Ontario’s beef producers hope a plan that might seem unorthodox at first glance turns out to be anything but.

What they hope to do is take unused Crown land in northern Ontario – something which is not in short supply – and turn it into cattle farmland.

“If we can add 100,000 cows in Ontario, we can create 45,000 more permanent jobs,” said Dave Stewart, executive director of Beef Farmers of Ontario.

Stewart says land at similar latitudes in Quebec is already being farmed successfully, and doing the same thing in Ontario could benefit farmers, the provincial government and northern communities in different ways.

For the province, he estimates $600 million in revenue from leasing the land to farmers.

For the farmers, he sees the benefit as easy access to land – something that’s currently a challenge for small-scale cattle farmers.

“They either can’t get big enough to be sustainable … or they can’t afford to possibly establish a farm in southern Ontario,” he says.

In turn, the introduction of agriculture would bring spin-off jobs for suppliers and meat processing plants elsewhere in the province.

From what he knows of the plan, agricultural economist Al Mussell thinks consumers could benefit as well, in the form of lower prices.

“Anybody who’s been to the grocery store knows beef prices are up, cattle prices are up significantly,” he says.

Mussell says the prices are high in part due to the need to import young calves from Alberta or other locations.

“This presents the prospect of retaining that economic activity in Ontario,” he says.

As for the communities, Stewart says they would benefit simply by having more people living in close proximity.

“Our farms spend money in the communities that they’re in,” he says.

“If they’re up outside of Cochrane or Kapuskasing or Hearst, that’s where the money’s going to be spent. That’s an economic stimulus that I don’t think the province can ignore.”