Tile drainage projects in northern Ontario boosts farming industry

·4 min read

Geoffrey Gillon, executive director at Rainy River Future Development Corporation since 1989, has watched the District agricultural industry develop throughout the years.

Producers in northern Ontario have invested millions to install tile drainage systems. Today, the Rainy River District is on their eight tile drainage project. Gillon said it will start in the summer and be completed by the end of 2024.

Noting the changes in the agriculture industry in northwestern Ontario, Gillon said the industry once relied primarily on raising cattle but has now expanded to rely heavily on cash crops, produced for its commercial value rather than for use by the grower. “It's been a big change in the agricultural industry,” he said.

Around 2014, the tile drainage initiative was started by the Liberal government to make Northern Ontario’s agricultural industry “more intensive,” also made possible by the subsequent Conservative government who kept the project going, Gillon said.

Most of the tilers for the project were based in southern Ontario. To bring the project to northwestern Ontario, producers in the area enrolled in a consortium to combine the amount of acres of their crop land. Each consortium totaled to around 1950 acres in total, a guaranteed amount of land that would be tiled.

“And that was the mechanism of being able to have enough acres to bring a tile up here, because originally the tilers were in southern Ontario,” Gillon said. “That meant if you are a smaller producer, you only need 50 acres tiled or 100 acres, you would be able to get your land tile, whereas before that it was too expensive.”

“It's been very successful. And the producers have put in significant amounts of money to do the tiling, they get a grant from the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund of $500 per acre,” he said.

Producers have invested a total of $12 million on tile drainage so far, not including additional producer investments in buildings, storage bins, machinery and employees. Additional costs are estimated to be around $8 million, Gillon said.

With the grant from NOFHC, covering $500 per acre, almost $8 million has been covered by grants.

15,466 acres that have been tiled across the eight projects in the District, totaling to about $20 million that has been invested in the project.

“The uptake from the producing community has been really good. We even have a potential for probably a nice project, depending on how long NOHFC is going to continue to support them,” Gillon said.

He added that the cost of tiling has increased from around $1,100 to $1,500 per acre over the last 8 years.

Seeing that cash crops and tile drainage projects continue to succeed is one of Gillon’s hopes for the future of the agriculture industry in the District. With a steady cultivation of crops, he said he would like to see them used to make a product, such as wheat to make flour or soybeans to make oil.

“I hear some rumblings that there might be some,” he said. “But we have soybeans, wheat, corn, canola. It would be nice to see somebody making a product… These are kind of follow-along things since now that we have the lands under cultivation.”

Gillon added that there’s a lot to come for the agricultural industry, noting that the District could think about cattle feedlots now that cash crops are producing an abundance of grain, or the addition of Hops yards to fuel business in craft breweries.

At the Ag Day event, Gillon will also touch upon the Abattoir and Rainy River Meats and the Hops harvest, which is grown and used to make beer at local breweries. He believes the Hop harvest may be another opportunity for economic development through the agriculture industry.

“If you go by Emo, you'll see the poles and behind the research station building there. So we grow Hops, and then harvest them in September, and we actually give them to Lake of the Woods Brewery and have them use it. But we also have two other individuals now that have developed Hops yards in the district and we're promoting that. They’re very intensive and they don't use a lot of land,” he said.

Elisa Nguyen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Fort Frances Times