Breaking down the barriers to agricultural expansion in Northern Ontario

Northern Ontario has vast areas of undeveloped or underdeveloped land suitable for agriculture. While this land costs less than in southern Ontario, there are many perceived and real challenges deterring agriculture in the north.

A recent study by Hearst University and the University of Guelph examined the barriers restricting expansion in the north, and how can they be overcome. The area of study focused on Cochrane district, or what is commonly referred to as the Great Claybelt, but the results can apply to anywhere in the north.

The report from the study provided recommendations divided into three sections: economic, social and environmental. These recommendations came out of focus group interactions with farmers, ex-farmers, community members, and those who have inquired about moving north to farm.

The economic development recommendations included the need:

  • to identify where available farm land is located
  • for updated maps for soil quality and suitability

These recommendations are already being addressed in the Claybelt region through an update to OMAFRA’s AGMAPS and a study by Northeast Community Network (NECN) on private land location and availability. More work in other regions needs to be done to identify where there is land available.

Under social opportunities, one of the recommendations included the need for existing farmers to mentor new farmers looking to establish operations in the north. Those already farming successfully can provide valuable tips and demonstrate technologies that work under the climatic and soil conditions of the area. Whether this is a formal or informal process, it can be of great value to new farmers.

One of the myths the environmental section of the report dispelled, is the challenge of climatic conditions. The north is suitable for mixed farming, and the soil is great for growing crops and raising livestock. While winters may be longer in the north, summer temperatures are not so different from southern Ontario. In fact, if we compare average summer temperatures between, Kapuskasing and Guelph, the difference is only two or three degrees Celsius.

temperature

As part of the study’s recommendations, the authors presented a call to action for three groups: current farmers in northern Ontario, municipal leaders, and government officials. The calls to action outline what each group can do to lower the barriers to expansion and provide assistance to new or existing farmers.

The full study with solutions for agriculture in the north can be found here: https://www.legroupeinnovanor.ca/research-livestock-production.

Lead researcher, Sara Epp of the University of Guelph will be discussing the results at the Northern Ontario Ag Conference February 12 & 13 in Sudbury.  For more information on the conference visit: https://www.nofia-agri.com/northern-ontario-ag-conference-2019

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