Farming boom [for Northern Ontario] on the horizon – by Benjamin Aubé (Timmins Daily Press – June 5, 2013)

The Daily Press is the city of Timmins broadsheet newspaper.

TIMMINS – Mayor Mike Milinkovich of Black River-Matheson made the 45-minute drive up Hwy. 101 to Timmins city council on Monday to talk about the future of farming in the region.

Though Northern Ontario’s Claybelt is synonymous with mining and forestry, the Northeast Community Network (NeCN) has been exploring agriculture as a third staple industry for the region. An Agriculture Steering Committee has been created, funded by various regional partners.

Milinkovich is on the NeCN board of directors. He explained how in the past year or so, Mennonite families from Southern Ontario have been among those purchasing and building on more than 15,000 acres of arable land in Black River-Matheson (see story from back in November here:

Add that to the 184 farms already in production sitting on 75,000 acres in the Cochrane District, and you’ve already got an interesting foundation. But in Milinkovich’s estimation, that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. He said there exists close to 1.2 million acres of privately owned land in the district that remains to be explored.

“I mentioned the potential of those 1.2 million acres?” said Milinkovich. “How many farms is that? I don’t know what it could generate, but I think you can see there’s quite significant potential.”

Though the NeCN’s agriculture project is coloured with optimism for the region and its economy, it is set on a future landscape that is not so rosy.

“Here’s the thing people need to be made aware of: We are in trouble in the world,” Milinkovich told city council. “It’s critically important that any opportunity anywhere in the world that we have to grow food, we must take that opportunity.”

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture estimates the global population will increase by two billion come 2050. To meet that demand, they say the world’s food supply will have to increase by 70%.

A 2010 United Nations report identified that 25% of the world’s farmland has “been lost permanently for various reasons, such as Toronto ever-expanding over the best farmland in North America, if not the world.”

Droughts and warming temperatures have had major effects on traditional farm-rich areas like in the United States’ mid-West, and regions in Africa and Asia.

The agriculture sector has also predictably taken issue with protests against genetically modified organisms (GMO) and foods, stating the resistance slows down the progress of scientific advancement.

For Milinkovich, this potential global food crisis could have a silver lining for Northeastern Ontario and its residents.

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