Diversifying the Cash Crop Industry in Northern Ontario

Northern Ontario, with its cooler growing conditions, is known to grow good quality forages and spring grains. However, the past three decades has seen a diversification and expansion of the cash crop sector in the north.

With fewer livestock farms in the north, resulting in fewer acres of forages being grown (less livestock, less feed required) and the expansion of overall farm acreage, producers have been looking at different crop alternatives.

Crop pricing, and market demand by consumers, has led to more crop diversification. At the same time, due to fewer acres of forage being grown, producers have been re-thinking their entire crop production system.

Canola, came to the north in the early 80’s and quickly gained popularity. A major crop out west, it provided a great rotation crop alternative for northern Ontario. As much as 40% of the provincial canola acreage came to be grown in Northeastern Ontario.

Canola is a cool season crop from the brassica family, great for the soil structure and does not require specialized planting or harvesting equipment. In 2003, the north grew 7,900 acres. By 2008 this was up to 19,500, and in 2011 production peaked at almost 30,000 acres.

Unfortunately, for the past couple of years, many producers have been forced to abandon the canola crop due to an insect called “Swede Midge.” Swede midge is a gall midge native to Europe and Asia and was first found in Ontario in 2000. The Ontario Canola Growers Association is working closely with researchers from the University of Guelph to find solutions to control this pest in order to allow producers to regain a profitable canola crop.

Farmers continue to search for crops that will be marketable, and work in a rotation in northern Ontario. New varieties of soybeans, flax, buckwheat, peas and faba beans, are all crops that farmers are turning to, as they diversify and fill the void left from switching out canola.

Canola is an example of farmers continuing to search for solutions that work on their farms, while adjusting to new challenges as they arise.

Author:

Daniel Tassé – Agriculture Development Advisor

Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs – New Liskeard

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