prairie grain elevator seen against a setting sun

Agriculture in Canada 

What is being written is a push pull of personal experiences and readings over the past 5 decades. Most recent impressions come from an 80 day road trip across Canada, currently stopping throughout Nova Scotia, since mid-May 2022.

Through the 1900’s, across the Prairies, many towns and villages owed their existence to train tracks to railway stations and grain elevators.  The elevators, numbering from afew to about 1/2 dozen would have been about 15 m (45 ft) square and about 30 m (100 ft) tall.  Individual farm families would go to town to purchase equipment and parts followed months later by driving the loaded wagons or 2 ton trucks a few hours, to be then off -loaded at the elevators. 

Starting in the 1980’s into 2022, the elevators have been dismantled. The train stations have no less been torn down.  Farms, once averaging 160 acres (70 H) now run 6,000 – 8000 acres, or larger. Individual farms have their own metal grain silos, 12 m round x 24 m high in size with 4 – 10 silos per farm.  The haul trucks, used to transport the grains to major shipping ports, 100’s of km. away are the size of a normal long haul transport truck. Across the Prairies, I often saw 3 or more such trucks parked at the farms. 

A related side note, is to realize that on the farms and or in long haul trucking, there is an extreme shortage of drivers (male or female) Women, until about 30 years ago were not encouraged to drive anything larger than the one ton truck to get equipment parts at the nearest supplier.

From the collection sites, individual train cars, as in years past are filled with the grains. On more than one occassion, I counted in excess of 200 train cars. Collectively, the cars stretched approximately 2 km. in lenght. The grain trains could be heading to Thunder Bay Ontario or to Vancouver B.C.  Loaded ocean freighters then delivered their grain cargos to other ports around the world.

Through South and Eastern Ontario, into the St. Lawrence Valley of Quebec, then into New Brunswick, flat land is worked into more crops of human and animal foods.  Huge buildings, 100 m x 20 m., some 2 stories are the modern day animal production facilities with the products being beef, milk, chickens and eggs.  Factory farms in Canada operate from the labour of temporary foreign farm workers.  Increasingly, automated equipment brings feed to the animals, collect the eggs and milks the cows.  COVID closures have severely cut down on the number of workers coming into Canada to enable the planting then harvest of many crops.

Nova Scotia, much akin to the rest of Canada, has about 1/3 of the landscape used for agriculture. The Annapolis Valley, has the soils, moisture and warmth for a range of agriculture.  Forests and tidal marshes these past 250 years have been turned into grass lands for grain crops and pasture land for beef cattle growing. On the sloped lands, orchards, continue to produce apples and pears. The varieties of trees have changed over the years. Most recently, juice production has lead to the total replanting of old orchards.  30 years ago, other south facing slopes became significant in the production of grapes for wine production.  Even newer, the past 10 years has been the introduction of Haskap Berries. They are for juice, wines and edible fruit.

Many of the small weekend farm markets will have private vendors selling their meats, berries and juices (often fermented).  Mainstream meat retailers purchase their carcasses from sellers in Alberta. Their arguement is that western grain and grass fed beef are more tender than the leg cuts coming from Nova Scotian cattle roaming the hills.    

Another change noticed, is that the counter space for cuts of red meats (steaks, roasts, burger ) is at least 10 times greater than the space set aside for fish / lobster / scallops.  The volume of retail space set aside for red meats / chicken, pork I recall as total opposite from 40 years ago! 

Within Aquatic Agriculture, farmed Atlantic Salmon command 90% of the fish being sold.  

In 2022, world and regional news at some time in the week, have reported on the existing food supply crisis, being more severe, depending on location and economic status. Canada’s grain crops are now, just a few weeks old. Animals have been born / hatched and are now also just a few weeks old.  Automated farmed – industrial chickens can reach market ready in 42 days. Old time, chickens from hatch to dispatch scratched the grounds, looking for insects, slugs, snakes for 150++ days before slaughter.

In closing, I reflect on a comment shared by a food vendor at a Farm Market – “You are / become what you eat! “

North Americans: over 50% now weigh in at being grossly overweight – obese, no different than the animals which they eat. They sit at their desks, in their bedrooms or office cubicles not being much different from how industrialized feed animals are housed.  Increasingly, these past 10++ years, feed is delivered to the humans on strofoam trays, liquids in individual serving cups, along assembly – delivery lines, no different from the feed delivery to industrial animals.

Top image credit: Grain elevator by Jason Woodhead via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)

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