Chris and Leslie Johnson, owners of Donilyn Farmers on Dillabough Road, were the recipients of the 2022 Farmer of the Year (Eric Casselman Award). From the left: Chris Johnson, Leslie Johnson and Brian Vanderberg. Thompson Goddard Photo

CHESTERVILLE – The Dundas Soil and Crop Improvement Association held their annual general meeting on Wed., Dec. 6 in the hall at Royal Canadian Legion Branch 434 in Chesterville.

The meeting featured several speakers in the morning sessions, including a PowerPoint on the 2022 DSCIA bus trip, OSCIA and OMAFRA updates as well as reports on the OSCIA Program and Road Safety and Workplace Safety. An update on the Winchester Research Plots was delivered by Ian DeSchiffart following the awards’ presentation in the afternoon.

During the AGM portion of the meeting, the 2023 board of directors was determined. Brian Vandenberg will serve as past president, with Wray Holmes selected to be the new president and Jason Byvelds serving as vice president. Melissa Menkhorst will continue as the secretary/treasurer of the DSCIA. 

Directors from the Municipality of South Dundas include Joe Jansen, Robert Byvelds, Ron Toonders, John L. Devries, Andrew Byvelds, Mark Tibben, Michael Staebler and Dave Barkley. From the Township of North Dundas Mike Roosendaal, Tim Moher, Tim Jacquemet, Tyler Hoy, Matt Spruit, Graham Duke, Brent VandenBosch and Garry Brugmans will serve as DSCIA directors. Directors at large include Marty Derks, Tom MacGregor, Adrian Lee and Warren Schneckenburger.

Following a turkey or ham dinner catered by Lyle Skuce, a presentation on Fertilizer emissions and the federal government’s plan was provided by Kelvin Heppner via Zoom. This presentation provided insights into the federal nitrogen emissions legislation, noting there are several issues associated with the upcoming requirement for farmers to achieve a 30 per cent reduction in emissions. These include issues such as how the federal government will measure emissions, what is the baseline and how was it established and an acknowledgement by government on farm practices already being undertaken.  Heppner noted there are only seven growing seasons left until 2030, when the reduction has to take effect.

After the conclusion of the presentation, awards were presented with Mark Tibben receiving the second place prize in the DSCIA forage growers’ competition, an Award of Merit given to Sheila James, Glenn Smirle, of Smirlholm Farms was awarded the Innovative Farmer Award for the development of his honey business, and the Dundas Farmer of the Year (Eric Casselman Award) presented to Chris and Leslie Johnson.

Sheila James was presented with an Award of Merit by the DSCIA for her work in providing the public with information on farm safety throughout Eastern Ontario. She has held “demonstrations, workshops and meetings to farmers, farm kids, 4-Hers, greenhouses, nurseries, landscapers, golf courses and colleges, spreading the all too important message of safety,” commented Robert Byvelds shortly before providing James with the award.

In announcing the winner of the Innovative Farmer Award Glenn Smirle of Smirlholm Farms, Robert Byvelds commented, “Just outside of Morewood you will find the land of milk and now honey.  Smirlholm Farms, operated by Glenn, Lisa and Jada Smirle went from black and white to black and yellow and now produce award winning honey on their farm.” 

Byvelds continued how Smirle made the decision to transition “to a small, non-commercialized sustainable apiary,” 25 years after taking over his grandfather’s dairy farm upon graduating from the University of Guelph. Through the Operation Pollinator Program, portions of the farm now grow native wildflowers with some fields lined with sunflowers providing the bees a selection of plants to choose from. Smirlholm Farms received the best honey award by the Eastern Ontario Beekeepers Association for its delicious taste and appealing aroma. “Soak up the sunflowers and Bee amazed,” was a fundraising event in support of the Winchester and District Cancer Care Fund and raised two thousand dollars for the fund. Social media is utilized by the Smirle family to provide information on where and how to purchase the honey, as well as helping to educate the public about the subject. 

“I appreciate being recognized in my profession by my peers. I never dreamed I would be considered, and I was very flattered to have won the award,” commented Smirle.

Chris and Leslie Johnson were awarded the Dundas Farmer of Year (Eric Casselman Award) during the DSCIA AGM. With their daughter Ashley and husband Kevin as well as Chris’ father Gord, the couple operate Donilyn Farms on Dillabough Road near Chesterville.

Chris has been involved with agriculture his whole life and has served as DSCIA director. As a member of the Dundas Milk Committee, he served as secretary and chair of the DMC. Over the past nine years he has served the Gay-Lea Foods’ Cooperative and has served as a Zone 4 director, taken opportunities for leadership training, and was elected to the Board of Cooperators Group Limited. Leslie served as a dairy educator between 2005 and 2015 in Dundas County and between 2013 to 2015 as the Stormont County Dairy Educator. She assists in the organization of the Dundas County Gala and Agricultural Hall of Fame and has contributed to agriculture in the classroom.

“It was an unexpected honour, and greatly appreciated. Sometimes it can feel like you are toiling away in anonymity, but few things go unnoticed. Thank you,” commented Leslie on receiving the award.