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Agricultural links to be strengthened via FedNor funding

Northern Ontario Farm Innovation Alliance using funds to find sector efficiencies

Improving networking in Northern Ontario’s agricultural sector is front and centre when it comes to $407,195 in federal funding awarded to the Northern Ontario Farm Innovation Alliance (NOFIA). 

So described the non-profit organization’s president, Yves Gauthier, during an Aug. 12 media event hosted by FedNor at the Collège Boréal greenhouses in Sudbury to announce the funding.

“Most of it is for new projects,” he said. “We have a big undertaking where we want to make an asset management plan on agriculture where we find out all of Northern Ontario’s greatest assets.”

Between what’s being produced in-field and what value-added work is taking place, the effort will strive to “find out what is all available in this area and merge them so they’re working more together.”

Northern Ontario’s agricultural sector consists of pockets of activity, which will benefit greatly from improved links between them, he said. 

Pulling cheese plants aside as an example, he said, “If we can get the small plants that pop up throughout Northern Ontario to work together to set up trucking or cooling facilities, we want to find that out.”

“We want to create some kind of marriage between different companies. It’d be better for the environment and better for the plants themselves, to succeed.”

It’s anticipated the program takes three to four years to set up, he said. 

“We just got approved for the money, so we’re going to get at it soon enough, but it’s an aggressive program … but it’s an exciting one.”

The Northern Ontario Farm Innovation Alliance formed in 2014 following a meeting at Gauthier’s house at which government officials sought a central agency to direct agriculture-sector dollars.

This effort has ballooned during subsequent years, Gauthier said, and their projects are funded not only by FedNor but also those who work in the agricultural sector, who have opted to put some “skin in the game.”

The organization is described as providing “a research and innovation infrastructure for agriculture in Northern Ontario by creating partnerships with various groups to research, innovate and commercialize agricultural products and technologies for effective use in Northern Ontario.”

In addition to the new networking efforts, the funding the alliance received is poised to “advance agricultural research and innovation in Northern Ontario through market and infrastructure development and applied research tailored to the needs of farmers’ operations,” according to a news release issued by FedNor. 

It’s anticipated that 20 full-time jobs will be created and 40 existing positions will be maintained and that their latest round of efforts help expand or modernize 150 existing businesses and help create six new businesses.

A series of sector workshops, training sessions and Farm Day events across the region will take place, and the alliance will continue to host the annual Northern Ontario Ag Conference that brings producers and researchers together to share their research and best practices in agriculture. 

Other efforts include such things as a pilot program that looks at alternative uses for recycling plastic hay-baling materials, which can otherwise contribute to landfill waste.

Today’s funding announcement included comments by Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau and local Liberal MPs Viviane Lapointe (Sudbury) and Marc Serré (Nickel Belt).