Ontario's sheep industry benefits from Growing Forward 2 funding

 It can be hard for smaller sectors of agriculture to undertake complex or expensive industry projects. Tight budgets and limited resources can keep work from getting done, even if that work might be vitally needed to support industry growth and development.

That’s why programs like Growing Forward 2 (GF2) are so important to agricultural organizations like the Ontario Sheep Farmers says it’s General Manager Jennifer MacTavish. Ontario Sheep Farmers works on advocacy, market development and capacity, and industry capacity building on behalf of its 3,000 sheep producer members who generate $440 million in annual economic activity every year.

MacTavish says the producer-run organization has been grateful to be on the receiving end of GF2 and Ontario Farm Innovation Program (OFIP) funding for many different projects through the Agricultural Adaptation Council (AAC), which helps administer the program in Ontario.

“We’ve been incredibly fortunate to receive support from AAC for a variety of projects including an ethnic market project in collaboration with Ontario Rabbit, Veal Farmers of Ontario and Ontario Goat; animal welfare videos that talk to consumers about why we do what we do, and revamping our database to prepare the industry for traceability,” explains MacTavish.

Ontario Sheep Farmers also received funding to develop a price predictability tool. Previously, there had been no method to forecast pricing in the sheep industry; if the tool works, producers will be able to gauge their profitability by using the calculator to confidently predict an estimated price based on their market lamb production.

A 14-month Master Shepherd course was developed to provide continuing education to sheep producers interested in both expanding their production and receiving professional development, including writing business plans. “We won a Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence for this course and we’re pretty proud of that,” says MacTavish. “We were able to offer this to Ontario producers looking to expand their production to fill market demand because of the funding we received through Growing Forward 2.

For Ontario Sheep Farmers, the make-up of the AAC board is a real advantage. Its mix of representatives from the entire value chain from farmers right through to retailers means they have an understanding of the industry, its needs and the challenges that face agricultural producers and businesses.

“The AAC board is quite diverse in who they represent from the Ontario value chain so they have the foresight of knowing where agricultural production needs to go and understand the changing dynamics of the Ontario market and in which we’re farming today,” believes MacTavish.

Also beneficial to Ontario Sheep Farmers is AAC’s easily accessible staff team that is available to answer questions and provide support right through to project completion, which is particularly valuable for small organizations with limited staff resources, she adds.

AAC helps facilitate knowledge sharing and networking, whether through its newsletter or annual meeting, that can help spread knowledge one organization has gleaned through a project to others who might be interested.

MacTavish says Ontario Sheep Farmers’s price predictability model is one such project where results could also potentially be of use to the goat or veal industries, and adds that networking and presentations at the AAC annual meeting can help kick start those conversations.

“It’s incredibly important for Ontario Sheep Farmers to be able to access funding like GF2 and OFIP,” she says. “It enables us to take on large projects to benefit the entire sector like our ethnic project which involved processors, producers, retail, and farmers markets; results were shared provincially as well as nationally with the Sheep Value Chain Round Table.”

Growing Forward 2 (GF2) is a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. The Agricultural Adaptation Council assists in the delivery of GF2 in Ontario.