By Connor Lynch
The barriers to getting into farming can be insurmountable. Unless you have a family farm to take over or deep pockets, cash cropping and the supply-managed sectors are a pipe dream. Niche markets and smaller operations require less investment. Here are four options:
1. COMMUNITY SUPPORTED AGRICULTURE: These small-scale farms, usually fewer than 10 acres, typically produce vegetables for nearby urban consumers. Proximity to a fairly major population centre is a necessity. CSAs sell shares (typically at a cost of about $600 for a full season of produce), where people buy in at the beginning of the year and often have their produce delivered to a specific location for easier access.
CSA owner Jess Weatherhead moved her operation from Manotick, south of Ottawa, to the Quebec side in 2015 for cheaper land. She figured a farmer with a couple of acres, and after selling 120 shares, could earn a fairly comfortable living for a family of four with a lot of downtime in the winter.
When she started her CSA, she and her boyfriend jumped right in full-time and made it work.
2. ARTISANAL CHICKEN: The Chicken Farmers of Ontario administers this program. Would-be chicken farmers can have up to 300 chickens without the CFO’s sanction, and up to 3,000 under this program quota-free.
Off-farm income is likely a requirement, since even 3,000 birds would only provide a farmer annual revenue of $30,000 per year, according to farmer Adrien Quenneville’s figures. Quenneville joined the program in 2017. But, experience in the industry and a viable business plan are a must for any farmer interested in the New Entrant Chicken Farmer Program.
3. SHEEP: A young farmer interested in trying his hand at shepherding had better hope he can find someone with machinery and a barn to rent. A 50-ewe flock is the recommended starting size for a prospective shepherd, and scaling up to a full-time operation can take as long as 10 years said sheep farmer Dick Kuiperij, who did it himself. That many ewes isn’t enough for full-time income, but it’s plenty of work, especially for someone new to the industry. But according to Ontario Sheep Farmers, you can buy 50 ewes and rent 10 acres of pasture for about $30,000. Plan for a long-term lease of land and buildings, rather than outright buying them, said Ontario Sheep Farmers’ general manager Jennifer MacTavish.
4. BEEF: Ontario’s beef herd is shrinking, and the Beef Farmers of Ontario want to expand it. In Eastern Ontario, the focus is on getting more animals into existing herds. The focus on new herds is up north, where cheaper land, much of it Crown land, is available to pasture animals. According to Beef North, the BFO program focused on opportunities in Northern Ontario, a 200 cow-calf farm, enough to sustain a family farm, could be had for as low as $100,000. That would include the land, animals, equipment, and a home, though it’s an ideal scenario cautioned BFO communications director LeaAnne Wuermli. Even under that ideal scenario, however, the farmer would be repaying government loans for a decade before qualifying for conventional financing; scaling up an operation that started smaller would likely face at least a similar timeline.