Historically, the “Back Forty” refers to the woodlot left standing and located at the back of the farm. These areas provided fuelwood, maple sugar, and on occasion, trees for lumber, furniture, and flooring to the local community. These areas needed proper management so that the “Back Forty” would be a healthy forest and provide revenue to future generations; however, underpayment to farmers and poor forestry practices were common. The promotion of good stewardship was essential to the survival of woodlots.
The Grey Bruce Woodlot Conference celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2017. The conference was the vision of Dan Rose, who in 1992 was the Regional Manager for the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA).
At that time, there were only two other woodlot conferences in Ontario, which were in Kemptville and Ridgetown. They provided landowners with expert up-to-date information about forest management, timber values, and marketing, as well as advice on the importance of wildlife habitat and pest management.
Dan wanted to bring this opportunity for learning here, and that was the beginning of our Grey Bruce Woodlot conference. OMAFRA staff invited partners from other government ministries, conservation authorities and related agencies to develop the agenda for the initial conference. The first two were included as part of Grey-Bruce Farmer’s Week, which provided the both the location and the logistics. One of our first speakers was Andrew Dixon, who at 80 years of age was still planting trees. His research included planting hardwood trees using intra-row cropping.
After two years, the Conference was now on its own and held annually in late March at the Elmwood Community Centre. The planning committee added an exhibition for wood related stakeholders to the agenda, in addition to extending the conference to include a woodlot tour on the following day.
So why is it important for us to continue with this conference? Woodlot management remains an important part of farming, and with climate change and invasive pests continuing to alter the dynamics of our woodlots, landowners need to be ready to adapt. With our conference bringing the latest information, technology and methodologies in agroforestry, forest management, and silviculture to Grey and Bruce Counties, landowners (and their woodlots) will always have the opportunity to grow and improve.