Understanding the Barriers to Livestock Production in the Clay Belt

An Economic, Social and Environmental Analysis


Dr. W.J. Caldwell, Professor,
School of Environmental Design and Rural Development
University of Guelph


Dr. Sara Epp, Isabelle Chouinard-Roy,
Anthony Miron, Gabriella Miron

with support from

University of Guelph
Université de Hearst
Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs

executive summary
There are significant opportunities for the expansion of the agricultural sector in northern Ontario, particularly the Clay Belt region along the Highway 11 corridor. The Clay Belt region, with an abundance of affordable productive farmland, has garnered much speculation from prospective farmers. While land is available and evidence of success in agriculture exists, the challenges associated with farming within this region are not well understood. Many challenges are based on perceptions and misconceptions regarding the geography of northern Ontario, its climate and population. To better understand these barriers, particularly related to the livestock industry, researchers from the University of Guelph and l’Université de Hearst have undertaken a joint research project.

This project has been funded through the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) New Directions grant program. The goal of this study was to explore and understand the institutional and individual barriers to establishing livestock productions in the Clay Belt, particularly along the northern corridor of Highway 11 (between Hearst and Cochrane). Through interviews, focus groups and support from a community advisory board, economic, social and environmental barriers to livestock production were identified and possible solutions proposed.

A summary of the barriers is presented below. Economic and social barriers were the most prevalent barriers identified by participants. Economic barriers related to higher costs for expenses and limited access to services, while social barriers were often related to family needs. Barriers related to the environment focused on the colder climate, shorter growing season and soil quality.

Economic Barriers

  • Profitability
  • Access to Land/Land Clearing
  • Tile Drainage
  • Cost of Supplies
  • Access to Equipment
  • Access to Markets
  • Transportation
  • Labour
  • Access to Services
  • Availability of Grants

Social Barriers

  • Lack of Employment Opportunities
  • Limited Opportunities for Youth
  • Sense of Community
  • Language
  • Lack of Farming Community
  • Isolation/Remoteness
  • Access to Healthcare
  • Lack of Mentorship
  • Access to Commercial Businesses/Services
  • Low Youth Retention

Environmental Barriers

  • Climate
  • Soil Quality
  • Unpredictable Weather
  • Crop Failure Due to Weather
  • Inability to Grow Certain Crops/Feed
  • Predators
  • Pests
  • Weeds
  • Impacts of Extreme Cold on Livestock
  • Limited Diversity in Northern Crops

In working with participants, realistic solutions were identified for some economic, social and environmental barriers. It is important to understand that many of the barriers and solutions identified by participants were not practicable within the confines of this study and the solutions presented below represent the most appropriate, realistic and achievable solutions. It is the recommendation of this study that these solutions be adopted by farm stakeholders in order to enhance the livestock sector within the Clay Belt.

Economic Solutions

  1. A map of the region containing information on each portion of land, its owner and succession plan should be created to allow farmers or new farmers to easily identify potential land for their farm.
  2. Lots already containing farm infrastructure (barn, drainage tiles) should be identified and easily accessible for farmers wanting to establish themselves in the region.
  3. The government should release some Crown land and make it accessible to farmers at low cost. This land should be cleared to allow farmers to purchase a piece of land without having to pay for clear-cutting.
  4. The government should work with the industry to fully fund the Risk Management Program currently in place. This program helps the farms in guaranteeing a certain income in a context where the price of livestock often varies.
  5. Institutions should promote lower interest rates as well as their agriculture programs to farmers.
  6. Farmers need to have access to professionals who could collaborate with them to come up with their business plan and thus plan their operations and income for their first years of operation.
  7. Grant-related successes and advancements should be promoted and presented to farmers in order for them to see the importance of taking the time to fill out applications.
  8. Agents of agricultural economic development should be informed in advance of the grants available in the coming months, particularly in the case of grants delivered by a third party. Farmers should also have access to professional help in applying for grants. The existing resources for help could be better advertised.
  9. Farmers should create partnerships with other communities and groups to sell products to them.
  10. An option that could be investigated is the revision of certain laws that currently make it impossible for farmers to sell certain products directly to clients.
  11. A grant should be created to allow farmers to pay students or employees to assist them in their work during the summer. This program would allow farmers to get help without spending too much out of their own pockets.
  12. There should be a federally licenced abattoir in the region which would allow farmers to sell their products in other parts of the country.

Social Solutions

  1. Older, well-established farmers could create partnerships with new farmers.
  2. Agricultural studies, research and demonstrations should continue to be conducted in the region and made available to the population.
  3. A database containing research related to agriculture in northern Ontario should be 
  4. Agriculture-related school activities and school visits to farms should be encouraged to expose young people to the farming lifestyle.
  5. Farming courses should be offered in school as early as the first school year to expose young people to farming.
  6. Community activities, recreation and job opportunities should be promoted during farmer recruitment activities to dispel the myth that no such thing exists in the region.
  7. Local farmers need to be better promoted to the regional population in order to enhance their presence, expand their networks and make their products more widely known.
  8. Fresh local products should be promoted and sold in more local grocery stores and restaurants.

Environmental Solutions

  1. Mixed farms (cropping and livestock) are viable in the Clay Belt and need to be better promoted to dispel the myth that climate does not permit such farming endeavours in the north.
  2. Soil quality in the Clay Belt region needs to be promoted as a strength.
  3. Grants for perimeter fencing should be maintained and promoted.
  4. Trappers should be trained to manage predators for farmers.