Sometime in the middle of July, about 50 to 100 Russian farmers will be driving around Kawartha Lakes.
They won’t be driving aimlessly – they’re actually on a tight timeline and it’s a fully guided tour. They’ve only got six days and a massive area of Ontario and Quebec to explore – including two days here in Kawartha Lakes.
Most of the attendees on this journey are farmers or processors from Russia, along with some government officials, regional authorities, companies offering solutions for milk producers and processors, and federal and regional media. It has all been organized by the Russian DairyNews.
Russia has undergone a sea-change in their agricultural industry. The former Soviet Union enforced the collectivization of its agricultural sector during the time of leader Joseph Stalin. Later, the country struggled to transform from a command economy to a market-oriented system, following the splintering of Soviet Union boundaries in 1991.
‘Perestroika’ (restructuring) was a shock wave of change for rural Russia. Suddenly the massive collective and state farms had a transition to make to a market-oriented economy, which began with the privatization of land and farm assets.
Now, according to Kelly Maloney, agriculture development officer for Economic Development at the City of Kawartha Lakes, they’re all “very, very big.”
“They’re so big they are corporations there, with farm managers,” says Maloney. In fact, the average size of former state-run farms in Russia, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, is 12,500 acres. The average size in Kawartha Lakes (factoring all types of farms) is 249 acres.
“But they haven’t developed all the things we take for granted here – all the things the Province does here as the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs. “That education piece, the know-how, isn’t really being delivered for them. The media seems to be doing some of it, such as events like this,” says Maloney.
The event is essentially a motor rally, something they do in Russia each year. Last year the group was in Siberia with three team members from Ontario.
But this is their first time they are going to do a similar tour outside of their own country. The event members are looking forward to renting individual cars and driving across this swath of Canada to get a sense of the land, its people, and how things are organized here. It will be their first time out of Russia.
The trip begins in Montreal, where they will get their rental cars and decorate them across the hoods. The name for the tour is Way for Milk. There will be Ontario participants, too, to help guide the week-long tour July 15-21, with the Kawartha Lakes portion occurring July 17-18.
After seeing some western Quebec farms, the farmers will drive through eastern Ontario, with stops along the way, and then five coordinated stops in Kawartha Lakes over two days — Grasshill Farm, Bobcaygeon; Kawartha Dairy, Bobcaygeon; Mariposa Dairy, Lindsay; Kawartha Holsteins, Lindsay; and Green Tractors, near Omemee. The City of Kawartha Lakes will be there as part of an organizing committee.
Maloney says the City will definitely be ensuring there are farmers from Kawartha Lakes area on the tour. The farmers are most looking forward to the evenings when there is more free time to simply connect and learn.
“In the evening, when they have time to chat, it’s our farmers they want to talk to. It’s so different than their corporate-owned farms that they’re hungry for the information – just to understand our way of life.”
Maloney says it’s the family nature of ownership that interests them. “They want to know about our Sundays, and learn how many of us go to church on that day, since they’re starting to get back into church life.”
(Under the old communist traditions, ‘state atheism,’ as it is now referred, was a government-sponsored movement toward atheism to break the power of religious institutions.)
Maloney says the Russian visitors want to see both large and small-scale farms. In Russia, there are thousands of cows on a single, average farm.
Export Development Initiative
Kawartha Lakes has had an export development initiative since 2010-11. According to the City, Leading Livestock Genetics (LLG) Breeders Alliance is a livestock export initiative supported by the City of Kawartha Lakes and the Region of Durham.
The Alliance was formed in 2013 with the intent of improving profitability, herd health, marketing experience, and expanding global market opportunities through effective marketing, education, research and promotion and promotes the export of superior livestock genetics from this area.
When the BSE outbreak (commonly known as Mad Cow Disease) occurred elsewhere in Canada it had an effect on farming export markets in general, says Maloney. That’s why LLG is trying to re-establish new export markets – like the Caribbean, Mexico, South America, East Asia, including Russia — which has taken many years.
“Within that time frame of the outbreak, export markets matured and other nations had moved in to fill the void,” says Maloney. Once that occurred, Canada needed to identify new markets.
The LLG can offer Canadian and North American manufacturers the equipment they would need, and an education component.
The main goal of LLG is developing export sales for local businesses. She says the east central Ontario region, for instance, is really well known for its dairy breeding stock. While farmers would get the majority of their income from selling their milk, the ‘gravy’ money they earn comes from breeding stock sales.
“If they need to build a new barn or have some other larger project then that extra income really comes from breeding stock sales. It really helps change this from an industry that survives to one that thrives,” says Maloney.
Maloney says when farmers sell a product the multiplier effect is 2.2. So for every dollar sold there’s a spin-off of other economic benefits to the region that’s more than double the initial outlay.
“When farms do well, it helps our whole community do well.”
In the meantime, in mid-July, a Russian delegation of farmers will learn about what success looks like for small farms (and big processors, like Mariposa Dairy) right here in Kawartha Lakes.
“Although there are magnitudes of scale differences with the large, corporate, non-family-based dairy farms in Russia, there are definitely benefits they seek from Ontario in herd management, feeding equipment, genetic development and data management,” Maloney says.
That’s something our experts will be hoping to provide as the Way for Milk makes its way through Kawartha Lakes.
Fast facts on farms in Kawartha Lakes
- Home to about 1,265 farms
- Kawartha Lakes farms are still primarily family businesses
- 89.9 per cent are either sole proprietorships or partnerships, and only 1.3% of farms are non-family corporations. Most notably, the number of family corporations has almost doubled with 8.7% of businesses now held by family corporations, up from 4.9% in 2011.