to write that exam, you can take that exam.”
Fitzgerald says the diversity of the membership is also gratifying. “If you think back to the mid 1990s, it was primarily male dominated, and there were a few females — you could probably have named them at that time. Today, I was really pleased to see a lot of young people in the room, because that shows you the future or the longevity of our industry and also of the CCA program itself.” (Listen to Bernard Tobin and Susan Fitzgerald discuss CCA roots in Ontario and the road ahead. Story continues after the interview.)
In his remarks at the convention, outgoing CCA board chair, Jeff Jacques, thanked Fitzgerald on behalf of all CCAs. “Susan has been a constant driving force who has driven our organization from its very humble beginnings to the gold standard it is now for crop agriculture. We are now 675 strong with a voice at many tables thanks to constant and targeted exposure, a track record of reliability and a grassroots opinion that is sought after.”
One of Fitzgerald’s final tasks was to help the CCA board update the organization’s strategic plan for the 2023 board of directors, which will be chaired by Aaron Breimer. Moving forward, she says there is opportunity for the organization to focus on many areas including playing a role helping growers navigate the implications of climate change; building public trust, awareness and acceptance of farming practices; helping direct the research and innovation needs of farmers and promoting agronomy to help attract more young people to the discipline.