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Ten graduate from Ridgetown’s inaugural dairy herdsperson apprenticeship program – article by Tom Collins in Farmers Forum.

Chatham-Kent is home to Canada’s first commercial rice crop. Agricultural history is quietly being made on a farm west of Chatham where a one-hectare (2.5 acre) crop of rice is growing. 

Agricultural history is quietly being made on a farm west of Chatham where a one-hectare (2.5-acre) crop of rice is growing.

“This is the first Canadian commercial rice production,” said Wendy Zhang, the project and farm manager with Ontario FangZheng Agriculture Enterprises Inc., which planted the crop.

She said initially the company was allowed to grow a research trial crop, based on regulations set out by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Zhang said they have now received CFIA approval to expand next year.

The plan is to plant rice on the entire 30-hectare (74-acre) farm where the first crop is currently growing and find other land to plant up to 202 hectares (500 acres) next year.

Growing rice in Chatham-Kent is more a relief than anything, Zhang said. The process began in 2016, she said, with an expert rice production team from China coming to the municipality to inspect the soil, the water, the weather and what kind of machinery could be used.

When it comes to growing rice, Zhang said the first thing you need is flat land and, secondly, a good source of water.

“It’s just so flat and so good (in Chatham-Kent), and we got two lakes here as well.”

While this year’s cool, wet spring has caused tremendous problems for other farmers, Zhang said her rice crop benefited from the rain. The enterprise has saved a lot of money by not having to operate a pump to irrigate the crop.

Many people may envision rice crops being surrounded by a large amount of water, but Zhang said a new technique was developed in recent years.

“We don’t need that much water,” she said. “All we need to do is cover the soil surface.”

Zhang said the canopy will soon fill in on the crop, so the water on the field won’t be visible.

She began preparing the crop in early March by soaking the seed inside.

A one-hectare rice trial crop is growing west of Chatham, Ont. (Ellwood Shreve/Chatham Daily News) ELLWOOD SHREVE / ELLWOOD SHREVE/THE DAILY NEWS

“It has to be a closed environment and monitored every day,” she said.

From there, the plants were moved to a greenhouse in April before being transplanted in May.

The crop will be harvested in late September or early October, depending on the weather, Zhang said.

Ontario FangZheng Agriculture Enterprises has been working with the Ridgetown Campus of the University of Guelph, which did a successful greenhouse study on rice. This resulted in the experimental field of rice being planted by Zhang.

She told those attending a news conference on Friday the one-hectare plot will be used to record plant growth and development, evaluate pest pressure and control, determine yield potential, and other production factors under Ontario growing conditions.

Chatham-Kent has a climate similar to northern China, where rice production has expanded to grow crops that can withstand cooler temperatures.

Zhang has been working with Curtis Peltier, an agricultural consultant with Thompsons.

“It’s been quite interesting,” Peltier said. “Definitely a lot to learn.”

He noted the fertilizers and other inputs to grow rice are similar to planting wheat.

“So we’re kind of basing and comparing everything to the wheat crops around here.”

Peltier said his company would be “definitely” interested in growing rice “if we can find a market for it.”

Mayor Darrin Canniff, who attended the Friday press conference, said a positive he sees with rice being grown here is “diversification for our economy and a new opportunity for our agri-business sector.”

If things work out, the trial crop could expand into thousands of acres being planted across Chatham-Kent, he said.

Zhang said the commercial rice crop started with one acre in the U.S., “and we started with one hectare.”

She said the company would welcome working with other growers to expand the amount of rice grown in Chatham-Kent.

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