by SUSAN MANN
Agricultural spokespeople are hard pressed to find anything critical to say about the Ontario government’s $3.7 million in funding for northeastern farmers to clear land and install tile drainage.
Premier Kathleen Wynne made the funding announcement in New Liskeard on Aug. 12, the final day of her one-week trip to more than 12 communities across northern Ontario.
Timiskaming-Cochrane MPP John Vanthof of the New Democratic Party (NDP) says, “as much as I like to criticize the government, this is a very good program. It’s very open and transparent.”
Earlton-area dairy and cash crop farmer Mario Gauthier says even the paperwork for the program is straightforward. “You don’t have to jump through 20 hoops to get it done.”
The government is investing in four projects run by farmer consortiums. A total of 76 farmers are involved in the projects to either clear land or install tile drainage on new or existing farmland.
The projects and funding amounts are:
- The Northern Ontario Farm Innovation Alliance — $1 million for nine farmers’ tile drainage projects on about 1,900 acres of land in the Timiskaming and Cochrane area and another $1 million for 12 farmers’ tile drainage and land clearing projects on nearly 2,000 acres in the same region.
- The West Nipissing East Sudbury Agricultural Support Projects Inc. — $950,000 for 26 farmers’ projects on 1,600 acres in the Nipissing and Sudbury area.
- The Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre — $800,000 for 29 farmers’ projects on 1,400 acres in the Algoma and Sudbury West regions.
Northern Ontario Farm Innovation Alliance administrator Stephanie Vanthof says through the program, farmers get half of their eligible project costs, or up to $500 per acre for land clearing or tile drainage work.
The Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation provides the funding and the overall program structure, she says. The farm innovation alliance and the other three consortiums “build applications with a bunch of farmers and then we administer the program locally.”
Gauthier has completed both land clearing and tile drainage projects in the past on his 2,000-acre farm where he milks 140 cows and grows silage corn, soybeans, wheat, oats and barley.
‘I’m currently clearing another farm,” Gauthier says. He will apply to the program to get funding for that project.
The program gives farmers a “nice boost to get you going on doing these types of projects. Any time there’s money available it makes it a little easier to decide to do it,” Gauthier notes.
Vanthof, the NDP agriculture critic, says for farmers who want to clear farmland or install tile drainage, “there’s an open and transparent application process.” Everyone who wants to do a project is eligible for the program provided they use qualified contractors for the work.
Tile drainage is the best investment northern Ontario farmers can make in their land, he explains. “The more tiles we can put in the ground, the more crops we can produce.”
Ontario Federation of Agriculture vice-president Peggy Brekveld agrees with Vanthof’s assessment of the program. “I’m excited about this announcement and similar projects across the north.”
Agriculture is an economic driver in the north, and growth and stability in the sector will help each northern farm community prosper and thrive, says the Thunder Bay-area dairy farmer by email.
She also agrees with Vanthof’s statements on the value of tile drainage.
According to a federation submission to the Ontario government’s consultations on developing an agriculture, food processing and aquaculture strategy for northern Ontario, tile drainage improves an acre of land’s production by up to $300 annually within two to three years.
“The increase in production would translate to $9 million in new annual income to the agriculture sector,” the federation’s submission says.
Brekveld says for farmers installing tile drainage the improvement means more land for crops, the ability to get on the land up to two weeks earlier in the spring compared to land that isn’t tile drained, and healthier, more productive crops. Getting on the land sooner in northern Ontario is important, as the growing season is much shorter than the one in southern Ontario.
Stephanie Vanthof says many farmers understand the importance of installing tile drainage “and see the difference it makes to their production.” In the Timiskaming area, farmers have been putting drainage in since the 1960s.
The government’s program has enabled more farmers to access “that infrastructure improvement because it has made it much more affordable,” she says.
The Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation, a provincial crown corporation and development agency, was established in1988 and is chaired by Ontario Northern Development and Mines Minister Michael Gravelle. Since 2013, the corporation has invested more than $17 million in 20 land clearing and tile drainage projects, according to the press release from the premier’s office.
“This funding has leveraged an additional $20 million in economic activity, resulting in total agricultural improvements of more than 35,000 acres,” the release says. BF