Friday, October 3, 2014

Want to farm? Go north! Way north!

Beef Farmers of Ontario says young cash-strapped people who want to become farmers should take a look at the Clay Belts in Northern Ontario and Northern Quebec.

There are more than 160,000 square kilometres of potential farmland available.

While you won't have much luck growing corn and soybeans that far north, it could be great for forages which means it would support cattle, sheep, goats, elk, deer and bison.

It reminds me of the Peace River area of far northern Alberta and British Columbia. On a visit there about 40 years ago, I was impressed by thousands of acres of rich, black soil available at as little as $5 an acre.

And I often think of seeing a humungous set of tillage equipment being pulled by a former military vehicle across a section of land. On the way up from Dawson Creek to Fort St. John, the field was just nicely started. On the way back four hours later, it was almost finished.

But it seemed foolish to me that farmers were planting wheat and barley, expecting one good harvest every four years. Indeed, when I was there on the Civic Holiday weekend, day-time temperatures were in the mid-20s and the crops looked huge. A week later it snowed and the crops were ruined.

But they can grow forages with their eyes shut. Indeed, the area provides most of the world's clover and alfalfa seeds. Deep snow cover protects these forages from winterkill.

So why not produce butter and cheese and skim milk powder seasonally, drying off cows for the cold and dark winters? The area could be among the lowest-cost industrial-milk production areas in the world. Except, of course, for supply management and the cost of milk quota.

Maybe the situation is similar in the Clay Belts of Ontario and Quebec. After all, if Beef Farmers of Ontario thinks it's great for beef production, maybe it's equally great for seasonal industrial milk production.

Ah, but that darn supply management, the enemy of entrepreneurs with innovative visions.