"Steaking Out" Northern Ontario

By Emily Potter, Beef North Project Assistant

The opportunity for beef farming in Northern Ontario is tremendous, and interest from producers considering making the move north has been gaining momentum. In mid-August, BFO hosted a group of people interested in the opportunities in Northeastern Ontario. A group of 18 participants had the chance to meet both established farmers and beginning farmers, visit local communities, and learn about funding programs and services available to farmers.

On day one of the tour, the group of keen individuals toured Seeson Ranch with Greg and Sandra Seed and their family. They run a 350-head cow-calf operation on 3,000 acres of land. The Seeds were able to provide the group with great advice on how to work with neighbours in the north, deal with weather differences and much more.

That night, the group enjoyed dinner at Rooster’s Bar and Grill in New Liskeard and were joined by a few different representatives from the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Coorperation (Laurie Ypya), Scotiabank (Nancy Fry and Jutta Splettstoesser), FedNor (Denise Deschamps) and the Economic Development Officer for Temiskaming (James Franks).

With an early morning start on day two, the group travelled to Val Gagné, where they toured Jason Desrochers’ farm. He is a fourth-generation farmer who runs 220 head of cattle. Jason was born and raised in Val Gagné and was able to share a unique perspective on farming and lifestyle in Northern Ontario. 

While at Jason’s, the group was joined by Steph Vanthof from the Northern Ontario Farm Innovation Alliance (NOFIA), who talked about the support they provide to farmers in the north, as well as their current land clearing research project. Jason has been involved in the land clearing project with NOFIA so they were able to see some of the results while at his farm. They saw some different areas that had been either surface or deep-mulched, and then seeded by either broadcasting or spreading manure and bale grazing in the winter. The mulching was only done two years ago, but the area is already thick with grass species and looks like it will become a very fertile pasture in time.

The next stop was in Cochrane for lunch at Terry’s Steakhouse, where the group met Sara Haldenby, a local resident who also works as the Northeastern Community Network Tile Drainage and Land Clearing Program Coordinator.

After lunch, the crew travelled to Greg and Aileen Hessels, just north of Cochrane. The Hessels are a young couple and have been living in the Cochrane area for eight years. They purchased their farm four years ago and have been farming full-time for a year now. They built a new barn and are slowly expanding their cow-calf herd with plans to background calves as well. They shared their insights with the group on what it’s like to start a new beef operation in Northern Ontario.

That evening the bus headed north to Kapuskasing, where they had dinner at Le Kaprice. The meal featured all locally sourced products, such as beef and chicken, potatoes, vegetables, cheese and berries. The group was joined by Alain Robichaud, Economic Development Officer for the Val Rita-Harty and Opasatika areas, and Barry Potter, Northern Livestock Advisor for the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. They talked about the communities, land types, real estate and the government’s Northern Livestock Action Plan.

On day three, the group spent the morning touring the town of Kapuskasing and Val Rita-Harty before heading to Andrew Gordanier’s farm. Andrew moved to the area a couple of years ago from Dufferin County to lease the retired research farm from the Town of Kapuskasing. Some of the projects Andrew has been trialing include, a dairy-beef production model, lead-follow grazing with sheep and cattle, bale grazing, and experimenting with different varieties of fruits and vegetables to see which ones work best in the Northern Ontario climate. Andrew is also a partner of Kapuskasing Meats and raises pork, chicken and beef sold through the brand. Andrew was candid in his thoughts with the group about moving to the area including some of the realities and differences of farming in the north.

Mayor Allen Spacek of Kapuskasing joined the group for lunch at the Kapuskasing Golf Club, who spoke about the town of Kapuskasing and what it has to offer to individuals and families. The group was also joined by Michelle Lebel, Director of Collège Boréal, who spoke about the different agricultural training programs available through the college and the First Nations beef training program that wrapped up in the summer.

That afternoon the group travelled to Gerry Dinnissen’s, just south of Kapuskasing, where they saw his cropping operation. Gerry grows canola, flax, wheat and barley, which are all crops that work well in the northern climate. Gerry is also a tile drainage operator in the north, and they were able to see an area where he had land clearing and tile drainage in progress.

The last farm stop of the weekend was Mattagami Heights Farm in Timmins, hosted by Noella Farrell. They have a small cow-calf operation and direct market most of their meat locally to restaurants and through farmers' markets. It was interesting to see how they have made use of the local market to make their farm business a success.

The night ended with supper in Timmins, where the group was joined by Antoine Vézina, Economic Development Officer for the Timmins area. He highlighted the agricultural community in the Timmins area, as well as land availability and real estate prices.

The last day of the tour was spent travelling back to the south, with a quick stop in New Liskeard for lunch to meet with BFO President, Matt Bowman who explained more about BFO's northern cow-herd expansion initiative and GF2 project.

Overall, the tour was a huge success thanks to the many farm tour hosts, speakers and participants who took the time out of their busy schedules to participate. I took some time to talk to the participants before they left us to ask them what they thought of the tour and agriculture in Northern Ontario. Here is what they said:

“City centers aren’t as remote as we thought, they have just as many services as the ones down south. Small towns are very similar to those in Southern Ontario.” – Diane Booker

“Starting out [in Northern Ontario], it feels like a huge mountain of money needs to be put in, but seeing other guys up there farming and making money is encouraging to us that yes, it is possible and we can live our dream up there. The fact that the communities work together is a huge bonus, compared to down south where it is very competitive.” – Mike and Carolyn Huber

“I learned a lot about different ways to make hay and feed, even in our area back home. It was good to see that people are actually succeeding up there.” – Andrew Ukrainec

“We saw a good range of different sizes and types of farms. It’s not just a ‘cookie cutter’ mold that works up there.” – Robert McKinlay

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