ITLUS Study trip to Canada
Two weeks and over 2500 miles. This is a report on the ITLUS trip to Canada in June /July 2010, which was thoroughly enjoyed by everyone on the trip.
South Eastern Ontario
We arrived in Toronto on June 19th with no signs of the wet spring which had been reported. The heavy rains had fallen further west. Much land had been flooded and not planted.
The main highway across Canada was closed because a bridge had been washed away, resulting in a 400km detour. There was also damage to rail lines, which are a vital cog in the economy.
Our first farm visit was to the Niagara peninsula region, to a place called Waterford where we visited an acquaintance of one of the group, the Norman Family. From this visit we were introduced to a variety of crops grown in the area. Farms here produced carrots, cherries, maple trees for syrup, tomatoes and ginseng as well as wheat, corn and Soya beans. Ginseng grows naturally in the shade of forest floors and does not like direct sunlight, so for this reason it was sown with a mesh to protect from direct sunlight.
Tobacco was also grown. However, the government has been trying to cut production as a result of lower demand for the crop and farmers have been paid to quit. Many took the compensation, but in some cases another family member became a new producer!
Later that day we visit Brian and Alice Heaslip who had a very impressive set-up, which included a brand new machinery workshop, with under floor heating to allow maintenance be carried out in the plummeting temperatures of winter. As well as 1,500 acres of crops, part owned and part leased, Brian was a local rep for Pioneer Hybrid Seed which was an important part of his turnover. Contracting was also part of his business.
Brian got all his crops planted but later than normal. Rainfall in this area is about 20inches p.a. but it may still be necessary to dry grain. Drying is generally required for corn and the heat for this is supplied by his own supply of natural gas, which is free for his own use, and also used to heat family homes and the machinery workshop.
Crops in the area were planted no-till but there is a move toward some cultivation as a result of wet harvests which led to rutting. This had lead to some increase in yields.
Round-up ready tech accounts for almost 100% of Soya but only 60% of corn.
Land prices were approx $2500 to $3000 to purchase and $35 to $100 to rent. Av farm size in the area was 250acres but over 1000 needed to make a living according to Brian.
On our way back to the hotel we stopped off at Niagara Falls, which was indeed well worth the trip. The sight and sound of the crashing water was spectacular from the maid of the
Central and Western Prairies
Following an internal flight we arrived in Winnipeg, Manitoba and from the plane we could see that much of the land was covered in water. Many fields were flooded, unplanted and remained so. This is the region where the bulk of wheat, barley oats and canola are produced.
Canadian Wheat Board
Our first visit here was to the CWB. Here we were told a detailed picture of farming in Western Canada.
The Western prairies grow 70million acres of crops annually and export between 18-22million tonnes of wheat, durum and barley to 70 countries. CWB represents 75000 western Canadian farmers in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Alberta and British Colombia.
About a quarter of the area is sown to spring wheat and the same in canola. The CWB is the grain marketing company. Its function is to earn the best return for farmers from the sale of wheat and barley. All proceeds from sales less the marketing costs are passed back to farmers.
Canadian International Grain Institute
The CIGI is an independent organisation which operates in technology, training and market development. Part of the CIGI facility involves the provision of a miniature flour mill and bakery, a malting and brewing facility as well as pasta and other products made from durum. It provides training and back-up for customers of all its grain products, and they will receive technical help on how to best make use of the products. All this is housed in a building in building in the heart of the city!
Following Winnipeg we to head to Dauphin, Manitoba to visit the farm of Pat and Liz Nolan. They arrived here 5 years ago with their family. Native of Wexford they were farming in Mallow before selling up and moving to Canada. The 160 acres sold near Mallow bought the 1500acre block and some machinery. This too had a large new store and was a timber build. Rates are payable on fixed improvements so grain is generally stored in bins with machines rarely housed.
Pat’s average spring wheat yield is about 1.5t/ac, with yields in the region closer to 1t. Winter wheat is about 2t. With good yields one can generate the capital cost of the land in 10 years in this area.
Pat suggested farming was a young man’s game. Generally a farmer sells the land to his son. However fewer sons are interested now and acres are needed to make a reasonable living and as a result more land is becoming available to rent or buy ($700 to $1500/ac).
Dan and Shawn Greschuk, Saskatchewan
Dan and his son farm 7600acres just east of Saskatchewan, half owned, half rented. They use a four year rotation, growing wheat, barley, canola, lentils and canary grass. Barley and canola are the most profitable at the moment. Both men carry out the bulk of the work, with two planters and two combines. Their kit will plant up 600acres/day. The land is within a 15 mile radius of the yard.
Land in this area costs about $600 to $700/acre to buy. Rents are $30 to $35/acre. Yields are variable but barley can yield 1.7t and oats 1.5t.
Soil quality too is variable; mostly clay loam and Dan can grow good crops on 2 inches of rain. The canola is Round-up ready and Dan is paying $80/10L of 450 Round-up Max.
Wendy and Warren Stephenson, Saskatoon
Warren farms 11000acres with his father and uncle. He is the fourth generation. Crops include canola, oats, wheat and barley. He grows Omega 6 canola for Cargill in the food industry. Yields ranged from 0.7 to 1.25 for canola, 0.95 to 1.6 for wheat and 1.75 to 3.0 for barley. It has been a very difficult year to plant and as a result ONLY 6430 acres has been sown.
