With a goal of creating new opportunities for Northern farming, North Star Agriculture NWT and AWP Industries of Hay River have announced a partnership that will see food production, processing, and storage on land near Enterprise.
“I’m excited we have a team that can tackle a project of this scope,” said Kevin Wallington, CEO of North Star Agriculture NWT.
“It is a significant amount of land, and with that comes a significant opportunity as well,” he said of the 400 acres of leased land that will be utilized according to the needs of farmers from across the NWT.
Working green zone
For Brad Mapes, CEO of AWP Industries, the new deal was a way to turn green zones on the AWP property into an agricultural site that will be developed over time.
“We would like to use it as a working green zone and as you drive along the highway, (you would) see carrots, hay, or beets growing along the roadside,” Mapes said of the land that borders a section of the highway leading south.
“That is what we want to be able to do for North Star, to provide the opportunity to develop agriculture. There are some areas you could put cattle roaming in there. In the property we have, you could put a large chunk of Hay River in it,” he said of the scale of the property. “We are trying to develop a site that is an economic generator.”
Mapes said land suitable for agriculture can be a rare commodity in the North and they want to utilize it in a way that benefits everyone involved, especially Northern farmers.
One challenge for farming is that the topsoil only goes down to a depth of five or six inches, he said. For that reason, when they clear any portion of the land, he said they keep the soil and pile it up for the new green space.
The entire 813 acres of the AWP Industries site is used for various purposes, Mapes said. It is a trans-loading site connected to the Northern rail line for CN Rail. It also has an area used to produce aggregate for the rail site.
The property will also be used for a biomass site for pellet mill production, for a specialized saw mill and to generate power to put back into the grid.
Wallington said North Star is open to looking at partnerships with people who would like to do farming operations or commercial operations on their section of property.
“This project isn’t just to support the vision of North Star Agriculture NWT — the vision is to help farmers in the agri-food sector, and we have a chance to work with Brad to do that,” he said.
“We know finding land is challenging and that is another immense opportunity for us — we actually have access to land, which is difficult to have for various reasons.”
Much of what will be developed and produced on the site will depend on what the market and sector is wanting, he noted, adding that he has three different focus areas for the site.
“The first is crop development along the highway and utilizing the green space that runs the full length of the property,” Wallington said. “It’s a portion of land that we are able to produce on.”
He said developing a working farm in the central area of the property is also going to be an exciting project.
“We will work on reclamation and soil building and start to showcase what can be done with rotating livestock and we will have some other cool approaches to farming that are probably more traditional to the way things that were done before we had technology,” he explained .
The third focus will be on commercial scalability for small-scale livestock or hydroponics, plus having storage and processing capacity for vegetables, and a small-scale abattoir is a possibility.
“It would serve those who are interested in raising stock but don’t have the ability to process them and get them to market,” he said.
Wallington said while immediate economic impacts such as job creation will be felt in the South Slave region, the project will create opportunities for people across the North and for those working in the agriculture sector.
“The confidence that we are building will be sustainable and long term.”
Sonny Gray, the CEO of North Star Agriculture – Yukon, said his company is a minority shareholder in the NWT division, and it’s helping to plan and develop the site.
“It’s a good opportunity. The NWT doesn’t have many opportunities to access land, so to have it to build infrastructure and to produce food is a unique opportunity,” Gray said, adding that he will bring his expertise and experience from the agriculture work he has done in Yukon to the NWT project, such as in setting up slaughterhouses, hydroponics, field crops and maintaining livestock.
While such an agriculture/industrial type of development is not common in North America because it is rich in resources and space, Gray said it is quite common to have such projects in other countries.
“What we want to do is integrate farm systems. For the North, it is probably useful to explore that,” he said. “It has a lot of potential.”
He said that as AWP develops its projects on the land, North Star will keep pace so they are in sync with development. In the spring, the first step will be soil production “in a big way” to increase the value of the land, he noted.
Since the North is a challenging place to farm, Gray said overall, they couldn’t have picked a better location with close access to the rail line, allowing them to purchase feed in bulk quantities directly.
“It’s a gateway to the rest of the NWT and at the same time it is in close proximity to Alberta and British Columbia, so there are market opportunities as well,” he said. “I think the opportunities outweigh the challenges.”
—By Jill Westerman, Northern News Services