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Drainage systems helping crops in Northern Ontario

Soybeans near Rainy River starting to sprout

By Diego Flammini
Assistant Editor, North American Content

Farmers in Ontario’s north usually focus on cattle, but some are shifting to cash crops with the help of modern drainage systems.

Timo Brielmann is one of those farmers.

Along with his father, they own Brielmann Agriculture Limited. He told CBC Thunder Bay that as recently as three springs ago he had 700 cows. He's since sold them all, tiled his farm and switched to cash crops.

A switch that left its impact on the land.

“It’s brutal but it’s getting done,” he said. “When they rip through the land they make these huge bumps and we have to work them down and work the land. Without drainage you couldn’t drive.”

A provincial grant pays for about half of the installation, which Brielmann says can cost about $1,000 per acre.

Brielmann said he’s one of a few farmers, outside of dairy farmers growing crops for feed, who is producing cash crops in the area.

He said weather in Northern Ontario is only one of the reasons that keeps farmers away from trying cash crops.

“It’s just because the weather’s so horrible, and it’s always wet here,” he told CBC’s Jeff Walters. “It always rains. So without tile drainage, you just couldn’t do it.”

In addition, Brielmann said there aren’t any machinery dealers around so he’s forced to go to Manitoba to purchase equipment and parts.

“It’s a logistic nightmare,” he said.

Even though cash crops allows him to take a break in the winter, Brielmann said there’s aspects of the old cattle operation he misses.

“I miss cutting hay. I miss baling hay. But there’s other fun things to do in the summer.”

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