Officials and farmers hope an agriculture project taking place in Cormack will help lessen fuel and grain costs for the province’s farm operations in the future.
Rideout’s farm now has a few acres of wheat growing on a piece of land where potatoes once grew. It’s a pilot project co-funded by the province’s agrifoods agency to determine whether wheat can be grown by Newfoundland farmers to help supply grain in the face of rising costs.
Rideout said many farmers share the view that grain costs are one of the biggest challenges facing the farming industry today.
Grain is brought in from other parts of the country, and in some cases from the United States, which means it is subject to a host of factors such as ferry and fuel costs. Officials hope to show that wheat can be grown here, allowing farmers to supply their own and bringing costs down — not just for them, but for consumers.
“I would say the costs of grain for us has probably gone up by about 30 per cent in the past (few years),” said Rideout as he got out of a truck that receives harvested grain from a new combine harvester.
“This is a step forward if we can make this work. There are a lot of benefits.”
The dairy farmer said those benefits include grain cost savings, but also locally grown food for calves, which eat the straw for digestive health. The straw can also provide cheap bedding for the animals.
The wheat was planted last year strictly as a means of discovering if and how it could be done, according to Vanessa Kavanagh of Corner Brook, who studied agriculture in Alberta and came back home after her studies for this kind of work.
The program’s aim is to figure out the best ways to plant, grow, harvest and store grain for the geographic location, without forcing farmers to go it alone in the process.
She said there isn’t a timeline yet as to when the pilot project may expand beyond the first stages, although one field over from this site, wheat seeds are already planted for next year.
“We’re at the beginning here, we just really are trying figure out the challenges of doing this, but if we succeed we can solve a lot of problems,” she said. “Obviously climate is a factor and a shorter growing season and we’re also looking at whether disease could be a factor, and which types.”
Other challenges include wild animals, she said, as moose and caribou have been showing up at the field to graze on the wheat. Kavanagh figures they may have lost about one per cent of the harvest, with the animals either eating or lying down in the field, crushing wheat stalks.
Kavanagh said there were two types of wheat planted as part of the experimental program to see which one may be best suited for the climate.
The seed and fertilizer were provided by the department, with the manpower and equipment provided by Rideout’s farm. Once harvested, Rideout’s will get use of the grain and straw.
The project has had international involvement as well, as they have been consulting with European countries such the United Kingdom and the Scandinavian nations.
“They have the same challenges as we do here for farming, and we are all working together to figure out how to solve the problems that we all face,” she said.
Wheat started being experimented with in the early 1990s with what Kavanagh called “strip trials.”
Minister of Natural Resources Tom Marshall was on hand for the presentation Tuesday morning and said he hoped the project may one day make Newfoundland farms as self-sufficient as possible. He also pointed out that the project could also be a job creator for young Newfoundlanders, helping either keep them home or bring them back here.
Humber West MHA Vaughn Granter also attended Tuesday’s demonstration.
The project includes several other farms in the province — locally and near St. John’s — but officials say the Cormack area was the first to be planted with wheat.
The Western Star