150 years of farming

Agriculture in Canada was practised from the earliest times, with the First Nations producing crops long before European settlement.

Settlers’ crops were grown for centuries before Confederation and most of it was done on land that later became New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Lower and Upper Canada and in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia. Nearly all of it was for domestic consumption.

Louis Hebert settled at Quebec City in 1617 and became one of Canada’s first commercial producers that year.

Wheat was thought to have been grown in Saskatchewan by Hudson’s Bay staff at a post east of the North and South Saskatchewan Rivers’ forks in the 1770s.

Farming in the Canadian coastal areas was not unlike that of Northern Europe, so knowledge was transferable. In 1790, Nova Scotia farmers had their own organization, the Society for Promoting Agriculture.

By 1802, exports from the upper St. Lawrence Valley, in what is now Ontario, were more than one million bushels annually.

The Assiniboine District, including the Red River Valley in Manitoba, was producing agricultural products for sale, but most of that was for local consumption.

In May of 1868 the Department of Agriculture Act was given royal assent by Parliament. Its first major act was the Act Respecting Contagious Diseases of Animals, protecting Canada from imported diseases.

By the early 1880s it was becoming evident that more knowledge was needed.

Farming was expanding outside the central and eastern Canadian regions, and the young federal government recognized the need for research and skills development.

In 1884, 1,500 farmers were asked if they wanted ag research, experimental farms, entomologists, ag statistics and handbooks, reports and bulletins. Most did.

In 1886, Parliament passed the Experimental Station Act, and regional research and extension agriculture were birthed.

Two world wars, three major droughts, as many wet decades and a steady intensification of production have passed since.

But some things never change. Louis Hebert? He was forced to sign a commercial contract with the French government that required him to sell his Canadian agricultural production at the domestic, French market price.

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  • ed

    It should be added, and surprisingly it was not, that the collective marketing power of the CWB in Western Canada was in play more of those years than not. That delivered $ billions of extra dollars worth of value to the west in which to build up Western Canadian farms. This was on wheat and barley alone and when other crops came along the presence of the CWB caused the fight for acres effect that kept the price of all commodities at the farm gate much higher than the grain companies wanted to pay. It also created orderly marketing which eased the transportation woes that we have struggled with since it’s untimely death. This kept the need for a very expensive over capacity grain system being in place to compensate for the disorganization that was predicted at the farmers expense in the form of lower grain prices and higher basis levels and the biggest demurage cost in history at our ports. Probably the biggest ag. story of the last 150 years in Western Canada was the Conservative Governments inept move to kill the Canadian Wheat Board’s price positive single desk monopoly powers and expense out the Western Canadian grain producers in favor of their buddy’s in the grain business. This is driving farm debt up faster than ever in history and will eventually have to be back filled by all Canadian tax payers to salvage what ever is left standing in Western Canadian agriculture in Canada as we once knew it. That will be a very unpopular decision by what ever party that ultimately will have to make it that will be put off as long as possible. That delay brings on it’s own set of big problems. “Better late than never”, but “A stitch in time saves nine”, would have saved the tax payers of Canada a whole lot of money and long term financial pain. That typically as of late has not been how things are done in Ottawa so stay tuned for the ongoing fall out. Have a Happy Canada Day 150 in the mean time and raise a glass to those great people who built this great nation if you are so inclined. Cheers!


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