The ag industry showed strength and unity in the face of the many challenges presented in 2020 as COVID-19 drastically changed how ag retailers conducted business. As an essential service, businesses in all areas of the agriculture industry had to find innovative ways to pivot their norm in a world that changed overnight.

“2020, by far, was not a normal year but individual responses to challenges like these displays the resilience of the ag industry as a whole,” says Mitch Rezansoff, CAAR’s executive director. “Retailers and ag businesses alike had to rediscover new ways to reach out to farmers in a quickly evolving situation. How they have reacted to these changes displays the strength of the ag industry and our desire to move forward together.”

CAAR’s 25th Anniversary Milestone

2020 marked CAAR’s 25th year representing ag retailer’s interests and delivering services that are critical to the day-to-day operations of our industry. Established in 1995, the association aimed to unify and strengthen the voices of ag retailers across the country.

To this day, CAAR continues to maintain its commitment to retailers year after year – to protect and promote the interests of all Canadian ag retailers.

Fertilizing Growth

In January 2020, Rezansoff represented CAAR members at the annual Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) Information Day, held in conjunction with Fertilizer Canada’s Canadian Fertilizer Products Forum and the newly formed annual meeting for Fertilizer & Supplement Advisory Committee (FSAC).

The three-day meeting included updates on changes to the classification of nitrification and urease inhibitors and discussion on the most recent innovations in fertilizer, supplements and biologicals. CAAR’s presence in ag industry events like the CFIA Information Day ensures the ag retailers voice and interests are included in the decision making and regulation amendments affecting the industry.

In the last few years, CAAR kept a close eye on the Transportation of Dangerous Good Regulations (TDG Regulations) and quickly relayed the updates to retailer members through Member Alert newsletters and articles on caar.org.

Transport Canada has updated the regulations in 2020, namely the CSA B620:20, CSA B622:20, TC 51 and CSA B620:20 in association with high-pressure vessels. As a result of the changes, CAAR has removed the need for the Equivalency Certificate SH 11960.

2020 CAAR Conference

CAAR was fortunate to have hosted one of the last in-person agriculture events of 2020 with the annual CAAR Conference, bringing ag retailers back to sunny Saskatoon, SK for two-and-a-half days of speaker sessions and unbeatable networking opportunities from Feb. 11-13.

The conference kicked off with roundtable discussions that gathered delegates together to share their experiences and learn from their peers. This was followed by a jam-packed agenda of speakers, one highlight of which was Craig Klemmer’s analysis of economic trends and shared insight on how national and global factors are driving the purchasing behaviours of farmers, and what it meant for the health of the overall agriculture industry.

In addition to sharing a snapshot of trends in the marketplace, Klemmer provided sound advice for retailers, highlighting areas where there are opportunities to fine-tune their strategies to remain competitive.

“Canadian agriculture is adjusting, and we need to adjust with it,” said Klemmer. “There has been quite a bit of investment and scaling-up (by retailers); we need to ask if this is the time to be making investments. Are we in the position to adjust to a softening industry?”

Little did we know how much adjusting COVID-19 would force on ag retail in the coming months.

CAAR also welcomed its first female board chair, Theresa Bolton, at the conference. Prior to her role as board chair, Bolton served retailer members through her work with CAAR’s board of directors and executive committee.

Adapting to COVID-19

On March 13th, CAAR sent its first Member Alert on the topic of COVID-19, advising retailers to take a proactive stance and take additional health and safety precautions in the workplace.

Shortly after this, in response to the rapidly changing federal government guidelines, CAAR created the Ag Retailer Support webpage, which continues to include up-to-date COVID-19 information, resources and articles for ag retailers to assist them to do their part to help reduce the spread.

A webinar was hosted for members to introduce this resource and get feedback on how the association could support them in navigating this new ground. CAAR Perk$ partner TwoGreySuits also offered complimentary COVID-19 business protocols for business owners and employees.

CAAR was early to recognize the role of agriculture as an essential service and its potential to contribute to Canada’s economic recovery. Supply and labour disruptions were areas of special concern and the association went to work advocating on behalf of members to make sure their concerns were heard.

In March, Lisa Defoort returned from maternity leave to an expanded role as Communications and Event Manager at CAAR, returning the association to its full complement of staff.

I am proud of how the CAAR team managed through COVID-19 and for their resilience and nimbleness.
Theresa Bolton

Shortly after her return, like many organizations across Canada, the staff began working remotely and started to consider and adjust to the impact COVID-19 would have on CAAR’s ability to serve members. Despite not knowing what the coming months would bring, planning got underway for the 2021 CAAR Conference in Edmonton, AB with the assumption we would all gather in person and raise a toast to a challenging year that was now behind us.

A little later in the spring, we asked members to renew their membership in the association. Despite the challenges brought on by COVID-19, the vast majority did which speaks to the perseverance of the industry and a strong show of support for the important work the association does.

In September, after much consultation with all stakeholders in the association, it was announced that the 2021 CAAR Conference would be held virtually. The board, conference committee and staff immediately pivoted to making plans to bring the ag retail event of the year into the offices and homes of members.

In conjunction with this announcement, all in-person NTSP training was cancelled and CAAR worked to host virtual training events to provide members with the training they required.

In October the board conducted a two-day virtual meeting in place of the annual in-person meeting. During this meeting, it was resolved to better understand the challenges that CAAR members were facing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and provincial regulations. A number of other areas of focus for 2021 were also discussed, you can read more about these in our Year in Preview on pg. 12.

The CAAR Member Retailer Survey was also launched at this time to help identify the key issues facing retailer members and how the association can create services and resources better tailored to members.

The staff at CAAR ended the year working remotely again as the second wave of infections seriously curtailed the work of many across Canada. That didn’t stop them from making regular announcements on what to expect at the 2021 Virtual CAAR Conference, aptly titled Educate. Engage. Evolve.

“I am proud of how the CAAR team managed through COVID-19 and for their resilience and nimbleness,” says CAAR Board Chair Theresa Bolton. “From relocating everyone to work from home to moving the conference to virtual, to focusing on the advantages rather than seeing the challenges – this team adjusted with a positive and ‘can-do’ attitude.”

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