How important is the horse industry to rural Ontario? This is the question that researchers at the University of Guelph would like to learn more about. The latest census of agriculture completed in 2006, reported that the horse sector showed the greatest increase out of all of the agricultural sectors in the province. In fact, horses have been gaining in popularity consistently over the past 10-15 years and in some regions, particularly those in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), they have even surpassed such traditional agricultural commodities as poultry and egg, beef cattle, and vegetable production in terms of gross farm receipts.
There are several interesting connections between the vitality and growth of the equine industry and the economic success of rural regions in Ontario. Contrary to some popular misconceptions, horses are not a waste of valuable farmland! Quite the opposite actually as the equine industry contributes to a wide range of economic activity in rural areas across the province. For example, horse owners will often spend quite a bit of money on both their horses and their properties which can result in economic spin-offs for local businesses. An Equine Canada report, completed by Vel Evans in 2004, points out that the average ‘property improvement’ investment for the horse industry is $8,777.00 compared to $1,740.00 for farmer in other sectors. In a survey of members of the Ontario Equestrian Federation completed by Bronwynne Wilton in 2007, 30% of respondents had built an indoor arena since taking ownership of their property, 46% reported building new barns for their horses, and 91% reported installing new fencing on their properties. This translates to a significant investment in the rural landscape and if local businesses can cater to this sector, there can be positive impacts in the surrounding community.
We also know that horse owners present a unique and consistent market for high quality hay for their horses. According to Joel Bagg of OMAFRA, there are approximately 300,000 horses in Ontario and these horses consume approximately 750,000 tonnes of hay every year. If the number of horses continues to increase in the province, the potential market for quality horse hay will continue to improve for Ontario farmers.
The equine industry also brings an important and unique tourism element to the Ontario countryside. Both through the racing industries and through the sport horse competitions such as show-jumping, dressage, eventing and rodeos (to name just a few!), there are important spin-off effects for rural communities that welcome and promote the horse industry.
Given all of these real and potential benefits of horses to rural Ontario, it is critical to gain a better understanding of the true scope of the industry across the province. Several state horse councils across the United States have conducted economic analysis projects of the horse industry within their states, however, similar data is lacking or out of date in Ontario. As a first step in creating a greater awareness of the role of the horse industry across the province, researchers at the University of Guelph conducted an on-line survey through the Equine Guelph website. (the survey is now over)
We hope that anyone actively involved in any sector of the equine industry in Ontario will participate in the survey and if you would like to become more involved in the project, you may also contact the researcher, Dr. Bronwynne Wilton. The results of this project will be used to learn more about the scope of the equine industry in Ontario and to develop new projects aimed at supporting the equine industry as part of a strong and vital rural Ontario. Results will be made publicly available upon completion of the project.
The project is supported by the Sustainable Rural Communities Research Program as part of the OMAFRA / U of G research partnership with in-kind support from Equine Guelph.