Doug and Mike Miller, Acme, Alberta
Doug and Mike farm 4600 acres of crops and 3000 acres of grassland for over 300 cows and followers. Most of the cows are 2 hours drive away and a local couple check them once a week!!
They grow spring wheat and barley, canola and peas. They like most farmers use home saved seed, however they use it for no more than 3 years. Average wheat yields 1.6t/acre but second wheat is lower at 1.0t/acre. It was obvious that this area had not been as badly affected by rainfall as previous farms we visited and as a result crops looked much healthier.
Alan and Shannon Jones, Calgary
The Jones family are originally from Wales but have farmed in this part of Canada for a number of generations. Alan farms with his wife, who is very much involved in the business, and she mainly looks after the 170 suckler cows and followers. They own 1900acres but farm 5000. Because their farm was quite close to the city, Alan said values had risen due to speculators. Land close to the city cost about $30000/ac, and he valued his land, which is 15 miles from the city at $20000/ac. Land further away from the city was valued at $3500/ac. However land rental cost between $30 and $35/ac.
Vancouver Port was very impressive. Comprising of about 600km of shore line, it is the fourth largest tonnage port in North America and handles 109million tons of cargo in 2009. That includes 24million tons of coal and 15m tons of grain. Over 4million tons of sulphur and 2.3m tons of potash are also shipped from here. It trades in $75 billion worth of goods with more than 160 economies.
Machinery is a big expense on all farms we visited. Progressive farms have mainly new equipment and some is changed annually. There are two main reasons for this; the windows for planting and harvesting are very tight so time lost to repair and breakdown can prove very expensive. Secondly, the cost of repair is very high due to high labour costs. A mechanic can make $100,000 per year incl overtime. They work long hours at peak times, working through the night on occasion to get machinery running again. Competition from the oil industry, which pays high wages, puts pressure on the garages to pay their top mechanics well.
Most farms use no-till, air seed drills. Drills range from 40 to 80 feet wide. These are just tool-bars with tines. All are trailed and follow in line. The seed hopper is a separate piece of kit, normally has three compartments with one for seed, fertilizer and solid nitrogen. The seed units are very large and are generally auger filled from a truck. Some farmers use liquid or gaseous nitrogen and this means an additional trailed tank. The drills are hauled by articulated or tracked tractors and range from 300 to 500hp. Some kits we saw were half a million dollars in total, but cover large areas. Drilling speeds are 4 to 5 miles/hour as anything faster throws up soil and buries inter-row seeds.
Cereal crops are normally straight cut but some are swathed. Special headers are used for this purpose. Most farmers swath their canola, to bring it in before frost. The swaths are rolled into the stubble to prevent the prairie winds from lifting and scattering them across the country side. Combines have 30 to 40 foot headers and are left on moving fields. Machinery costs seem similar to here but second hand kit seemed very expensive.
There is a very tight window to get work done. Winter crops can be killed by frosts without snow cover, and there can be little time to plant them if following a late harvest before the snow and frost arrive. It can be difficult to have harvesting complete before the snow arrives in mid October. Spring planting can also be challenging. Normally the snow remains until late April and planting can run well into May. This year it was late June and one farmer we met stopped sowing on June 22nd as sowing any later meant crops were unlikely to mature.
It is about 1500miles from the centre of the country to the coast. As mentioned earlier trains are vital in the economy, carrying a range of goods from fertilizer to wood, grain, coal, potash and all goods domestic and industrial. Most trains are 100 carriages long, with each car carrying about 100t bulk produce or two containers stacked on top of each other. Trains continue to get bigger. We estimated 160 cars in one train, which was over two miles long. As we journeyed through the Rocky Mountains we saw many trains snake along at approx 25mph, along a rivers edge while overshadowed by the might of the mountains. One in particular which we saw and I had a brief moment to chat the driver while stopped in a small town for breakfast told me he was hauling 22,000t of goods, powered by five engines of 3000hp. He said that the long term intention was to have trains over three miles long and perhaps even four!
The Rocky Mountains were a very impressive sight, spiralling to over 12000feet. There was some small scale farming in a central desert plateau, with hay being baled and whole crop silage harvested as we passed through. Crops were irrigated in areas and small amounts of stock were visible too.
There were many beautiful scenes throughout the mountains. We stopped at Lake Louise where we took a cable car up the mountain. During the winter these cable cars are used to move skiers to the slopes. Canada is a haven for winter sport lovers, with skiing, snowboarding and skidoo’s are a common pastime. Ice fishing on lakes with ice up to 3ft thick is another popular sport. Many fishermen drive on the lakes to reach a favourite spot!
Our trip to Canada was very informative and extremely enjoyable. We found the people to be very friendly and were lucky enough to dine with a number of farmers on occasion whom laid on very impressive BBQ’s and buffets. On these occasions we were welcomed by all present and they were very open to our questions and answered our queries without hesitation. Certainly very interested how such a maverick group of farmers travelled together and managed to put such a comprehensive tour of their country, and for that I would like to thank Andy Doyle, without whom, yet again none of this study trip would have happened.