Project Proposal and Overview Maps

This map shows the Northern Livestock Pilot area, which includes the area from Hearst to Cochrane in Northeastern Ontario along Highway 11. The map also shows eight proposed pilot sites, including five proposed sites in the Township of Opasatika and three in the Municipality of Val Rita-Harty. The map also has an inset map of the Province of Ontario that shows the Northern Livestock Pilot area.

This map shows the Township of Opasatika and Municipality of Val Rita-Harty and eight proposed pilot sites. This includes five proposed sites in the Township of Opasatika and three in the Municipality of Val Rita-Harty.

Proposed Pilot Sites Using Crown Land - Project Proposal

Purpose and Rationale

The Agricultural Research Institute of Ontario (ARIO), an agency of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), is seeking approval for the disposition of Crown land, through sale and patent of eight pilot sites in the municipalities of Opasatika (five proposed pilot sites) and Val Rita-Harty (three proposed pilot sites). The purpose of requesting these dispositions is for the lands to be used for livestock farming. The intent is that the lands will ultimately be held privately for this purpose. Requests for Crown land dispositions are subject to the requirements of the Public Lands Act, related policies, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry's (MNRF) Resource Stewardship and Facility Development Class Environmental Assessment (RSFD Class EA), and Duty to Consult.

The proposed use of Crown land is just one element of the overall Northern Livestock Pilot (NLP). The NLP will help jumpstart livestock expansion in the north by undertaking research and demonstration, developing new information, tools and resources, and supporting access to private land and a limited amount of Crown land.

Diversifying economies in the north is a government priority. The province's Growth Plan for Northern Ontario (GPNO) and, more specifically, the Northern Ontario Agri-Food Strategy (the Northern Agri-Food Strategy), provide the foundation to advance the government's efforts towards meaningful economic opportunities in Ontario's north.

To advance these efforts, the Ontario government is exploring opportunities and potential partnerships to expand livestock production in northern Ontario. Northern Ontario is well positioned to be a key player in the growth of strong local and regional food systems and a strategic place where food will be grown to feed Ontario and the world in the years ahead.

Building on the GPNO, regional economic development initiatives for the north, and the Northern Agri-Food Strategy, the NLP aims to:

  • Diversify northern economies and enhance economic development opportunities;
  • Build strong healthy and vibrant Northern Ontario communities;
  • Establish partnerships to develop the livestock sector in Northern Ontario;
  • Build upon a new relationship and a new spirit of partnership with Indigenous peoples; and
  • Utilize best in class environmental and production practices.

The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) is leading the NLP on behalf of government. As a pilot initiative under the Northern Agri-Food Strategy, OMAFRA is taking a deliberate and considered approach that:

  • Is informed by research that examines potential environmental, economic and social aspects of expanding livestock production in the north;
  • Fulfils the Crown's Duty to Consult obligations, respecting Aboriginal and Treaty rights, and build meaningful relationships with Ontario's Indigenous people;
  • Is founded on collaboration, working with municipal, industry and other partners; and
  • Is transparent and inclusive, recognizing there are existing sectors that provide economic benefit to the region. OMAFRA will balance multiple interests and provide opportunities for a range of perspectives to be heard.

Government-led elements of the NLP include research, the development of information resources, and a proposal to establish pilot sites for livestock farming utilizing a limited amount of Crown land. Eight candidate pilot sites comprised of Crown land have been identified. These proposed pilot sites are located within the municipalities of Opasatika (five proposed sites) and Val Rita-Harty (three proposed sites), and range in size from approximately 2,000 total acres to approximately 5,100 total acres (809 to 2,063 hectares). The proposed pilot sites will support livestock expansion in the region, provide opportunities for research, collaboration, and demonstration of best management production practices.

Crown land pilot sites were identified based on a robust set of considerations that included, among other things, soils suitable for livestock production, areas outside the Caribou Range Boundary, and Crown land within Municipal boundaries. OMAFRA's agency, the ARIO, has applied to MNRF for the disposition (sale and patent) for all eight Crown land pilot sites, with the intent that lands will ultimately be held privately for livestock farming. The disposition of Crown land (sale and patent) is subject to the requirements of the Public Lands Act, related Crown land policies, MNRF's RSFD Class EA, and the Crown's Duty to Consult. OMAFRA, on behalf of ARIO, will undertake these processes.

In addition to being used for livestock farms, the pilot sites also provide an opportunity to undertake research, demonstration and environmental monitoring, such as water and soil quality. This information is an important element of the NLP. OMAFRA has initiated a robust research program to better understand potential impacts and inform the development best management practices (BMPs).


