By Connor Lynch
HEARST — Going north to farm can be a daunting proposition but a promising one, given Northern Ontario’s comparatively inexpensive and plentiful land. But finding a farm or some acres to buy or rent can be tricky.
The Northern Eastern Ontario Community Network wants to bridge the gap. A study done years ago identified as much as a million acres of unused, privately-owned farmland, mostly Grade 3 and Grade 4, and the network is putting together a database of land available to rent or buy. You can reach the network at 705-362-7355.
Chair Gilles Matko said the goal of the project is to connect farmland buyers with sellers.
Certainly there’s been no shortage of inquiries, Matko said. In fact, he once had a couple farmers from Western Ontario pop into his office at Hearst, about a 10-hour drive north of Toronto. Municipalities in Northern Ontario regularly field calls inquiring about farmland in the area, he said. But without the database, they have few answers.
It’s not clear exactly when the project will launch, Matko said, since it relies on landowners responding to a survey about how much land they have for sale or rent. But responses thus far have been good, he said, with nearly 200 landowners adding land to the database after a mini-blitz in early August. The database will launch after responses start dropping off, he said.
Going north has been pitched before. Beef Farmers of Ontario launched a program of their own offering information about how farmers could make the trek north. Between cheaper land and cash to tile-drain it, some farmers made the jump. Beef farmer Dave Cockburn, originally from Tweed in Hastings County, made the leap years back. He told Farmers Forum last year that farming up north is even more isolated than farming usually is. Cheap land is an obvious draw but farmers need to be very self-reliant, he said.
According to a 2019 farmland value report from Farm Credit Canada, the average cost per acre of farmland in Northern Ontario was $3,621/acre, cheaper than anywhere else in the province by a huge margin. Eastern Ontario average $9,906/acre, and Southern Ontario average $13,352/acre.