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Agricultural drainage systems diversifying crops in northwestern Ontario

Cattle farming has long been a staple of the agricultural sector in northwestern Ontario's Rainy River area, but some farmers are now turning their attention to something else.

Cash crops, like soybeans, starting to sprout in Rainy River area

(Jeff Walters / CBC)

Cattle farming has long been a staple of the agricultural sector in northwestern Ontario's Rainy River area, but some farmers are now turning their attention to something else.

Cash crops, like soybeans and other dry beans, have started sprouting up in area fields, in some cases, displacing the cows.

That change has been helped by a provincial grant program that helps subsidize farmers installing modern drainage systems for their fields, said Timo Brielmann, who, along with his father, owns Brielmann Agriculture Limited.

"It's just because the weather's so horrible, and it's always wet here. It always rains," he said. "So, without tile drainage, you just couldn't do it."
Timo Brielmann and his father own Brielmann Agriculture Limited. They also manage and maintain another farm in the Rainy River area. (Jeff Walters / CBC)

Brielmann, 26, said he hopes the spread of tile drainage — which consists of using drainage pipes made up of perforated plastic to help move water off the fields — will make cash crop farming more attractive. That would make it easier to find the proper equipment, chemicals and other supplies needed for crop farming, he added.

Even with the provincial help, installing tile drainage is expensive — according to Brielmann, it cost about $1,000 per acre, with the grant program covering half the bill.

"There aren't many people that do just cash crops," he said. "There are a few dairy farmers that do corn for their dairy cows, or oats as greenfeed, but we're the only cash crop farm in the area."

The Brielmanns sold off nearly 700 cattle three years ago, in order to develop their croplands.

Cash crop farming not new to Rainy River

Even though farming for crops like soybeans isn't too common in Rainy River today, that wasn't always the case.

Cash crops were being harvested about 30 years ago, said Kim-Jo Bliss, who works at the agricultural research station in Emo, Ont.

"When I started this job, there was a lot more crops being grown then," she said. "Some of the stuff we're doing here, hopefully will rub off on what their decisions are on the farm."

There is the potential for farmers to make money on some crops, like dry beans or even hops.
Kim-Jo Bliss works at the agricultural resesarch station in Emo, Ont. (Jeff Walters / CBC)

"We're pretty excited about that, and we do think that hops has real potential in the district, or across the northwest actually, because of these micro-breweries," she said, adding that canola is another high value option.

Bliss said sowing more cash crops, even on a smaller scale, plays into the region's history as well.

"Rainy River District was known for dry beans in the late 1930s, and were winning competitions, like they had the highest yields in Canada," she said.

"Now, it wouldn't be big acres, but because they're high value, you would [have] lower numbers, but a real high value crop."

Farmers in the Rainy River area have the option of diversifying their crops to include things like soybeans and hops, thanks to subsidies from the provincial government to improve drainage. (Jeff Walters / CBC)

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