International Plowing Match will spotlight Northern Ontario agriculture: West Nipissing gears up for provincial agriculture expo in September, expected to draw thousands.

Author:Myers, Ella Jane
 
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When Daniel Olivier experienced his first International Plowing Match and Rural Expo as a young boy in 1968, he was "awestruck."

He remembers wandering the packed grounds, thrilled by the tractors and shiny machinery.

Since then, the third-generation farmer has been to more than 20 of the annual matches, and he'll be attending yet another this fall, Sept. 17 to 21.

This match will be a little different, because it's happening on Olivier's own farm in Verner, a small agricultural community in West Nipissing, roughly halfway between North Bay and Sudbury.

"When I did that 50 years ago, I didn't envision it would ever come up to Northern Ontario," said Olivier.

This will actually be the second time the 102-year-old match is held in Northern Ontario.

In 2009, it was in Earlton, a farming community on Highway 11, north of New Liskeard, a couple of hours' drive to the north.

It's jointly run by the Ontario Plowmen's Association and a host community each year.

Driving through the region's lush yellow fields, it's impossible to miss the plowing match signage, even months in advance.

The Plowing Match's purple and green flags, featuring a tractor and farmhouse bordered with pines, line the roads, and stores are stocked with plowing match-branded products, from chunky speckled mugs to special edition berry jam made in town to a bilingual cookbook chock full of local recipes.

The event typically draws 80,000 attendees, and past matches suggest West Nipissing --a largely rural municipality of 14,000 --is in for an enviable economic boost.

"We're working with 100 years of data here and the short to medium-term impact to the community is between $20 and $25 million," said Neil Fox, chairman of the event board of directors.

"Our hotels will be full, our campgrounds will be full, our restaurants will be full, our gas stations will sell more gas."

And, if Earlton's experience is any indication, the regional spinoffs won't stop there.

James Franks, the economic development officer for Temiskaming Shores, just to the south of Earlton, said his municipality is still seeing the benefits a decade on.

"Instantly, 80,000 people, many of whom had never been here before, saw Northern Ontario and Northern Ontario agriculture and realized it wasn't just rocks and trees," said Franks. "Within two years, our agricultural land values doubled and continued to increase since."

For Franks, holding the match in Northern Ontario just makes sense.

"The future of farming is...

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