When the Canadian Farm Writers Federation announced they were holding their 2017 meeting in Quebec City, I went straight to the Internet to find the registration form.
As well as full programs of speakers CFWF conferences are known for featuring great agricultural tours. This year’s agenda didn’t disappoint, as delegates to the Quebec conference at the end of September had a chance to take in two full days of ag tours. This was a great opportunity to see and learn about several aspects of Canadian agriculture that we don’t see often on the Prairies.
Of course, as part of the tours, we had opportunities to taste the food these local farmers produce. All considered, a fabulous trip!
In 2016, according to Stats Canada, Quebec accounted for 35.7 per cent of Canada’s dairy cows and heifers.
Ferme Landrynoise at St-Albert is the largest dairy farm in Quebec. The 1,000 cows on this farm are milked by 22 robotic milkers, saving in labour costs and allowing for the collection of very detailed data. Overall, across Canada, Stats Canada’s Census of Agriculture found that robotic milkers are used by just under nine per cent of dairy operations.
Some of the production at Ferme Landrynoise is blessed by a Jewish rabbi, and destined for Quebec’s Kosher food markets.
With more than a third of Canada’s diary cows, Quebec is also the home of an awful lot of cheese. One type of cheese is, of course, cheese curds, the key ingredient in poutine.
At the Fromagerie Victoria, they make their own cheese curds. Rennet and a starter culture is added to milk. Then the liquid (whey) is drained from the solids (the curds). The remaining slabs of curds are cut and then milled, as shown in the photo. Finally, the curds are salted and ready to be placed on top of French fries and gravy.
Of the 175,000 tons of cranberries produced in Canada last year, 115,000 tons were grown in Quebec. These Quebec berries were grown on 10,000 acres of land. That makes Quebec the world’s second-largest producer of cranberries (second to Wisconsin).
The slightly smaller harvest that growers are expecting this year was just getting underway at the end of September.
The cranberry harvest relies on a lot of water. First, eight inches of water are added to each cranberry field. The tractor shown in the picture above will make two or three passes over the field separating the fruit from the plants.
Once the cranberries are separated from the plants, cranberry growers add more water, filling the field to the 20-inch mark. Because they’re light, the berries will float, and generally the wind will blow them to one corner of the flooded field.
Out in the fields, Mexican labourers area a big part of the cranberry harvest, moving the berries out of the fields and into trucks which will take them to markets or freezer storage.
These Quebec growers have found one more way to make money from their business: tourism. Their interpretive centre is open from mid-September to mid-October. After a trip through the fields, the tour ends in the gift shop where entrepreneurs are putting cranberries in everything you could imagine (and some things you couldn’t).
Cranberry plants will bear fruit for up to 100 years, so it’s important for new growers to find the right variety when they start out. These plants prefer sandy soils with irrigation systems, as they like to be well-watered, but not sitting in water.
In 2016, almost a quarter of Canada’s 427,000 tons of apples were grown in Quebec.
Some of those apples were grown by Le Domaine Orléans, an apple orchard and processor on Île d’Orléans, an island in the Saint Lawrence River, a 20-minute drive from downtown Quebec City. French explorer Jacques Cartier first visited this island in 1535.
Le Domaine Orléans bottles cider on-site. One of their new products, Bire, combines hops with cider, for a tasty blend of beer and cider.
According to ciderguide.com, there are 149 cider producers in Canada. Of these, 54 are in Quebec. Ontario has second place, with 48. The map shows two in Alberta, one in Saskatchewan and none in Manitoba.
Just over half of Canada’s 27,000 tons of strawberries in 2016 were grown in Quebec. Some of those came from Onésime Pouliot Farm, on Île d’Orléans.
This farm has been in the hands of the same family for seven generations, which makes our Prairie family farms look pretty temporary.
The outside workers on this farm are mainly from Mexico.
Onésime Pouliot Farm also produces sweet potatoes. Not because they’re huge moneymakers for the farm (they’re not), but because the production cycle of sweet potatoes fits in with the strawberry production so that Mexican labourers can keep busy full time the entire time they’re here for the season.
Foreign workers are paid on an hourly basis (along with free housing), so when there is a little less work to do in the strawberry patch, they don’t want to sit idle when they could be earning money.
Citadelle, a Quebec maple syrup producers co-op, bottles maple syrup in the building next to this sign at Plessisville. We did tour the inside of the plant, but we weren’t allowed to take photos.
The maple season runs from mid-March to mid-April, so did not see the actual pumping of the sap.
Globally, 80 per cent of the world’s pure maple syrup comes from Canada; 90 per cent of this comes from Quebec.