Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario Commentary
By Suzanne Armstrong, Director of Research/Manager of Board & Committee Services
This time of year our trees and woodlots command our attention with their amazing display of colour. Trees are beautiful, and they are beneficial for the environment, water quality and wildlife. But trees can also be part of the productivity and profitability of farms. While in some regions of the province woodlots and tree lines along fences have been making way to accommodate larger farm equipment for bigger fields of annual crops, it is important to remember that trees are also part of agriculture, and can be profitable in many different ways. Trees are, however, a longer-term investment.
Two tree-related industries in Ontario are looking to expand. First is the craft hard cider industry, which depends on Ontario grown apples. Second is maple syrup production in Ontario.
In 2013, the Ontario Apple Growers and Ontario Craft Cider Association commissioned a report from the George Morris Centre on potential for growth in the craft hard cider industry. The Ontario government is now supporting expansion of this industry through allowing sales of cider at farmers markets. While the report looks optimistically at the prospects for hard cider in Ontario, one key factor is that local apple production is primarily focused on sweet varieties for fresh eating. In order to bolster production of tart varieties for hard cider, farmers need to be confident that there will be a market for the fruit over the years it will take to bring the trees into production, and for the life of the productivity of the trees.
There is also significant potential for expansion of maple syrup production in Ontario. Maple syrup was included as part of a recent government initiative to bolster agricultural production in northern Ontario. A report commissioned by the Quebec Minister of Agriculture examined potential competition for Quebec’s share of the global maple syrup market. As an article from the Montreal Gazette explains, the report highlights the potential in Ontario of tapping 108 million trees for maple syrup production.
Aside from fruit, nuts or sap, trees themselves are also a valuable crop, but it can take up to a century to grow hardwood from seedling to harvest. However, research is ongoing on methods to intercrop trees with annual crops. This report from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada on Intercropping of hardwood trees with annual grain and oilseeds indicates that trees can be beneficial to annuals, rather than detrimental. Furthermore, this method can shorten the time to harvest the trees to 50-60 years.
Farming with trees, be it for fruit orchards, maple syrup, or some of the other more innovative products such as birch or walnut syrup, maple water for drinking, and fruit wines and ciders, is an investment in the long-term. Once orchards and woodlots are established, they can be productive for many years. Those looking to the prosperity of family farms should consider the profit to be made from the trees already on their farms, and also the many methods of investing in trees for the future.