Giving grows from life’s work

Posted: Apr 04, 2023

Photo: At weekly meetings, guest speakers with industry expertise present a wide range of topics such as soil health, tillage, precision agriculture, grain, and oilseed crops, cover crops, and nutrient management.

The Soil and Crop Club is rooted in bringing together everyone with a passion for the cropping aspects of agriculture. That includes students looking to grow their knowledge and donors, like Peter Johnson, B.Sc. (Agr.) ’82 and Sheila Johnson, giving back in a unique way to agricultural education.

“I have been so impressed by all the thought and help to target our giving to an area that matters to me – my life’s work in agronomy. That’s how we were led to the Soil and Crop Club,” says Peter.

The Soil and Crop Club organizes farm tours for students in the fall and winter semesters. 

Among its initiatives, the Soil and Crop Club hosts guest speakers with industry experience and offers its members certification in the Grower Pesticide Safety Course under the Ontario Pesticide Education Program. The Johnson’s support of the Club has been twofold in Peter’s volunteering as a regular guest presenter, and in their donating to offset the fees students would normally incur in achieving the required pesticide certification for their career goals.

“The Soil and Crop Club has been a way of interacting with experts, like Peter, and farmers across the country who have taught me many lessons,” says Kyle Farquharson, President of the Student Federation of OAC. Upon completion of his B.Sc. (Agr.), Kyle hopes to farm full-time on his family’s cash crop and meat rabbit operation in Mount Brydges, Ontario.

The Johnson’s gift to the Department of Plant Agriculture Highest Priority Fund, last year alone, covered the cost for 32 students of the Soil and Crop Club to complete the on-line offering of the Grower Pesticide Safety Course.

“I am extremely thankful to generous donors, like Peter and Sheila, who make it possible for us to learn outside the classroom, especially when it comes to safety,” says Amanda Hermans, who is pursuing a B.Sc. (Agr.) in Crop, Horticultural and Turfgrass Sciences.

Peter joined Real Agriculture in 2015 as a resident agronomist after 30 years as a Provincial Cereal Specialist for the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA). He hosts a weekly podcast called Wheat Pete’s Word and is often featured on Agronomy Monday (Real Ag Radio) where he interacts with growers about current cropping information. Sheila, who grew up on a farm where her father sold seed corn, comes from a family that loves agriculture. She supported OMAFRA in information technology for 25 years, a field she continues to enjoy.

“Peter is well known and very respected in the agricultural community. The Club looks forward to hosting him every year as his enthusiasm and passion for agriculture and learning cannot be beat,” says Josh Weber, B.Sc. (Agr.) ’21 who served on the Soil and Crop Club Executive for four years.

In his November presentation, Peter opened a lively discussion on issues experienced by growers this past season, including optimal planting timing, seeding rates and soil health, to more importantly applying the science and a holistic approach to real-life and ever-changing agricultural situations – which he believes to be a distinguishing aspect of agronomy.

“Peter made our minds ponder during his presentation as he posed questions we found difficult mainly because we don’t usually think in the ways he was asking. He made us think critically and apply our knowledge to find solutions,” says Margaret Alexiou, President of the Soil and Crop Club.

“Volunteer speakers are valued by our Club because the lessons they share at our meetings are beyond what we can learn in a classroom. Peter is passionate about what he does, and it inspires students like us to find passion in the career paths we chose and to give back to our communities.”


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