Mini Diagnostic Day Introduces Members to Agronomy

By: Sara Harper

Southwest Crop Diagnostic Day is a full day event in early July put on by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) in cooperation with the University of Guelph Ridgetown Campus. It promotes “hands on learning” experiences for those in agribusiness. The skills emphasized are troubleshooting, evaluation and management strategies. Industry professionals facilitate workshops based on common issues found in Southern Ontario and new technology available to help fight the issues. Participants are able to customize their day with the available 11 rotational sessions.

In the early 2000’s, one of the Diagnostic Day planners, Anne Verhallen, received an inquiry from local 4-H Lambton Field Crops Club Leader, Don Lunn, which marked the start of this great event. He wanted to know if there was a discount available to 4-H clubs to attend. When asked why he wanted his club to attend, Don responded, “I was looking for an educational field trip for our club.” Since space was limited, arrangements were made to create a mini version in the evening. This also allowed for more intermediate and senior members to attend since many had summer jobs during the day. Three facilitators presented their sessions to give the youth a taste of what the full day offered. Clubs meet at the Vet Tech parking lot, say the 4-H pledge and then load onto wagons that take the members to the research field. There, they are split into three groups and rotate through the sessions.

Attendance at the Mini Diagnostics Day has ranged from 20-90 participants since its inception, with parents also enjoying the experience. In 2016, approximately 65 members attended from Chatham-Kent, Lambton and Middlesex 4-H Associations.

Sometimes sessions are modified so that they can be better understood by the youth, but most facilitators keep them the same.

“I can remember having Dr. Gary Ablett speak on soybean physiology and wondering how he might simplify things,” recalls Verhallen. “When I checked with a couple of young members they said he had not “dumbed it down.” The members were excited, had completely followed his explanation and could repeat it back to me.”

The evening ends with a pizza party in the parking lot before heading home.

“This experience exposes members to current issues such as crop diseases, weed identification, and various bugs—both beneficial and destructive,” says past 4-H member and attendee Matt Smyth. “It also gives an introduction to proper sprayer set-up and boom height to reduce drift and improve application and safety of pesticides.”

Smyth’s favourite part of the Mini Diagnostic Day was being able to learn some leading edge things about agriculture. He feels that this event is a great way to spark interest in agronomy with 4-Her’s and helps them understand the basics of agronomy which is relevant in many aspects of agriculture. It also provides the opportunity to see the University of Guelph’s Ridgetown Campus, where many agribusiness personnel attend post-secondary studies.