Exciting experiments and new agriculture funding were displayed during a research farm tour on Aug. 30.
The research farm located at the Gunnar Nilsson and Mickey Lammers Research Forest in the Takhini Valley is the site of ongoing experiments focused on testing what varieties of crops grow best in the territory’s unique climate and what methods can be used to help crops thrive in the short growing season and harsh frosts.
Potatoes and beans are planted in a variety of conditions to test fungicide, seasonal coverings and other ways of helping the plants reach maturity.
This year, conditions allowed a row of dwarf cherry plants on the farm to bear fruit, and tests are also ongoing to find taller and more easily pickable haskap berry bushes.
The farm tour also served as a chance for Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources John Streicker to announce some new funding and other programs to support farmers.
Chief among the new initiatives is the recently negotiated replacement for the Canadian Agricultural Partnership (CAP). The $3-billion investment doled out over five years by federal, provincial and territorial governments is coming to an end early next year.
Streicker and Kirk Price, director of the territorial government’s agriculture branch, both spoke to the replacement for CAP, negotiated in a meeting between government officials in charge of agriculture held in Saskatoon earlier this year.
The replacement fund will be called the Sustainable Canadian Agricultural Partnership (SCAP). Streicker said it features a 25 per cent increase in the funds going to farm projects and maintains the same cost-sharing arrangement between the federal and territorial government that CAP had. He added that a guiding principle of SCAP is the increased participation of First Nations, women and youth in agriculture.
The CAP funding benefitted the Yukon significantly, Streicker said, noting that more than $7.5 million went out through CAP in the Yukon.
“I understand that there’s over 475 projects which we’ve invested in and they’ve gone all over the map, from community gardens to markets to farm infrastructure to purchasing of specialized equipment, developing farm business plans and supporting farm labor,” the minister added.
All of the available funding through CAP went out to farm-related projects. Even with the 25-per-cent increase planned, Price anticipates the new funding program will be quickly fully subscribed again.
Yukon Agricultural Association executive director Carl Burgess agreed, saying that he has seen growth in the territory’s agriculture that has matched its rising population. He said meat production is likely the fastest growing area of food production in the territory, estimating a five to 10-fold growth over the past decade in Dawson and a three to 10-fold growth over the same time period in Whitehorse.
Streicker said the agricultural sector in the Yukon is now producing between four and seven per cent of the food it consumes. He said this is up from about two per cent 20 years ago, but that this remains a tough figure to accurately measure.
The minister added the government has released more land for sale to the public this year. He said five agricultural lots of 150 hectares total were released in Pelly, Haines Junction, Marsh Lake, Mayo and the Whitehorse area.
Along with the land for purchase, Streicker also spoke about leasing opportunities that will commence in the next couple of months. He said the leases will be offered south of Whitehorse first, but there are plans to expand the program to other land around the territory that is suitable for leasing.
Price said the initial lease properties in the Marsh Lake area will be relatively small, between five and eight hectares. The application process for the leases is expected to open to the public this fall or winter.
He said the goal of the leases is to reduce the largest up-front cost of starting a farm — the land — allowing producers to spend their money on purchasing equipment and livestock or getting crops in the ground.
The demonstration day at the experimental farm also served as a gathering for farmers from across the territory.
Among them was Ralph Mease who still farms a smaller plot near Mayo after selling most of the nearly 180-acre farm he worked since the 1970s. Despite what was said about growing local food production in the territory, there isn’t as much growing in Mayo as there once was, despite good soil and other conditions. He said he used to turn up as many as 64 gardens for Mayo residents with the rotovator towed behind his tractor but now does only one.
Contact Jim Elliot at [email protected]