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The Value of Farmland

Printed in REAL Living magazine's Winter 2023 edition.

Dawn Farm winter pasture view.

As you drive around Elgin County, you are sure to see farmland – and lots of it! Back in the summer, you might’ve looked out your window and seen lush, green fields. But this time of year, perhaps you hardly glance at what appears to be barren land, sitting vacant without a purpose.

Despite what it may seem, farmland provides value every day of every year! From spring to fall, the fields in Elgin grow a wide variety of crops – everything from soybeans to asparagus! Being in Southwestern Ontario, our county is home to many crops that can’t grow anywhere else in Canada.

Though food production is an obvious, vital use of farmland (no farmland = no food!), there are many more benefits from this land. For example, many fields are home to a section of Carolinian Forest, a unique ecosystem in Canada with uncommon species like sassafras, Kentucky coffeetree, and tulip-tree. These forests provide many ecosystem services – sequestering carbon, providing shade, releasing oxygen, and moderating water levels in the watershed.

Farmland also provides food and shelter for the variety of wildlife in Elgin. Treed windbreaks on farmland provide winter browse for deer and act as year-round corridors for animals travelling between sections of forest. And let’s not forget the wildlife below the ground! Soil is a living medium, home to countless microorganisms. These organisms, though slower in the winter, work year-round to cycle nutrients, break down crop residues, and build soil organic matter.

As you continue driving, you’ll notice not every field is bare. Winter wheat, orchards, alfalfa, permanent pasture, and cover crops have living roots over winter, holding the soil in place and protecting it from wind and water erosion. Crop residues left on the surface also perform this important duty.

Though you may not see as many farmers in the fields this time of year, farmland is what keeps us employed 365 days a year. In the winter, farmers and employees continue to care for livestock, fix equipment, plan for the new year, and many other jobs. In Elgin alone, the agri-food sector employed 5310 people as of 2021!

Another joy of farmland is its use for recreation in every season. Hunting, hiking, photography, nature-watching, or simply enjoying the best view of your commute - farmland provides for everyone.

Lastly, the beauty of farmland is a treasure in every season. The sight of a vibrant sunset is priceless, whether it is over acres of glowing green seedlings in spring; golden heads of wheat in summer; brilliant orange pumpkins in fall; or a snowy-white field in winter.

When you’re out for a country drive this winter, I encourage you to think about the value of farmland in every season and enjoy the view!

Abbey Taylor is an intern at the Elgin Business Resource Centre in St. Thomas. She is a fourth-year student in the Bachelor of Science in Agribusiness program at Olds College.

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