Farmers cash in by cutting trees, expanding crops

Farmers south of Ottawa are trimming trees along the edge of their property line to maximize profit, which in turn could eliminate the habitat for some area birds.

Land costs $3,000 to $4,000 per hectare, farmers say, pushing them to maximize profit

Trees and brush, as you see here on a farm in Mountain, Ont., south of Ottawa, are an untapped source of income for farmers who use cash crops. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Cash-strapped farmers south of Ottawa are cutting down trees to maximize the profitability of their land, but that could leave birds with fewer places to nest.

Farmers are currently searching for ways to turn every centimetre of land into a "cash crop."

These crops are produced for the purpose of generating cash and farmers intend to market products solely for profit. Items such as wheat, tobacco or cotton are some of the most common examples of cash crops.

Rita Velthuis (left) and her husband Henry say they maximized their farmland by cutting a series of elm and ash trees plus many weeds along the far edges. (Stu Mills/CBC)

The other type of farming is subsistence farming, which is used to feed a farmer and his or her family.

Henry Velthuis, a farmer in Mountain, Ont., about 70 kilometres south of Ottawa, said his bottom line has been under pressure from rising soybean and corn prices, which he said have doubled in the past eight years.

The price for land is also now between $3,000 and $4,000 per hectare and rising, according to Velthuis and his wife Rita, so running his 38-hectare farm has not been affordable.

The incentive to squeeze more crops onto his fields has been strong.

"Let's put it this way: Can you buy land next door? I've always been taught the other way is turn around and clean up what you have first and get bigger," said Velthuis.

Blackbirds, robins among birds looking for habitat

Most of the trees he cut down are dead ash and elm trees, plus many weeds, which Velthuis argued are not key bird habitats.

They have also stood in the way of extra space for cash crops, so he trimmed back the brush and overgrown trees, which allowed him to reclaim an estimated $100,000 worth of farmland.

Farmer Bill Lillico argued many area birds have an inordinate number of nesting options besides trees on his land. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Down the road from Velthuis, Bill Lillico said he also gets flack for taking down brush at his 485-hectare farm.

He said complaints come in saying the at-risk barn swallow, blackbirds, killdeer and robins are losing their nesting place. But he argued there are plenty of places around for a habitat.

"We can sit in any shed around here and there's lots of them," he said. "They find a spot, usually."