From FCC Express, by Owen Roberts
Declining cattle numbers in Ontario have led to significant surplus hay and pasture land that could be used to grow biomass crops, says a new report.
The report, prepared for the Ontario Federation of Agriculture by the Western Sarnia-Lambton Research Park, claims nearly 850,000 acres of surplus hay and pasture land is available in Ontario, as a result of an almost 25 per cent decline in cattle numbers over the past 20 years.
The report advocates perennial biomass crops such as miscanthus and switchgrass be grown on that surplus land. In addition to the soil improvement benefits, they say these crops offer increased biodiversity, little or no use of chemicals, erosion prevention and minimum crop maintenance.
These potential biomass-production areas are scattered throughout the province.
“Since the areas suitable for biomass production are located in central, eastern and northern Ontario, a unique opportunity to positively affect rural development in these regions exists,” it says.
The report notes that lower cattle numbers and improvements in grain prices have led to land-use changes — some hay and pasture land has been converted to annual cash crops (such as grain corn, soybeans and winter wheat). But acreage and pasture land are underutilized in some Ontario regions because the conversion to cash crops is economically unfavourable in those areas.
However, many of those areas are well-suited for biomass crops.
The authors call for more research and field data for the agronomics and yields of biomass crops in the northern region before considering conversion to purpose-grown biomass crops. They say continued high grain prices could result in additional displacement of cattle from the southern and western regions of Ontario to other regions in the province where cash cropping is less profitable.
In fact, they estimate an additional 10 per cent drop in cattle numbers would result in 40,000 more acres of land available for conversion to cash crops or biomass crops in the south, and 113,000 more acres in the west.