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  Niche markets a yay or nay?

EASTERN ONTARIO -- The niche markets of agriculture can be a profit-boosting aspect of farming. however those markets are also difficult to get into and maintain. It is perhaps possible for younger farmers to dip their toes into farming by exploring the idea of starting with a small farm that focuses solely on these niche markets.

Omega-3 supplemented dairy products are one such niche market available to farmers. Omega-3 is most commonly found in fish and flaxseed and contains eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). DHA is supposed to be a key factor in supporting the normal development of the brain, eyes and nerves. This is why there are pill form supplements of fish oils and flaxseed. However for a number of people who take these supplements, the side effects include a fishy taste in the mouth resulting in "fish burps." In order to avoid the fishy taste, omega-3 supplemented dairy products have been in circulation for approximately seven years now. These include eggs, milk, cheese strings and yogurt.

The closest omega-3 dairy supplement producer is Parmalat, in Victoriaville, Que. Frans Cornelissen has a farm in Williamstown, Ont., where he produces the supplement dairy. Farmers must apply to the Dairy Farmers of Ontario Board to get the proper permissions and permits to begin producing this particular type of dairy. If there is enough demand for the product, new farmers will be brought into the program.

Cornelissen joined the program six years ago, only about a year and a half after the market began recruiting farmers. He said that the profits from the six-year endeavour were not quite as high as he imagined they would be, but they are enough to convince him to stick to it, saying, "If I don't fill the niche markets, someone else will."

The process is not for everyone. Like a number of niche markets in agriculture, the farmers are subject to monthly testing and regular audits. These ensure that the cows are producing the right percentage of fatty acids, which are required to always be at 25 per cent. The dairy from about 25 farms in the SD&G area then goes to Victoriaville everyday.

With the constantly rising desire to have locally produced food, smaller farms that focus on a number of diverse farming operations can find a sustainable market that is close to home.

In 2016, the Chicken Farmers of Ontario (CFO) implemented a new Artisanal Chicken Program, which allows farmers interested in growing 600 to 3,000 chickens annually to target select markets like local farmers' markets. There are currently around 80 participating farmers in the program, which accommodates non-quota holders. This new program was implemented to satisfy a demand for locally grown food.

These markets have the potential to add a lucrative aspect to a current farm, or be the foundation on which a small farm can build. It is important to consider that while these markets have the potential to be successful for a farm, they also require a lot of hard work to maintain due to harsher regulations and precise needs. Nevertheless, farmers should keep an eye out for new niche markets emerging and the current ones that might need new producers.



Eastern Ontario AgriNews is published on the third Monday of each month. The printed version is distributed free by postal mail to farms in Eastern Ontario, Canada.

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