Dairy farmer Mark Bolt stood in front of large rolls of drainage tile on the snow-covered field of Trumar Farms on March 12 and explained how, once installed, the tile will improve yields on the Thunder Bay-area farm.
“It makes the crops grow a lot better, you can start in the spring a lot earlier and we’re able to grow crops we can’t grow on un-tiled land,” said Bolt, partner in the farm with his parents. “Any crop grows better on tiled land than non-tiled land.”
With $994,080 coming from the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation, 23 local farms will be able to benefit from having drainage tile installed on 1,390 acres of land.
“It makes (farming) a lot more economical,” said Bolt. “Farmers can grow crops we can profitably sell, otherwise the yields aren’t high enough to offset the input costs.”
When Allan Mol began installing drainage tile on his farm in the 1980s, it changed the way he ran his dairy operation.
“We were able to produce most of our feed we use for our cattle. Before we were always buying feed and we’d bring it in.” said Mol. “A lot of the grains we would feed were brought in from the west, now Thunder Bay is good at producing pretty much what it needs for feeding livestock.”
Mol said he would recommend tiling to anyone, having tiled his land in different stages over the years, taking advantage of programs that aided in offsetting costs and sometimes just doing it on his own.
“But the price has increased somewhat over the years,” said Mol.
Being able to take advantage of a funded project like this, explained Mol, means “we can probably get more land done quicker and have it profitable that much sooner.”
Kevin Belluz, president of the Thunder Bay Agricultural Research Association, explained that farms will have to submit applications to take part in the program that “gives farmers more options in how we manage crops.”
With better drainage, cover crops can stay in place for longer periods of time leading to things like less soil erosion. It’s about healthy soil practices, said Belluz.
Drainage can be an issue on land with heavier soils such as clay, or in lower lying areas where water can pool, explained Belluz, adding that in a previous project in which drainage tile was installed many farmers were able to expand the land they farmed.
“They were finding it too difficult to work that land or it just wasn’t profitable enough so this is making a significant difference there, opening up new land,” said Belluz. “I imagine there’s probably close to 1,000 acres of new land production that is coming up to speed in the area.”
With shorter growing seasons in the north, it makes a big difference if a farmer can get on the field sooner in the spring and maintain moisture levels throughout the summer, explained Belluz.
“We often barely have enough growing degree days to produce a crop to begin with,” said Belluz. “The ability to get in and plant in a timely fashion in the spring is critical to sometimes even getting a crop off and can dramatically improve the yields, sometimes double or triple, depending on the quality of land you were working with to begin with.”
Bill Mauro, MPP for Thunder Bay-Atikokan, made the funding announcement on March 12, explaining that the money will be distributed through the Thunder Bay Agricultural Research Association.
Mauro said as people become more aware of eating local and food security, they also become more aware of the significance of the local agricultural community.
“To have more farmers produce more crops does benefit the whole community, even the city of Thunder Bay benefits from what we take in,” said Mol. “Grains go through the city to the port or sometimes on trucks, it all means money coming in to Thunder Bay.”