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Ont. looks north for beef expansion

An ambitious resettlement plan is being proposed to expand Ontario’s beef herd.

Beef Farmers of Ontario have supported a study on opening up about one million acres of land in the northern part of the province. The land would raise about 100,000 cows in the Great Clay Belt in northern Ontario. The region comprises about 16 million acres.

“Our plan is for families to move there and the production units we have worked out is something a husband and wife can manage,” said Matt Bowman, president of the beef producers and a cow-calf operator from Thornloe, Ont.

The proposal suggests 2,000 acre units for about 200 cows, he said in an interview during the Canadian beef industry conference held in Calgary Aug. 9-11.

The area was settled in the early 1900s but most of the farms failed by the 1930s. The land reverted back to the crown and has not been extensively farmed since.

Mining and timber dominates the region but with modern bush-clearing equipment, electric fencing and improved social services, the area could be attractive to cattle producers.

The study said the area is warmer than it was in the 1930s and in the last 30 years, heat units have risen by about 20 percent, allowing for greater crop diversity.

The beef farmers believe this is one way to rebuild a herd that fell from about 410,000 cows to about 275,000 since 2005.

“When the price of calves dropped, a lot of pastureland in southern Ontario was plowed up for farming soybeans and corn so we lost a lot of producers and we lost a lot of cows,” Bowman said.

Farms close to major cities cannot expand so a northern Ontario relocation plan could be an option.

“When you sell land around southern Ontario for $25,000 an acre and move to this area where it is $1,000 (per acre), you could accumulate a lot of land without going into big debt,” he said.

Northern Ontario is surveyed into sections like the Prairies, so a new rancher could buy a couple quarters and expand.

Financing is a big consideration. The Ontario government recently announced an enhanced feeder and breeder loan program, and interest-free packages are available.

The study suggests a new farmer requires a personal investment of about $100,000 to start a sustainable farming business. Private investment is also welcome.

The full report can be seen at www.beefnorth.com

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