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Keynote Speakers

Living Lab Panel: Grazing Cover Crops – 1:00PM

Michael Groot Mike runs Wholesome Pastures with his wife Lindsay near Crediton, ON. Both raised on conventional farms, the couple have gotten creative pasturing their animals with cover crops, even running chickens between 60” corn. As part of Living Lab–Ontario, Mike is running a replicated trial of 80-foot strips of corn, soybeans, wheat, and pasture that he rotationally grazes with cattle. He is comparing field crops with cover crops and grazing to pasture, to better understand the economics, practicality, and soil health benefits of the two systems. 


Dr. Lori Phillips – Dr. Lori Phillips is a Research Scientist in microbial ecology with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, based in Harrow Ontario. Her research program investigates the soil biological processes that maintain and enhance Agro-ecosystem productivity and sustainability. She uses molecular tools to understand how the ecosystem services provided by these biological communities can be managed or optimized at different scales, from the level of the plant through to the level of the landscape. This research is governed by three primary objectives within the context of soil health: 1) to develop molecular indicators to better quantify and monitor soil biological natural capital, 2) to generate new knowledge on management-microbiome interactions that support agricultural systems that are resilient to environmental and climate stresses, and 3) to provide baseline information that enables farmers to sustainably intensify their production systems.


Christine O’Reilly – Christine is the Forage and Grazing Specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs. Her areas of focus include the benefits of forages and grazing within cropping systems, forage production and grazing systems for northern Ontario, and improving the productivity and profitability of forages. Christine joined the ministry in 2017 and is based out of the Lindsay office. No, she has not consumed too much coffee; she is actually that excited about grazing management.


Andy Van Niekerk – Andy’s “farmer-first” attitude in all his dealings and a never-ending curiosity to learn new things gives Andy the edge on trying new things and products.  Andy holds a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture from the University of Guelph in 1980 and has been a Professional Agrologist (P.Ag.) since 1990 and a Certified Crop Advisor (CCA-ON) since 1999; most recently passing his 4R Stewardship requirements in 2016.

Andy is a long-time director on the board of the Innovative Farmers Association of Ontario, serving as their research committee chairperson, and is pleased to be representing IFAO as their Project Co-ordinator for the Living Labs project. Andy is also a member of the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association and is the Director for Georgian Central.


Steve Sickle – Steve is a life-long learner when it comes to managing crops and pasture. One of the things he has learned is that cattle and cropland go together. He is a director with the Ontario Soil and Crop Association and is involved with the Brant Cattlemen’s Association.  

In 2019 Steve was recognized by the Beef Farmers of Ontario for Environmental Stewardship. He is always looking for educational opportunities and ways to improve the efficiency and environmental stewardship on his operation.   



Efficiency in Fertilizer use – 4:40PM

Dr. Claudia Wagner-Riddle, Professor & Research Leadership Chair, School of Environmental Sciences

Claudia grew up in Brazil and developed an interest in soil and climate after a frost destroyed many of the coffee plantations in her region. The plantations were replaced with annual crops such as soybeans and corn, and that brought with it a lot of soil erosion. Her first summer job as a student working with a researcher on no-till and cover crops furthered her interest in soil and ways of managing it. The experience also sparked an interest in agriculture. After completing her bachelor’s degree, she took a research position in Germany looking at soil erosion, which inspired her to eventually pursue graduate research. Today, she is a world-renowned environmental science researcher focusing on the mitigation of greenhouse gases emitted by agricultural production systems.

Much of Claudia’s research relates to greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and provides information to farming organizations and government to help them make policy decisions. Claudia’s research identifies which greenhouse gas emissions are associated with certain agricultural practices to determine more environmentally friendly methods. Her research also looks at soil health and its impact on soil ecosystem services such as water quality, water filtration by soils, and all that soil can do to reduce the impact of greenhouse gas emissions. 


Dr. Alfons Weersink, Professor, Agri-environmental Policy; Farm Structure; Production Economics

Alfons Weersink grew up on a farm in St. Marys, Ontario, where he developed an interest in the economics and structure of agriculture. His academic career began at the University of Guelph, where he received a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture. During the period between his master’s and Ph.D., he worked in the farm lending industry, and returned to the University of Guelph as a faculty member after completing his Ph.D. at Cornell University.

As an agricultural economist, much of Alfons’ work is applied and results in tangible outcomes. For example, he often analyzes the feasibility of a new technology such as biomass crops, methane digesters and bioproduct plastics, to determine whether it is a valuable innovation and under what conditions it is most beneficial. He also looks at the cost-effectiveness of farm level practices, such as herd health management strategies to deal with diseases. Much of his work is summative and informs government, policy makers and producer organizations of the expected impacts of a particular proposed policy or practice. Alfons’ research is often interdisciplinary and extends across all species of livestock animals and crops, allowing his work to easily transition to newly developing areas of concern in agriculture.



Soil Carbon Sequestration – 7:00PM

Cam Ogilvie, former Knowledge Mobilization Coordinator,
Soils at Guelph, UofG

Cameron Ogilvie [Oh-gill-vee] is the former Knowledge Mobilization Coordinator for SOILS AT GUELPH, a University of Guelph initiative to advance sustainable soil management in Ontario by bridging gaps between farmers, researchers, and the public. He has an MSc in Cropping Systems & Agronomy from the University of Guelph, where he studied the impacts of cover crops (he prefers to call them “service crops”) on water and nutrient cycling. Cameron has recently joined the Soil Health Institute, working as a Soil Health Educator in Canada. He is an avid musician, an adventurer, and loves helping different groups of people understand each other better.  

We want to congratulate Cameron on his new position and wish him all the best.


Ben Gordon, Carbon & Ecosystem Services Global Portfolio Leader, Corteva Agriscience, San Francisco, USA

As Portfolio Leader, Carbon and Ecosystems Services Portfolio at Corteva Agriscience, Ben Gordon is responsible for developing holistic solutions to reward farmers for sustainable outcomes and drive farm profitability.

Prior to this leadership role, Ben had been with Granular, a wholly owned subsidiary of Corteva Agriscience, for three years working in corporate development and product management. Before joining Granular, he worked in management consulting and served as an Infantry Officer in the Army National Guard. Ben grew up in North Dakota surrounded by agriculture and earned his MBA from the University of Minnesota. Ben currently lives in San Francisco and enjoys backpacking in the mountains and spending time back in the Midwest with friends and family.