On March 1st. 1922, the Ontario government took over a one-hundred acre farm and an eighty-seven acre farm in the township of Howard just at the edge of the town of Ridgetown. This farm was purchased from the late Duff Brien. This was in the days of the Farmer's Government headed by the Honorable E.C. Drury. The Honorable Manning Doarty was minister of Agriculture at the time and he represented the County of Kent in the Ontario Legislature.
For many years previous to this farmers and Farm Organizations in South Western Ontario were continually advocating the establishment of such a farm owing to the difference in soil and climatic conditions and the cropping systems in this district varied considerably from the rest of the Province. The other institutions in the province doing Agricultural Experimental Work were not able to do the work necessary to cope with the problems of the district. It was felt that with the Experimental Farm situated in the district some of these problems could be more efficiently handled.
The previous government under Sir William Hearst with Honorable George S. Henry as Minister of Agriculture really started the movement. At that time however no definite progress was made.
Dr. W.R. Reek was appointed Director of the Farm and continued in that capacity until 1937. At that time he was appointed Deputy Minister for the Ontario Department of Agriculture and later became president of the Ontario Agriculture College at Guelph.
In the Annual Report of that year reference was made to the purchasing of several lots of swine. These swine represented the following breeds:-Yorkshire, Duroc, Jersey, Tamworth, Birkshires, Chester Whites, Poland China, and Hampshires. Seven horses were also purchased. The crops the first year consisted of: thirty-eight acres of Oats, eleven of Barley, five of Potatoes, thirty Corn, five Sugar-beets, five tobacco, fourteen Beans, and about twenty-five in pasture, Orchard and building sights. Some experimental work was done that year with Sugar-beets, Corn and early Potatoes. An Apiary of fifty colonies of Bees was established for the purpose of rearing Queens for sale in the Province.
During the next few years a great deal of time was spent in getting the farm in shape for experimental work. The land was in fair tilth as it had been run as a livestock farm for some years previous. It however, needed considerable under drainage and the whole plan of the farm needed to be changed. About one-hundred and twenty acres required underdrains and this was proceeded with during the first few years.
During the twenties and early thirties a good deal of attention was made to the experimenting with different grades of commercial fertilizer. A lot of useful information was complied which has resulted in the more intelligent use of commercial fertilizer throughout South Western Ontario. These experiments were largely made with the special crops of the district - namely- White Beans, Corn, early Potatoes, Tobacco and Vegetables and canning crops.
During this time several new varieties of grain and other crops were tested and many desirable varieties were introduced. This is particularly true of white beans. This particular crop was affected with a lot of diseases. The introduction of the Robust Beans was a great step in advance as it practically saved the bean crop. This variety was not susceptible to a lot of the diseases that affected other varieties at that time. The introduction of other new varieties of beans followed, namely, Michelite which is generally grown today. The Clipper, a new bean that promises rather well is being introduced at the present time.
Many new varieties of other crops have also been introduced into the district. It has always been felt that when a variety shows up in test it should be multiplied and distributed in the district. This has always been the policy of the Farm. Among the best varieties that have been introduced has been Erban Oats, Dawbul Wheat and Tennesse Winter Barley.
During the twenties and early thirties the pig population gradually drifted to one breed. Birkshires, Tamworth, and the other fatter types of hogs were dropped and an effort was made to show that the Yorkshire breed would do well in the district. A lot of breeding swine was distributed of this breed. Particularly was this true during the late thirties and early forties when an annual sale was held which distributed around one hundred head of Yorkshire swine each year. This was discontinued a few years ago after the South Western Ontario Yorkshire Club was organized. This Club comprises the Yorkshire Breeders of Essex, Kent, Elgin, Lambton and Middlesex. Assistance from members of the Staff was given to this Organization for the handling of two sales each year with the understanding that the experimental Farm would discontinue the selling of breeding stock. The Yorkshire herd now kept is only for the experimenta1, demonstration and commercial purposes.
Up till the late thirties steer feeding was carried on extensively at the Farm. About 1936 a dual purpose herd of shorthorn cattle was established. This was changed over to beef type shorthorns about 1940. For a few years breeding stock was sold but like the pig program this has been changed during the last few years, and this herd is kept only for demonstration and experimental purposes.
In 1937 the Director, Dr. W.R. Reek, was made Deputy Minister and J.C. Steckley became Director in his place. In 1941 Mr J.J. Neilson, who was part time at the farm in charge of Horticulture and Poultry, gave up his teaching program at the Vocational School and High School and became Assistant Director. In l949 Mr W.W. Snow, who had been with the Farm for two summers, graduated from the O.A.C. Guelph and was appointed on the staff as fieldman. There has been very few other changes in the staff since the Farm started, as many of the men hired the first year are still employed.
In l941 after a few years experience with Hybrid Corn the farm undertook to produce the crossing stocks for Canada Hybrids for growers in Ontario. This was necessary as the demand for this type of corn increased. At that time it was not possible for the growers of this seed to purchase foundation stock from the States. This work had continued ever since but was particularly important during the war years when it was so hard to procure corn from outside countries. Practically all of the commercial corn during that time was produced in Ontario, and the Experimental Farm was particularly active in this program by the production and handling of foundation stock.
Members of the Staff were always actively interested in Agricultural Education and co-operated during the period that the vocational School, in connection with the High School, was operating. They made available material for the students for their Vocational Course. They also have been continuing this since the School was changed to the District High School.
In 1936 a two year course was organized and conducted by the Experimental Farm. This course was similar to the two year course at the O.A.C. Guelph and at the Kemptville Agriculture School. This course was handicapped by not having a Dormitory for use of the students and consequently was dropped early in the war until a suitable dormitory could be built. This is being built at the present time and it is expected that these courses will be re-organized in 1951.
Members of the staff have always been interested in helping to establish Farm Organization. Practically all of the Farm Organizations in the district have received assistance in carrying out their programs.
Services of different kinds have been established at the Farm from time to time where farmers can bring their problems and receive assistance. The Farm maintains a Seed and Cleaning and Seed treating Plant. This was established in 1937. This plant is open for customs work for a couple of months in the spring and for a couple months in the fall. A soil testing service is also maintained at the Farm where farmers can bring their soil for analysis and get advice as to the best type of commercial fertilizer to use. Services are also maintained for Poultry problems and many other problems such as weed control, as well as fungus disease control.
Transcribed from the records of Mrs. Geo. S. Brien, Rural Ridgetown Women's Institute.