New Liskeard – There’s a world of difference between farming in northern and southern Ontario. The climate, soils, and available infrastructure in the north mean farmers have different innovation and research needs than their more southern neighbours.
The Agricultural Adaptation Council (AAC) recognizes the unique challenges and opportunities of northern Ontario farmers. Through Growing Forward 2 (GF2), a federal-provincial-territorial initiative, AAC has secured cost-share funds for five northern-focused innovation projects headed by the Northern Ontario Farm Innovation Alliance (NOFIA).
“There is a major difference not only between northern Ontario and rest of the province, but also between the regions of northern Ontario, which is geographically huge,” explains NOFIA Administrator Steph Vanthof. “This is one of the reasons it is so important to maintain agricultural research and innovation for the north.”
NOFIA is a non-profit organization established in 2014 by northern farmers to advance agriculture in Northern Ontario. This includes applied research on-farm or at the agricultural research station in New Liskeard, innovation and commercialization of technologies, or technology transfer to ensure existing information gets to the farmers who need it to benefit their commercial operations.
“Because of the differences in conditions, there are things that need to be done in the north for the north, and NOFIA was created to bring a voice to that, to ensure northern Ontario could speak with one voice and get projects off the ground without duplication or repetition,” Vanthof adds.
Plant propagation protocols have been established to support the rapid development of northern Ontario-specific industrial hemp varieties. This is part of efforts to expand the diversity of crops that can be grown viably and competitively in the north and help bring products to market more quickly.
To help expand the growing agriculture sector in the north, NOFIA spearheaded the creation of FarmNorth.com, a one-stop online resource for agriculture in the region. It was designed to provide information both to farmers already in northern Ontario and those looking to relocate north.
“Land is available and affordable here but there are differences between farming in northern Ontario and other areas, so we want people to know those differences before they come here and learn them the hard way,” says Vanthof.
Other projects include development of a business plan for NOFIA, creation of a reference document on the five most common types of land clearing to help farmers make better informed decisions on land management practices, and a workshop on developing year-round grazing systems.
NOFIA has also been supporting Beef Farmers of Ontario’s development of the Beef North tool that connects potential beef farmers to the resources they need related to beef farming in northern Ontario.
For NOFIA, there’s no question that being able to access GF2 funding has been critical to agriculture in northern Ontario, and is playing a key role in the sector’s development in the region.
“GF2 funding has allowed us to leverage industry dollars to get larger, more meaningful projects off the ground,” says Vanthof, adding that it’s important to NOFIA to be able to demonstrate that there is a valid and viable agricultural sector in the north.
“Connecting people with the information they need has been one of the biggest benefits we’ve seen with these projects,” she adds. “AAC has been helpful in working with us to ensure that funding gets to valid projects, and it has been very encouraging to see research dollars and investments go into ag in the north.”