Agriculture is on the rise here in Rainy River District, particularly for cash crops, according to data compiled by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs from the 2016 federal census.
Crop acres in soybeans and corn have shot up since the 2011 census while farm cash receipts have risen to $19.64 million from $16.78 million for the district.
Local OMAFRA agent Gary Sliworsky said he believes tile drainage programs are the reason for such a large jump in cash crop production.
In fact, he said the ministry actually contacted him because the average soybean acres across Northern Ontario went up only 165.26 percent from the 2011 census, but it increased 1,120.85 percent here in Rainy River District.
“I said it was because of the tile drainage and they couldn't believe it,” Sliworsky laughed.
He estimated around 6,000 acres have been tiled here since the 2011 census, and that land is being used to greatly increase the area's cash crop production.
This is based on the three projects Sliworsky has helped run with the Rainy River Future Development Corp. that handle up to 1,900 acres at a time, plus the work done outside of these funded ones.
And Sliworsky expects that number to continue to grow.
“We just put in the application for the fourth project and we had almost 2,900 acres applied for,” he noted.
“That's a thousand more than we can take in a project, so there is obviously a lot of demand.”
Also following this trend is corn for grain, which had its acreage increase by more than 560 percent here since 2011.
“If they had canola here, we'd see a big change in that, too, but it's not listed,” Sliworsky said.
“Soybeans, corn, and canola-those are the big three and that's what's going on tile.”
Sliworsky said this will continue to grow as more and more acres are tiled and a network for marketing the crops is set up.
“Guys doing this are getting better organized at shipping things out when it used to be only a few guys pooling together to figure out how to do it,” he remarked.
Farms reporting more than $1 million in capital value also has increased here since the 2011 census—from 43 farms to 77.
“I would think that is related to the soybeans, in my opinion, and higher-value cash crops pushing them over,” Sliworsky figured.
He also said more local producers are focusing on cropping instead of splitting their time with different ventures.
“We had guys who would do cattle and a bit of crops, or elk and a bit,” Sliworsky said.
“But now we've got North End farms, that's all their doing,” he noted.
“[The] Brielmanns are doing all crops and [the] Romyns are mostly cash crops, with a few elk.”
As for livestock, Sliworsky said while beef cattle numbers have not changed much, dairy has taken a noticeable hit in the district.
“The old guys are retiring and no one new is coming in-not here anyway,” he noted.
“But in Thunder Bay, you've got third-generation guys.”
Sliworsky added at their staff meeting in the district this year, he told them that in a year's time, Thunder Bay would have more robotic milkers-expensive automated milking machines-than we would have dairy farms.
“Thunder Bay and New Liskeard are either holding their own or climbing, but pretty much everywhere else in the north is going down,” he reiterated.
“Here it is just that nobody is taking over.”
Despite the drop in dairy production, chicken numbers in the district have gone up drastically thanks to the “artisinal chicken program,” according to Sliworsky.
The program allows non-quota farmers to grow between 600 and 3,000 chickens for meat production and local markets, whereas small-scale farmers used to have to keep their chicken numbers below 300 for personal use or farm-gate sales.
“When this was on, we had six new artisinal chicken producers in the district who went in around 600 chickens each,” Sliworsky said.
He added that because of the “under 300" rule, there were no real chicken farms producing meat in the area, just a few "backyard chickens.”
The census statistics can be found on the OMAFRA website at www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/stats/county, with the Rainy River District's specific information in with the Northern region.
This shows data on farm sizes, farms by industry group, field and fruit crop numbers, and livestock inventories, which easily can be compared to the 2011 census results.
Sliworsky noted not all of the data is out yet, and people can expect more categories and a more in-depth look at the numbers of animals and crops down the road.