Farmers can adapt, but can’t beat Mother Nature

By MPP Toby Barrett

Summer farm events remind me of a few things about farming, including you can adapt, but when push comes to shove, you can’t beat Mother Nature.

Farming is a challenge – something reiterated to me at recent meetings of the Soil and Crop Association, Haldimand-Norfolk Holstein Club and Haldimand Federation of Agriculture. With the drought, for those who have been fortunate enough to get rain, prices for commodities are at a record high. That translates into higher feed costs, though, for dairy, beef, hogs and poultry. An early-season frost that followed warm weather presents another challenge by killing fruit tree blossoms.

Opposition Agriculture Critic Ernie Hardeman and I are encouraging Ontario Minister of Agriculture Ted McMeekin to be proactive like his American counterpart in dealing with the drought. In the U.S., farmers have been offered quicker processing time on claims and reduced interest rates on emergency loans.

For me, the highlights of farm shows and barbecues are seeing friends and getting updates on the challenges and opportunities facing today’s farmers. The challenges are many, but farmers are hardy and resourceful. Agriculture is a primary industry, one that cities are dependent on for food, fuel and raw materials.

Area farmers can grow just about anything. Walking around the recent Fruit and Veg Tech X-Change in St. Williams, the diversity of agriculture was evident – as well as technological advances. Blueberries, cucumbers, grapes, hops, tomatoes, strawberries, sweet corn, cabbage and squash are among the products grown in the county today. Check out Norfolk County’s map or for the food opportunities in our backyard.

After wheeling my tractor into the X-Change, I checked out information on Prospero, the Robot Farmer. This small piece of machinery can drill and plant seeds in a field or greenhouse. It isn’t a lone R2-D2, but made to work in conjunction with many more of its kind. Down the road, fertilizing, weeding and harvesting will be options.

Prospero’s first cousin, Dorhout, is akin to a rolling water bucket on wheels. It senses moisture levels in greenhouses and applies water where needed. These little pieces of technology won’t replace farmers and farm labour, but could assist them.

Not all of the technology on display was as breaking edge as the robots. GPS technology has brought farming to a whole new level with precision farming that increases efficiency of input application and harvest through eliminating overlap and cutting fuel usage. It can also bring autopilot into tractors.

From the X-Change, I was off to pick up my 1941 Dodge on display at one of the lavender festivals in Norfolk. Lavender has become another niche crop that not only produces an agriculture product, but also agri-tourism, bringing people into the area.

One trend that becomes apparent is local farmers are experts at finding value-added opportunities from what they grow on their land. The growing number of wineries, roadside fruit and vegetable stands, food-related festivals, and even a new brewery, are testament to the fact.

Diversification is not new. With the slide of the tobacco industry – which once brought 90 years of prosperity to the sand belt – innovation is necessary. Diversification is really about survival – it’s what farmers must do to survive in this global marketplace and Haldimand-Norfolk farmers are continually out in front.

As always, let’s hope Mother Nature co-operates!