The United Nations is projecting that by 2050 the world's population will reach 9.1 billion, 70 percent of which will live in urban areas benefitting from rising income levels. In their "How to Feed the World in 2050" report , the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations has concluded that in order to feed this larger, richer, and more urban population, net food production must increase by 70 percent. This increased demand for food will include greater consumption of meat.

Northern Ontario provides an opportunity to expand livestock production to meet increased demand, locally, provincially and globally. This opportunity is in part due to:

  • A steady warming trend having a positive impact on the growing season and total heat available to support plant growth (e.g. pasture, hay, grains and canola)
  • Improvements in agricultural technologies that support livestock production in areas that may have been less successful in the past (e.g. advancements in tile drainage to improve forage yields and bale-wrapping hay for storing feed in the winter)
  • More attractive land prices compared to southern Ontario, providing less of a barrier for entry or expansion of agriculture, particularly livestock

The NLP supports northern Ontario in pursing the development and expansion of local and regional food systems. Access to local, affordable and nutritious food in parts of northern Ontario can be a challenge, particularly for many remote and Indigenous communities. Access to affordable and nutritious food will provide better health outcomes, while at the same time, offer opportunities to engage and retain youth in food production.

Proposed Livestock Production Model and Site Development Considerations

Proposed Livestock Production Model:

There are a range of livestock production methods that could be considered. One example that has high potential for being suitable to northern conditions, and is being considered in the pilot, is a low density, grass / forage fed, cow-calf production model. This system requires approximately 8-10 acres of grazing land per animal. In northern Ontario, a scale that is economically viable for this production model is approximately 150-200 cows, requiring approximately 2,000 acres of agriculturally productive lands per farm. It is anticipated that this size of operation can support a farm family of five.

Benefits of an integrated low density, forage-based livestock production model, as noted by industry experts , include:

  • Improved soil nutrients and quality through nutrient flows, nitrogen fixation from legume forages, year-long soil cover (reduces nutrient leaching), enhanced microbial diversity from livestock manure. These benefits reduce dependence on fertilizers and herbicides, which are commonly used in other crop production (e.g. grains and oilseeds)
  • Reduced erosion and improved drainage through year-round soil coverage, which enhances water infiltration, reduces erosion and nutrient leaching, improved porosity of soils (increases infiltration, drainage and soil resilience during drought)
  • Maintains biodiversity by providing habitat for small mammals, grassland birds and pollinators, as well as some species at risk
  • Effective weed control by removing undesirable species, reducing the spread of weed seeds and reduced prevalence of herbicide resistance (forages require little to no herbicides)

Based on this example, the following site considerations and improvements have been applied to the proposed Crown land pilot sites:

Potential Site Development Considerations:

Herd Size:

  • 200 cow-calf operation and 400 transitional backgrounders (early spring to late fall)
  • Animals are overwintered on pasturelands, which requires some tree cover to remain (e.g. silvopasture model). An amount of 30% tree coverage on pastured areas has been applied.
  • Requires approx. 2,000 productive acres

Basic Infrastructure and Facilities:

  • Basic infrastructure includes: house; implement shed; feed storage; animal handling area and small barn for calving, weaning and sick animals
  • Requires energy and communications (e.g. hydro or alternative energy such as wind, solar, generators; phone and/or proximity to cell or satellite towers) and well drilling

Hay and Pasture:

  • Areas for hay production requires proximity to basic infrastructure, road and field access; requires tile draining and tree clearing
  • Areas for pasture requires fencing (e.g. around sensitive areas / waterways, fenced paddocks), tree clearing (30% tree coverage to remain for overwintering, windbreak, shade / silvopasture model), water for herd (pumped) and access within site for moving cattle
  • Tile drainage: Priority for installing tile drainage will likely be areas used for hay. The tile drainage system would be designed and installed by a licenced drainage contractor. The number and location of outlets will be determined by the drainage system layout and typography of the land. Consideration will be given to designing the system so that drainage is processed through a natural filtration system, such as outletting into wetland, riparian areas or other natural filtration, before entering the waterways.

Buffers and Corridors:

  • Buffers from watercourses and wetlands have been applied to maintain natural heritage features in the area, such as wildlife corridors, while allowing development of other areas for agricultural activity
  • Fencing required around buffered areas to separate livestock from wildlife, while allowing for movement of wildlife through the pilot site corridors
  • Requires access across corridor / buffered areas to allow for farming practices (e.g. movement of cattle and equipment within the pilot site)

Potential Environmental Impacts and Mitigation

Crown land dispositions are subject to the requirements of the Public Lands Act, MNRF's RSFD Class EA, and related policies intended to identify potential environmental impacts. Public input is being sought to identify, and potentially address such impacts and inform mitigation approaches that could be considered.

