OH CANADA

I really have not seen much of the world, and probably never will. I like to stay home on Friday nights and the only travel plans on my “bucket list” entail getting to a game at every major league ballpark—still have over half of them to go. Admittedly, I’m a homebody.

Occasionally I get the opportunity to venture outside the boundaries of Wisconsin to share a little crop knowledge. Such a request recently came my way when I was asked to travel north (actually more east) to speak at the “Forage Focus” Conferences sponsored by the Ontario Forage Council.

Strange and less than pleasant things usually happen to me when I attempt travel by air. Agreeing to the Canada gig was done in a moment of weakness—ten years have passed since the Mexico trip debacle.

The first order of business was to get a passport (note: don’t smile for the picture). I’m not sure how this country can be in debt given what they charge for passports, but I would soon learn that many people had an interest in looking at it.

airplaneNext on the to-do list was to pull together two and one-half hours worth of alfalfa presentation material–check–and pack my bag–double check. Gold-plated passport in hand, it was off to the airport.

“Sir,” the polite airline security woman said, “you’ll need to open your bag. There’s something we need to check.”

From past experience I had learned that they frown upon taking a jackknife on the plane, but this time I had left it at home. Less of a threat, but apparently just as illegal, is to smuggle on shaving cream and toothpaste in containers larger than a jackknife.

“Do you want to take them back to your car?” the lady asked. “Otherwise you can put them there,” as she pointed to the waste basket. I chose the latter.

Undeterred, I pressed on. My luck started to change as the first plane left on time for my layover at Chicago O’Hare. After dragging my luggage 2.4 miles to the departure gate, I sat down and entertained myself by internally mocking the Cubs’ and Bears’ fans. Finally, it was off to Toronto.

Following touchdown in Toronto, my fellow passengers and I were herded into a room about the size of a 200 cow freestall barn. The customs line consisted of 932 people–there was plenty of time to count. Of these, 931 had luggage with rollers who didn’t have to pick-up and drop it 147 times as the line moved in five foot increments. It just always seemed silly to have a suitcase with wheels. No longer.

The Ontario Forage Crop Specialist met me soon after my passport was given the blessing of the Canadian customs officer. Our first destination was Napanee, a town about three hours east of Toronto just off “THE” 401. We arrived at the hotel about 10 p.m. for a night’s rest before the first day’s conference.

The venue in Napanee was a large meeting room attached to—you guessed it—two ice hockey rinks. About 80 dairy and livestock producers showed-up for the conference. I tried to connect to my audience by pointing out that Toronto and Fond du Lac share the same latitude and are further linked by the Niagara Escarpment.  Miraculously, they seemed to buy into my thinking and I was off and talking.

Finishing around 3 p.m., the road show packed-up and headed five hours west to the small town of Shakespeare. We stayed the night in a little hotel that reminded me of the one featured in the old “Bob Newhart Show.” This was Ontario dairy country and about 140 producers and agribusiness people showed-up for the second day’s conference.

Based on lunch discussions and audience questions it appears many of the same issues we have here in Wisconsin are also experienced by Ontario forage producers. One commercial vendor even had a large display for tillage radish. I did find it interesting that production costs and forage values are discussed in cents per pound rather than dollars per acre or dollars per ton. The Canadian milk quota system also changes some of the criteria for decision-making.

All in all it was good trip. I was reminded again that farmers are farmers regardless of where they hitch their horse. The trek home was largely uneventful with more reflection time in the customs line. By the way, if you’re planning to give a three ounce can of shaving cream to that special someone for Christmas, you can pick it up at O’Hare Airport for about twenty-three dollars.

Mike Rankin, Crops and Soils Agent, UW Extension-Fond du Lac County

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