Standing Strong for Agriculture in Ontario

Patrick Lynch has Mastered the Arts of Mentorship, Innovation and Crop Science.

By Becky Dumais

Agriculture is embedded in Patrick Lynch’s bones, and he’s known for his experience, wisdom and mentorship.

Patrick – who will be inducted into the Ontario Agricultural Hall of Fame on June 12 in Elora – was raised on a farm in Otonabee Township, near Peterborough. In childhood he developed a deep respect for farming and farmers, beginning with his dad.

Photograph of Lynch Family Farmhouse

    The family farmhouse, built in 1886. - Patrick Lynch photo

“My dad taught me about the joy of farming, about how good it is to get up in the morning and look forward to working hard. I remember as a kid running to the barn. I loved to run but looked forward to doing chores.

Old photo of Patrick's first cow
    Patrick’s first cow, a purebred shorthorn. - Patrick Lynch photo

“My dad and his generation were all ‘MacGyvers.’ They were great at making things and/or fixing things. Lots of jokes about the many uses of 9-gauge wire, which was used a lot.”

Patrick also remembers many joint projects with farmer neighbours, ranging from thrashing and silo filling to sharing equipment.

Old photo of baling work
    Baling work at the family farm in Peterborough. - Patrick Lynch photo

“We always seemed to be tearing something down or out and building something new. We had a woodlot so we could get some of our own lumber milled.”

Patrick’s career in the industry spans 50 years and as a respected teacher and leader, he’s had the opportunity to work as a crop specialist and agronomist since graduating from the University of Guelph (UofG) with a M.Sc., crop science corn breeding.

Old photo of Patrick at University of Guelph
    Patrick in the form during his first year at the University of Guelph. - Patrick Lynch photo

He was originally interested in the animal science program.

“I looked after the pigs on our farm so felt a draw to learn about pork production,” says Patrick. “When I was in my first year a crop science professor named Dr. Jack Tanner taught a course in crop production.”

Patrick standing in corn field
    Patrick takes a break from examining a corn field during a farm tour in 2013. - Sandra Lynch photo

The industry owes a debt of gratitude to Tanner for influencing Patrick’s studies. Tanner was so captivating that Patrick quickly changed his major to crop science. “He envisioned then that soybean would be a new crop. We sort of believed him.

“He told us that we would be eating burgers made of soybeans and other foods; that we would use soybeans to off-produce fuel. That was way out there. Of course, now we do all that and more with soybeans.”

What drew Patrick to the roles and responsibilities of a crop specialist and agronomist was working for two seasons calling on retail dealers. “I realized the impact that retail dealers had on advising farmers,” he says. “They were the last ones to talk to farmers before they made their final decision. At that time government extension folks did not call on dealers. I felt I could call on dealers and impact the information they gave their customers.

“I knew how the extension people were able to speak to groups of farmers at events. I also liked the idea of being able to put out plots. And I did put out a lot of plots,” he says – corn hybrid comparisons, alfalfa variety comparisons, herbicide plots for Soil and Crop Twilight meetings, and planted and harvested barley and oat varieties for the Ontario Cereal Committee.

In May 1973, Patrick began working at the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food. For 12 years he worked as a soils and crop specialist. During this time he distinguished himself as a leader by introducing new ideas and crop production techniques. He was part of a team that helped increase soybean acres in western Ontario.

Patrick Examining Plant
    Sandra O’Toole photo

Patrick was instrumental in promoting early introduction of no-till crop production. He also launched a pesticide course alongside Doug Morrow, the regional pesticide officer at the Ministry of the Environment at the time, known today as the Pesticide Safety course.

Patrick is a father of ag firsts besides helping to promote no-till here in Ontario. Colleagues have recognized him for his new ideas and crop protection techniques, such as promoting soybean cropping in Ontario.

How confident was he that the idea would fly (or grow, rather) in the field?

“I guess I never really thought about whether they would work,” he says. “I like trying new things, whether no-till or soybeans or direct combining edible beans or intensive wheat management. I think the answer is that I wanted to work with farmers and industry people who wanted to try new things.”

As further evidence, he happily worked with other farmers who were willing to experiment. “I once worked with a Huron county farmer who asked me if I knew how to grow switchgrass. I said no, but let’s do it. He started with 250 acres. He grew it for seed and fibre.”

In February 1985 Pat went on to work for Cyanamid Canada (sold in 1989 to Cargill) as a senior agronomist, a position he held for over 20 years. During his time there, he established and expanded a crop consulting service, which had spanned across Ontario, Western Canada, several locations in the U.S., and Brazil.

At its peak, the Cargill Crop Management System program employed more than 70 agronomists across Canada. In Ontario alone, the program serviced over 125,000 acres. This service was developed to provide agriculture consulting services for farm customers linked to major farm supply companies and with the support of Cargill, the program was able to expand at a rapid pace.

In 2008 Patrick retired from Cargill and since then has been active in a consultant role and also continues to consult growers directly.

Patrick has been involved with the Ontario Certified Crop Advisor Association (CCA ON) since 1996 and won the Ontario Certified Crop Advisor (CCA) Award of Excellence in 2013 and in 2014 was nominated for the International CCA Award of Excellence. The award was won by John Heard who Patrick helped train when they both worked at OMAFRA.

“The CCA program within itself would not be the same that it is today if it weren’t for the immense contributions from Pat. With the program being able to have its own Board of Directors with an executive director, this allows the Ontario program to be more fluid and adaptable to meet the needs of Ontario CCAs,” Laura Shantz, program administrator of the OCCAA wrote in the nomination letter to OAHF.