Agriculture is a regulated industry. As a primarily land based activity, reducing environmental impacts from agriculture is important to the sector. Producers of agricultural commodities take their role as environmental stewards seriously and recognize the connection between good stewardship and operational viability. Healthy soil and water are paramount to successful farm operations. Farmers will be less productive if the soil or water they rely on is degraded.

Legislative, regulatory and best management frameworks exist to govern and mitigate potential environmental impacts. Refer to Appendix 1 for a list of existing frameworks and best management practices and tools.

Research and Benchmarking Studies

A robust research program is an important component of the NLP. OMAFRA will undertake research and data collection to inform information resources and tools to support livestock producers. OMAFRA will work with a number of organizations and potential partners to inform and/or participate in the research program and development of potential new BMPs specific to northern conditions. The proposed Crown land pilot sites could be used as host sites for research, demonstration and development of BMPs.

As part of the research component of the NLP, projects will be undertaken to understand the environmental, social and economic aspects of livestock expansion in northern Ontario. Research priorities include:

  • Understanding the changes in soil carbon and greenhouse gas (GHG) dynamics through land conversion;
  • Understanding how soil and water dynamics change through land conversion;
  • Modeling the GHG impacts for the proposed beef production system (as referenced above) and identifying potential mitigation measures to offset those impacts;
  • Understanding potential barriers to establishing livestock farms in the Great Clay Belt; and
  • A northern Ontario and Quebec cow/calf benchmarking study.

In addition, OMAFRA will be initiating a Stage 1 Archaeological Assessment in the pilot site area.

Appendix 1

Existing Legislative Frameworks and Best Management Practices

Key Legislative Requirements

Nutrient Management Act (NMA)

One of the key legislative frameworks that mitigates potential impacts from livestock production in Ontario is the Nutrient Management Act (NMA). The NMA regulates the management of manure and other nutrients in a number of ways including preventative and proactive planning through nutrient management strategies and plans. O. Reg. 267/03, made pursuant to the NMA, applies to specified agricultural operations, including many livestock operations. O. Reg. 267/03 regulates such matters as the land application of nutrients, the storage of nutrients including the siting and construction of such storages and the preparation of Nutrient Management Strategies (NMS) and, Nutrient Management Plans (NMP). O. Reg. 267/03 and legally binding protocols set out the required content for NMSs and NMPs. A NMS is a plan that assists the operator of an agricultural operation, such as a livestock farmer, ensure that manure and other prescribed materials generated at the farm are managed appropriately. The NMS must account for the total quantity of prescribed materials that are suitable for application to land as a nutrient and that it is reasonable to expect will be generated in the course of the operation. The required contents of a NMS include:

  • A description of the agricultural operation including:
    • Size of operation
    • Types and numbers of livestock
    • Prescribed materials being produced or received
    • Overview of livestock facilities
  • Manure storage requirements
  • A Farm Unit Sketch that addresses a number of matters including:
    • Location of generation facilities
    • Location of permanent, temporary and proposed storage facilities and sites
    • Location of sensitive features within the farm unit and outside within regulated distances (e.g. wells, municipal wells, surface water, dwellings and tile inlets
  • to fully understand your legal obligations under the NMA you would need to consult the NMA itself and the regulations and protocols made pursuant to it.

In addition, agricultural operations may be subject to requirements under the following:

  • Ontario Water Resources Act
  • Environmental Protection Act
  • Species at Risk Act
  • Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act

Other approvals and/or permits may be required to implement operational and site specific undertakings as identified by the pilot site livestock producers.

Best Management Practices (BMPs)

Best Management Practices (BMPs) provide guidance on a number of issues related to farming. BMPs are developed based on scientific evidence, common practices from leading jurisdictions, technical expertise, and input from qualified professionals and practitioners. OMAFRA has published a number of BMPs focused on environmental stewardship. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Soil Health in Ontario
  • Soil Erosion by Water
  • Farm Forestry and Habitat Management
  • Soil Management
  • Water Management
  • Buffer Strips
  • Agroforestry Series Volume 1 - Woodlot Management
  • Agroforestry Series Volume 2 - Establishing Tree Cover
  • Controlling Soil Erosion on the Farm

Potential livestock producers will be required to demonstrate how they will incorporate BMPs into their farm operation and site development plans. By way of example, some BMPs have been applied to the model farm. The 120 metre buffer applied to watercourses / waterways exceeds current BMP recommendations. This approach will allow OMAFRA to study the benefits of enhanced BMPs, and how the results could be used to inform the development of new or revised practices.

Canada-Ontario Environmental Farm Plan (EFP)

EFPs are voluntary assessments undertaken by producers to increase awareness and develop actions to improve environmental conditions on the farm. EFP training is available to Ontario farmers to develop EFPs for their operations.

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