Build it and they will come

Pump the territory with farming infrastructure, and more farms will follow. This is one of many outcomes promised by a new $5-million federal subsidy for Yukon farms.

Pump the territory with farming infrastructure, and more farms will follow.

This is one of many outcomes promised by a new $5-million federal subsidy for Yukon farms.

“What comes first, the chicken or the egg?” said Yukon Agricultural Association president Mike Blumenschein.

Without more infrastructure, it will be hard to prompt any kind of large-scale farming.

For example, nobody’s going to start raising chickens unless they have a place to slaughter them, he said.

Canada-wide, $1.3 billion will be pumped into agriculture over the next five years.

One of the territorial government’s first forays into farm infrastructure came in 2006, when $175,000 was spent on a mobile slaughterhouse in the hopes of spurring the growth of Yukon livestock ranching.

The slaughterhouse has spent the last three years largely idle, primarily due to tough permit requirements and high user fees.

“It’s been used not as much as it can be,” said Energy, Mines and Resources Minister Brad Cathers.

The mobile unit can transform an animal into half and quarter sections—but stores and restaurants buy meat in smaller forms, such as steaks and ribs, said Blumenschein.

That’s why the territory may also need to build a permanent slaughtering facility, he said.

However, the Yukon wouldn’t have enough meat to run it at full capacity.

“We could use it one week a month, and then just sort of put it into cold storage,” said Blumenschein.

A half-million-dollar “innovation” fund will allow officials to travel to other northern countries to share farming advice. Another half million will help train farmers. “Food safety” initiatives and environmental stewardship will make up the difference.

Nothing is set in stone, and the next year will include a fair bit of “looking at options,” said Cathers.

“Stay tuned for forthcoming announcements,” he said.

A consultant has already been hired to figure everything out.

Some of the money will outfit the Yukon Agricultural Association with a communal armada of heavy-duty farming equipment.

This type of equipment sees so little use by the average farmer, it wouldn’t make sense for them to buy it privately, said Cathers.

There will be a focus on grain and cereal production to create wheat and feed for livestock, added Blumenschein.

Many livestock ranchers are forced to import animal feed from Alberta and Saskatchewan.

“One might say, from a fiscal conservative perspective, that in a perfect world, you might not have government subsidies for agriculture,” said Cathers.

“The reality is, worldwide, agriculture is subsidized by government with the aim of lowering food prices,” he said.

Five million dollars later, Yukon produce may still come at a premium over southern-grown products.

“Even if we’re a little more expensive than what it costs to bring it up the highway, people are spending the extra money to just go with that ‘Yukon grown’ local purchase,” said Blumenschein.

The soil quality of Yukon farms is on par with some southern locations, but agricultural efficiency is hampered by a much shorter growing season

“One thing I’d point out is that, 100 years ago, most of the Yukon’s food supply was either grown here, or hunted, or fished,” said Cathers.

“The territory’s population was as high as it is now, and managed to take care of its own needs through locally grown food,” he said.

“Bullshit,” said Yukon historian Michael Gates.

From the outset, post-contact Yukon settlements were reliant on outside sources of food.

“They imported a lot of canned goods, and dried goods, and they brought their meat in on the hoof and butchered it,” said Gates.

A few vegetable gardens and small-scale farms were in place to supply fresh vegetables, but never enough to support the whole territory, he said.

Contact Tristin Hopper at

tristinh@yukon-news.com