“When attending the CCA conference, roughly half the people who attend the event have either been trained by Pat or the training program Pat has been involved with,” Shantz wrote. “To say he has been a key driver in supporting this program and the retail business is an understatement. A large part of this is because Pat is what is termed a ‘level 5’ leader. He has trained people who can train others to excel at being agronomy professionals. This is the true definition of creating a legacy within an industry.

Those who know Patrick or have listened to him speak know that he likes to take the opposition on any given topic, but it’s done – and received – with the best of intentions.

“... he likes to challenge the status quo to get individuals thinking about why you do think or do the things that you do,” Leanne Freitag wrote in her OAHF nomination letter. “As a new agronomist, this was a great lesson in defending my position and learning to speak with conviction. He was able to give confidence to new agronomists and reassure them that they did have the proper knowledge.”

“I believe that thinking farmers or students or anyone will perform better if they are challenged to think,” Patrick says. “So much of what people say or even write is a regurgitation of some other people’s thoughts.

“If I challenge farmers or others, they have to think for themselves. I believe this is a real strength of Ontario farmers. In the U.S., farmers get lots of grants – more than Ontario farmers. For our farmers to compete with them they have to out-think their American counterparts.”

Conversely, no one will deny that Patrick’s role as mentor has held much value to so many people. He truly believes that Ontario agriculture is the province’s strength, both in its economy and as a way of life, and has continued to instill wisdom to both newcomers and established industry peers.

“If you look across the industry within Ontario, there are very few organizations or businesses that will not have had some influence from Pat’s mentoring or thought processes,” wrote Shantz. “Mainly because of the quality of talent he’s been able to attract and motivate into bettering farms and their cropping practices/goals. CCAs tend to do most of their work one on one, introducing individual farmer clients to new technology and improved management. Pat has always taken that task a step further.”

“I believe to keep Ontario Agriculture alive and, well, we need young people to take leadership roles and keep agriculture alive,” says Patrick. “If I can train young people to do this and then they train more young people, I’ll be successful.

“A real test is if the teacher becomes the student. In this respect, I have succeeded. I now work with a group of agronomists who I once trained. They’re now teaching me.”

Some of the things he tries to instill were taught to him by farmers:

  • When a farmer asks you a question, they may know the answer and want to know if you know the answer. They will ask you impossible to answer questions and they will want to know if you are smart enough to say, “I don’t know but will get back to you.” And then they will see if you do get back;
  • How do you get along with others in your industry?
  • Never say anything negative about the competition;
  • Always be positive. Show up with a smile a positive attitude, and sometimes coffee and doughnuts;
  • Always drive slow down the driveway;
  • Never sit in the farmer’s chair at the table;
  • Show utmost respect to all family members and hired help.

During those hours of the day when he’s not writing or consulting, Patrick definitely knows how to keep himself occupied.

In 1973 Patrick and his first wife Sally tore down a pioneer log home circa 1860 that was located in Perth County and had it transported to Peterborough County where it was reconstructed.

“I/We did a lot by hand. We numbered all the logs and put them back together. I made most things for it, including doors, windows, furniture, and put in a solar system. It’s now a place where my family and my wife Sandra and I go to get away.”

There’s no TV – and they’re completely off the grid. It’s here that they appreciate tranquility and wildlife.

“I’ve seen an elk and at least three black bears. We can sit on our deck and watch the bald eagle on our little island. I hunt deer there with my brother and my son. We spend a lot of time working there, making trails, cutting trees, making syrup, hiking, swimming, and canoeing.”

He also retains a lifelong passion for running and has participated in some five and 10 km runs, including last year’s virtual run for the Toronto Zoo.

Patrick and Sally were married for over 34 years. She died tragically in a bike accident in 2011.

Patrick and his wife Sandra have a uniquely blended history. Sandra’s husband Mike also passed away.

Sandra and Patrick had dated in high school.

“We got together in our grief and five years after Sally’s accident, we were married in 2016,” he says.

“Sandra’s husband Mike was my first cousin. Our families farmed together. So, I was related to her kids but not to her.”

Patrick Lynch and his wife Sandra
    Patrick and his wife Sandra at their home in Peterborough. - Sara McMahon photo

Patrick has four children and six grandchildren and Sandra has four children and eight grandchildren. “So, we are busy,” he admits.

At home, Patrick says he does most of the cooking – and has added baking bread and biscuits to his culinary repertoire. There are a lucky few that have been able to enjoy his homemade maple syrup.

He’s also a member of some different boards and a few other agriculture- related committees. “I also spend quite a bit of time reading agriculture (mostly crops) magazines, research papers, and attend online seminars.”

When not writing his Lynch Files for Better Farming (a freelance role he’s held for over 30 years), Patrick also co-writes a weekly agronomy newsletter with CCA Jonathan Zettler and writes for other media outlets.

He also continues to work with Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show and has retained a few farmer customers whom he does individual crop consulting with, and works with a couple of seed companies.

Writing for the ag industry has been important to Patrick for many reasons.

“There’s a lot of negative press. My thought is that there will be lots written, and if I can fill some of those pages with positive press it’s a win-win,” he explains.

Accuracy is also important. “There are a lot of articles written about agronomy that I believe are just not accurate. I read a lot and this gives me ideas of what to write about. I do get a bit of a high when I finish an article. I always keep trying to write that perfect article. Still trying,” he says.

When he was in his first year working as a soils and crops specialist, a Huron county farmer once told him that if he wanted to reach farmers, he should learn how to write.

“So, I took some courses and worked on my writing skills. I’ve even taught a course on writing for farmers.” BF

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