Nov 7, 2011 by Scott Garvey

Striking agricultural gold in the Yukon

The
northern lights have seen queer sights but the queerest they ever did
see, was… an agriculture conference in the subarctic, maybe? At
least that what I would have thought a few weeks before I was invited
to Whitehorse to be a guest speaker at one.

Now,
as I sit in the Vancouver airport on my way home waiting for a
connecting flight (my 16th so far this year), I have to think what a
great opportunity it was to attend that event.

I
was asked to talk to Yukon producers about farm machinery. Hopefully,
I left them with some useful information, but I’m sure I left the
territory with more new knowledge than I left behind. That’s because
most of what I knew about the Yukon before this trip I learned from
Robert Service! Considering he published those infamous Klondike
poems around 1907, I was a little out of touch, to say the least.

And
by the way, I should apologize to him for using one of his
well-crafted lines to do something as unpoetic as open this blog
post.

The
Yukon conference was organized by the Agriculture Branch of the
territorial government. Staff there are busily trying to boost local
food production and lure more northerners into the farming
profession. As I understand it, there are currently about 160
producers in the region; and despite the fact it’s such a small
group, they are pretty diversified, raising beef, pork and poultry,
along with growing vegetables and even some short-season cereals.
Most of them are market gardeners working on a relatively small
scale.

Consumers
in the Yukon—like everywhere else—have developed a taste for
fresh, locally-grown food, and they’re willing to pay for it. Most
farm commodities grown there are sold right at the farm gate or at a
farmers’ market, and they’re netting some good returns. Talking with
a few people at the conference, I was able to get an idea of just how
much: $4.50 a pound for a hanging side of pork—not cut and wrapped.
$6.50 a pound for chicken. Even though feed costs are high, most
agree those numbers pencil out pretty well.

There
are some unique challenges to be overcome when farming that far
north, though. One example was the beef producer who told me he
preferred Texas Longhorn cattle because their horns allowed them to
fight off wolves, which have cost him several animals over the years.

From
a machinery standpoint, things aren’t easy either. There are only a
Kubota and a Bobcat dealer in the region, so the choice of new
tractors is limited, if you want to buy locally. Getting implements
is even harder. Most of those I spoke to told me they were using some
pretty old machines, and they were eager to talk about how to get
their hands on more equipment. Finding it is one thing, but getting
it to the Yukon in a cost-efficient manner is the real trick.

On
my 6:20 AM return flight from Whitehorse to Vancouver, I had a chance
to see the sunrise on the southern horizon; as I looked back north
out the window of the plane, it was still night in the Yukon. They
may have to endure long hours of winter darkness; but in large part
it’s those endless days of summer sunshine that make growing cereal
crops possible, even as far north as Dawson City.

So
I have to say thanks to Brad, Matt and Tony at the Yukon Agriculture
Branch for giving me the chance to go north for the first time. I
think I even saw the marge of Lake LeBarge from the plane on the way
in.

Scott Garvey

Scott Garvey


Grainews' machinery editor Scott Garvey follows trends and innovation in equipment technology, takes a look at new farm machinery offerings, tracks their performance and goes into the workshop to find better ways to keep them up and running.


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