Well I have just returned from my first official engagement as a Nuffield Scholar! A 10 day trip to Ontario Canada for the Contemporary Scholars Conference. All the 2013 scholars from around the world (NZ, Ireland, Scotland, England, Canada, France and Brazil) attended this event and the networking opportunity was invaluable I met so many amazing farmers from around the world, it was incredibly inspiring and has given me some great people to visit and learn from in my future travels.
The land of Abundance....
View of one of the Great Lakes from Skylon tower, Toronto (looks like the sea but is 100% fresh water)
There is a large Mennonite population (similar beliefs to the Amish people) in Ontario, it was quite a cultural experience having dinner in a Mennonite Community one night. Here is a buggy!
Ontario is the home of 20% of the worlds fresh water ,withthe Great Lakes situated within this province – lakes which stretch so far Iwas quite sure it was actually the ocean I was looking at! Ontario and themajority of the places we saw whilst we were there were focussed on intensiveagriculture. There are chicken barns everywhere, both for meat and eggs as wellas many dairies. Due to the long cold winters and intensive nature of the dairyingoperations most dairy cows will never graze a pasture, with cows being fed a100% supplemented ration of grains and silage.
Location, location, location....
Ontario has a very unique marking advantage...it is withinone days truck drive to New York City and its surrounding population – thelargest in the US and the third largest in the world. With millions ofconsumers on its doorstep, Ontario has taken advantage, by verticallyintegrating nearly all of its produce and selling it as a processed value addedproduct. Ontario also has a very strong domestic demand as it is home to thelargest Canadian city, Toronto. 79% of Ontario’s exports go to the US and thevast majority of these in the value added form, so whilst it is a high riskstrategy having all your eggs in one basket (literally!) it is working well forthem.
Canada uses a quota based system for many of itsagricultural products, including milk, pork, eggs and poultry products. Growersmust buy the right or quota to produce their product. Essentially Canadiangrowers can only produce what they consume, with the aim of this to protectmarket prices where Ontario farmers will earn 60% of the retail dollar, makingdairy farming in Ontario very different to Australia. On a visit to CranstonFarms we were told by the owners that they would earn 20 cents per litreprofit, getting paid approx 60 cents with 40 cents worth of costs – muchdifferent to Australian Dairy! With many UK & Irish scholars in the group,they are very wary of supply management and subsidy schemes as they tend tofoster inefficiencies within an industry – however every Canadian i spoke towere proud and grateful for the way they manage their markets.
Bioproducts the way forward?
Ontario seems to be leading the way in regards tobioproducts. What is a bioproduct? Basically a bioproduct is any sort ofmanufacturing which uses some kind of plant material in the process. We hadscientists show us foam car seats made with 30% soybean oil, plastic made of25% grass, engine grade oil made with soy and the list goes on! As we use upour finite resources of fossil fuels, we are having to look at alternatives andmuch like ethanol production, plants seem to be the answer. Of course there isthe debate of the fuel vs food issue, however the things they are achievingwith the more ‘environmentally friendly’ plant products are quite amazing.
A plastic storage container made of 25% Switch Grass (The grass was purpose grown by a local Ontario Farmer.)
Well, it wasnt all work all of the time (just most of the time!) and we got to experience the amazing and breath taking Niagara Falls. It is coming into the end of their winter, so a quiet time in regards to tourism which was perfect for us as it gave us the Falls all to ourselves!
Did someone say Wine?
Yep, whilst most people don't associate Canada with wine production there is a unique little micro climate around the Niagara lakes area that grows mainly white wines. It is famous for its Ice Wine, no that is not a wine slushie, it is actually a way of making a very sweet rich wine where the grapes are left on the vine at the end of autumn and are harvested once frozen in early winter. They are picked frozen and pressed frozen. We were fortunate enough to do a bit of wine tasting at the Pondview Winery!
Well that was just a quick summary of what I got up to in Canada, my next post will be in June when I begin my Globa Focus Tour where we head to the Phillipines, China, USA, Netherlands, Belgium, France and Ireland!