After a full on day of quizzes, interviews and a dairy farm tour; I was in the evening, at the Rural Youth State Ball 2011, granted the most amazing opportunity to travel to the province of Ontario in Canada for up to three months.
For the following few months nothing in my life changed and despite the constant emails from organisers based in Canada, it didn't sink in that in May 2012 I would be travelling around the world! Id decided to travel for eight weeks. I finished up at work on Tuesday May 22nd and with a day of goodbyes and final preparations; I left Hobart on May 24th for Sydney. After a night there, I boarded my Air Canada flight for Toronto. 18 hours aboard the same aeroplane then prevailed with a brief stop in Vancouver, Canada the only proper chance to stretch my legs.
After a few nervous moments finding my bags and then not being able to find my arranged pick up person, I eventually saw a sign reading "Welcome Dale" and I was on my way! Lara from Switzerland, the first of my exchange companions had already arrived earlier and together we were chauffeured to our first hosts, around 2 hours south of Toronto in a relatively big town called Ancaster. The following day the third exchangee, Katie from England, arrived and for the following week, we all recovered from our jetlag (of which I was most affected), got to know each other and begun exchange activities. During the first week we visited construction sites and various high end housing locations to check out how the rich people in Canada live, we also went to an open range zoo, local scenic tourist sites and a terrific farmers market. Spending a night at the drive in movie theatre was also a highlight!
During the second week of exchange, two more girls, Emma from Northern Ireland and Amy from England, joined the exchange group. Their first day was a trip to Niagara Falls, which are a truly amazing sight to see. The 6 million litres of water going over the falls every second is unimaginable until you are there!
For the next 6 weeks we all travelled together, staying with a new Junior Farmers of Ontario club each week, visiting many various types of farming enterprises across Southern Ontario. We completed organised tours of a wide range of farms including asparagus, corn, strawberry, tobacco and potato. Livestock farms included chickens, sheep, beef, lamb, various dairy parlours and even a water buffalo meat and milking facility.
We visited cheese factories, using milk from cows, goats, buffalo and even sheep.
Other highlights included visiting Canada's biggest John Deere Dealership, an Ice Sculpture Factory that exports globally and touring the grain elevators storing navy beans, which are the bean used for baked beans. Huron County in South Eastern Ontario is responsible for production of over 90% of the world's navy beans. We also visited greenhouses, some covering over 50 acres and seeing fields of corn, some covering over 500 acres was amazing.
Late in my exchange we were allowed a week off to do our own travels and Lara and I decided to visit Montreal, in the heart of French Canada. The week provided travel at our own leisure, the chance to do some shopping and to experience life in a non English speaking community.
Throughout the trip, there were a few main farming and social issues that became frequent topics of conversation. These included:
Green Power. Toronto's ever growing need for more electricity has forced the government to search for more options for power. Wind Farms are popping up across Southern Ontario, miles from Toronto, with many more being planned. Their efficiency and effectiveness is hotly debated along with the government's policies of where they can and cannot be located. The closure of coal and nuclear power plants that have previously had millions spent on them to reduce their carbon footprint has also created backlash amongst locals.
We were lucky enough to see new green technologies in late stages of construction; we viewed three anaerobic digester units which work on the principal of turning methane gas from livestock manure, as well as other natural scraps, into usable power to be returned to the power grid.
Solar power is also a growing trend in new farm construction with the government paying over the top amounts for green power to be placed into the grid by farmers, with input costs per kilowatt of power, well exceeding the price in which the same power is charged to the public upon delivery. Farmers are taking advantage of this and covering roofs of barns and sheds with panels.
Milk Prices and Quota Canada has a highly policed Milk Quota system based on the population's milk usage. This allows a dairy farmer to produce only as much as his quota allows. For this reason some dairy farmers are milking as little as 30 cows, as that's all their quota allows. All farmers are paid the same rate for milk per litre and this price is set up to 12 months in advance, therefore guaranteeing a farmer an income into the foreseeable future. All dairy farmers agree that this rate is quite good, but the Canadian general public whinge that they pay too much for milk. Every dairy farmer we spoke with was trying to increase quota and milk more cows, but with the competition, this proves to be really difficult. Dairy Farmers are for this reason spending money on other things including improving their assets or buying land, as they bid unsuccessfully on quota. The money spent on asset improving and increased competition in buying land then leads to farmers in non dairy farming backgrounds to blame dairy farmers for increasing land prices that are artificially inflated compared to real land value. We also saw many examples where brand new milk barns and parlours have been constructed capable of milking over 300 cows, but these barns are milking around 70 cows. This was clear over capitalisation, caused by the guaranteed high milk price. Many of the same dairy farmers have plans in place too should the milk quota system be abolished for a free trade system, as is the case in Australia. Should the system be abolished, most farmers plan to greatly increase their herd size in order to be able to flood the market with milk at a non guaranteed price.
Corn Prices. From the first day we arrived in Ontario we noticed the abundance of maize crops. Some fields pushed out beyond 500 acres of corn and we were lucky enough to see the corn from the stage of planting, right up to the point of harvest. Some crops exceeded 9 feet in height.
Before planting crops, farmers were worried about what success they would receive. This worry was based on the back of a winter-spring season which saw temperatures hit 20 degrees and bring trees out of hibernation before temperatures again plummeted below zero again, with the frosts killing budding trees and dropping soil temperature well below the average for the time of year. This odd season had virtually ruined cherry and many apple crops and provided a great deal of uncertainty around planting time for the corn.
Following this odd spring season, one of the driest summer seasons on record followed and this dryness was felt right across Canada and the US. Almost every one of our days in Ontario saw high humidity and mid 30's temperatures and no rain, this put stress on the corn crop. The US was hit even harder and midway through our time in Ontario it had become evident that the US's corn crop was almost ruined. Quality rain was had across Ontario on almost the same day that the news that the maize trading price had hit a new global record high, based on the prevailing shortage. This rain provided great relief for Ontario's corn, with many croppers labelling the saving rain as "million dollar rain" as it then provided the chance to provide high levels of income for farmers.
The people I met and the knowledge I gained in Canada provided the experience of a lifetime. Anybody thinking about travelling should definitely consider a Rural Youth exchange, as the ability to stay in real families and live like the locals, provides a travel experience like none other. I'd like to thank the Rural Youth Organisation of Tasmania for providing such an amazing opportunity.
2012 Canadian Exchange