Growing Forward 2 helps northern agriculture realize what’s possible

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Sault Ste. Marie – Innovation is an essential part of farming in northern Ontario. Distance, climate and infrastructure are different than in more southern parts of the province, leaving agriculture in the north to adapt to make the sector successful.

In support of that drive for innovation, the Agricultural Adaptation Council (AAC) has provided funding to a variety of projects led by the Rural Agri Innovation Network (RAIN) through Growing Forward 2 (GF2), a federal-provincial-territorial initiative.

“Northern Ontario is a unique place to be, but we have to do a lot more with a lot fewer resources,” explains David Thompson, RAIN Research Project Coordinator. “Support from GF2 has really helped us generate research results specific to this area, which is in northern Ontario but also in the shadow of Lake Superior, so we’re in a unique climatic area.”

RAIN, located on the campus of Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie, is a project of the Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre and the NORDIK Institute with a mandate to build a more resilient agriculture sector in northern Ontario.

The work with AAC has resulted in projects focused on managing forages and crop portfolio diversification that both demonstrate best practices and evaluate new methods from other parts of the world for applicability in the north.

“For many years, Algoma has been known for producing a lot of great products like maple syrup. We have a long history of producing cattle and our farmers are looking at getting ahead of the curve,” Thompson says.

A project using keyline subsoiling as a water management tool is under way to improve forage production. This involves using an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) to look at field’s topography and then applying a contour-based pattern of subsoiling to ensure a more even flow of water and better pasture growth.

Through on-farm trials RAIN partners with select farmers to experiment with growing new crops in the region and showcase best practices like no-till, soil health amendments and rotational grazing. Experiences are shared at field days so other farmers in the region can see the tools in practice and learn from the experiences of their fellow growers.

A more recently launched project is looking at cross-seeding forages as an alternative way to seed crops, and evaluating this practice from New Zealand and the United Kingdom in the context of northern Ontario.

As well, work is underway to study the economics of sulphur fertilization to determine whether applying sulphur to brassica crops can be economical for beef, vegetable and canola producers in Algoma.

It’s the local farm community that helps drive many of the research priorities in the region, but without the GF2 support, the work either wouldn’t be getting done at all or simply at a much reduced scale.

“We rely on a number of partners to put these projects together, but it’s the GF2 funding that has let us leverage these bigger projects we just don’t have resources to do on our own,” Thompson says. “There is a lot of opportunity when we’re working together and it has really been a benefit to have this support for community-based innovative research like this.”

“Agriculture is a great opportunity for northern communities because it’s a way we can diversify our economy and our work with the AAC has really helped us and the community to realize what’s possible in northern Ontario,” he adds.