What is keeping farming from expanding in the north? A recent study, “Understanding the Barriers to Livestock Production in the Clay Belt: An Economic, Social, and Environmental Analysis” by Wayne Caldwell, PhD, RPP, MCIP, Sara Epp, PhD, Isabelle Chouinard-Roy, M.A., Anthony Miron, B.A.A., Gabriella Miron, B.A.A., looked at some of the challenges to expanding agriculture in the great claybelt region of northern Ontario. Hearst University, teaming up with the University of Guelph looked at barriers and opportunities for livestock production in the north.
There were four major objectives of the study:
- Explore the opinions on livestock production with the local general population, including First Nations and Mennonites to identify the advantages as well as the perceived difficulties related to this topic;
- Explore and understand perceptions of livestock production with experts (farmers, entrepreneurs, local association members from northern Ontario and from the south, decision makers from government agencies and OMAFRA);
- Identify the difficulties and obstacles to the establishment of livestock farms; and
- Propose the means and the actions necessary to reduce/eliminate these obstacles.
The intention of understanding of these barriers is to identify opportunities to expand the livestock industry within the Clay Belt.
While considering solutions for expanding agriculture in the north, ten myths were discussed and addressed:
- Social Activities/Recreational Opportunities
- Post-secondary Opportunities
- Nothing Grows in the North
- No Agriculture Services in the North
- No Youth
- Language: It is often perceived in the north that you need to speak French to survive. The reality is that while a large part of the Clay Belt’s population is fluent in French, most of it is bilingual. In fact, almost 90 % of the population in the Clay Belt considers themselves bilingual or speaks only English.
- Jobs: Often start-up farming operations need outside income to assist with the large capital payments required in farming. Often there is concern expressed about job availability. The reality is there are many diverse jobs in
northern Ontario including those in the service sector, tourism industry, mining, and others. In fact, a study conducted by the Far North East Training Board (FNETB) with data from Statistics Canada predicted that between 2016 and 2036, over 40 % of the region’s employed labour force will retire.
- Limited social and recreational opportunities in the north: There is a diverse cultural and recreational subculture in the north. Most towns have festivals and concerts throughout the year, as well as being right in the best snowmobiling / ATV trails in the province. Hunting, fishing and camping opportunities are in abundance.
- Weather: Some people think that its always cold in northern Ontario. While winters may be longer in the north, summer temperatures are not so different than those in southern Ontario. In fact, if we compare average summer temperatures between Kapuskasing and Guelph, the difference is only two or three degrees Celsius.
- Healthcare services in northern Ontario are extremely limited: While access to medical specialists is limited in northern Ontario, most communities have access to doctors, dentists and nurse practitioners. The specialists are located in regional centres for the most part, similar to southern Ontario.
- There are no post-secondary opportunities in northern Ontario: Across northern Ontario, there are numerous universities, colleges and technical institutions.
- The climate and landscape do not permit agriculture: There are vast regions in northern Ontario with suitable soils and climate to produce a range of crops and livestock. “With new technologies and a warming climate, crop yields are improving and the range of crops that can be grown in northern Ontario is also increasing” (Caldwell et al., 2018). As the average number of heat units has increased so has the number of crops available because of the increasingly favourable growing conditions. For example, corn silage, soybeans, winter wheat and rich pastures that can support cattle farmers are becoming increasingly common in the region.
- No Agriculture Services in the North: There are concentrations of agricultural services in a number of communities, that service broader areas. A few examples include abattoirs, veterinarians, farmer’s markets, farm equipment sales and rentals, feed and seed, livestock sales and transport, certified crop advisors, value-added services and hardware, and building supplies. A map of these services is available.
- Isolation/Remoteness: There is a worry about living in remote conditions. Many communities in northern Ontario have a strong sense of community with well-developed social networks to support area residents.
- No Youth: While many young people do head to other areas of the province for education, there is a strong ground swell of youth staying to be educated and work in northern Ontario. In the last few years, an entrepreneurial movement has been observed in the Clay Belt, where young entrepreneurs moved back into the region to launch various businesses and initiatives. For example, la cordonnerie Francoeur de Kapuskasing, La Chèvre laitière de Hearst Ltée and la Fromagerie Kapuskoise.