The “S” words in agriculture

Guest blog by Brent Royce, Ontario turkey farmer

The -S- Words- (1)Over the last few years, the buzz words around lots of agricultural meetings have really evolved around the 3 S’s. These words Social License, Social Responsibility and Sustainability have really evolved from that other S word; Social Media. We as a society have changed how we receive and digest information, but I really keep asking myself how does this change how and what I do as a farmer.

As a farmer I base everything on science. I know we have some of the strongest rules in place before products can even get approved for use in Canada. Once something is approved (whether it is a new product for the barn or to use on my crops) I never jump in neck deep first.

I always try a small portion to see how it works on my farm. I want to see if the product benefits my crops, my livestock and my pocket book. I listed these in a specific order because if it won’t benefit what I am growing or if it could harm the environment around me, it doesn’t matter if it is more cost effective. I won’t use it. Oops, I guess I added another S word Science. Continue reading

Barn fires are devastating to all involved

By John Maaskant, chicken farmer and chair of Farm & Food Care Ontario

barn fire 4a

Stock photo

There have been a lot of news stories lately about barn fires in Ontario. Without exception, the stories have been tragic and the incidents devastating to these farm families in so many ways – with the loss of animals being at the very top of that list. Often, a barn fire affects an entire community with neighbours joining together to support each other and help clean up the terrible aftermath. Economic concerns, while very real, are always secondary to the loss of farm animals that these farmers have raised and nurtured.

And it doesn’t matter what type of farm animals are involved. The dairy farmer who milks his or her barn full of cows every morning and night – and knows each of their individual traits – is as emotionally affected as a pig farmer, horse owner or chicken farmer like me. Continue reading

It’s Food Freedom Day

Food Freedom DayDid you know… that in Canada, we mark Food Freedom Day in early February?  This is the calendar date when the average Canadian has earned enough income to pay his or her individual grocery bill for the whole year.

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture has calculated that Food Freedom Day for this year falls on February 9, 2016.

Canadians enjoy one of the lowest-cost “food baskets” in the world, spending only about $0.10 of every dollar on food – compared to almost $0.25 in Mexico and approximately $0.31 in Russia [source].

Food choices abound Continue reading

Farming with a focus on learning

By: Matt McIntosh

2010 calendarWalt Freeman loves to learn and has no doubt that farming has been one of the most engaging educational opportunities he has ever had.

Walt and Heather – his wife of 35 years – are the owners of a Battersea-area mink farm. The farm backs up to a small lake and was built on land originally purchased by his grandfather in 1921. The couple still live in the original farmhouse, and currently produce an average of 15,000 fur pelts every year. Continue reading

Cheerios now have no genetically modified ingredients – Fact or Fiction?

FactFictonFACT: It’s true that General Mills recently announced its “original Cheerios” would have no genetically modified (GM) ingredients.

However, the main ingredient in Cheerios is oats – and there are no genetically modified oat varieties grown in North America, so with the exception of corn sweetener and a few other minor ingredients, Cheerios have always been GM-free.

Now you know!

For more interesting farm and food tidbits, check out www.realdirtonfarming.ca

Greenhouse technology could see Ontario strawberry farmers plug in for year-round production

By Lisa McLean for Farm & Food Care

strawberries(Thamesville) – Ontario strawberry farmers have a new way to grow strawberries, thanks to an innovative production method from a Southwestern Ontario nursery. The good news? If the system takes root, it could help lead to a year-round growing season for local Ontario strawberries.

Sandra Carther, owner of Thamesville-based Carther Plants began developing a new nursery system for strawberry plants in 2009. The system produces “plug plants” or plants that are grown in cell packs that are ready for transplant into the ground or a greenhouse.

Traditional strawberry nurseries produce “bare root” plants, which are grown outside. These plants are grown in the field and harvested in the fall, and then stored through the winter. Strawberry farmers in Ontario have traditionally planted dormant, frozen bare root plants each spring. Continue reading

Cattle-farming sisters featured in 2016 farm calendar

By: Matt McIntosh for Farm & Food Care Ontario

2010 calendar

Sisters Patricia Taber, Jennifer Smith and Sylvia Megens

(Uxbridge) – Sisters Patricia Taber (30), Jennifer Smith (28) and Sylvia Megens (22) got involved with their local 4-H beef club when they were each 10 years old, and have been around big bovines ever since. Cattle are, indeed, a central part of their lives, and part of a common interest that keeps them together personally as well as professionally.

Together, the three sisters are the owners and operators of Megens’ Cattle Company; it’s a small farm business consisting of approximately 15 purebred Angus and Simmental cattle raised as replacement females, and for competition in livestock shows. With sponsorship from The Regional Municipality of Durham, the three sisters and one of their prize-winning Angus show steers grace the cover of the 2016 Faces of Farming Calendar. The sisters are also featured in the month of January.

“We started with just two animals and focused on commercial as well as show cattle,” says Jennifer. “We’ve had a lot of luck over the years.”

The three sisters compete in over 20 spring and autumn fairs across Ontario annually. They use the time competing in smaller events, though, to hone both their handling skills and the look of their animals for the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, which is the largest agricultural event of the year. While many of their animals have performed very well at different times, Jennifer says the first Simmental cow ever purchased by her and her sisters has been particularly successful, winning many awards over the last four years. The steer on the front page of the calendar went on to win the prestigious Queen’s Guineas competition at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in November of 2015, and was shown by Sylvia in the competition.

The 2016 Faces of Farming calendar's cover image also featured the sisters.

The 2016 Faces of Farming calendar’s cover image also featured the sisters.

Right now, Jennifer describes Megens’ Cattle Company as more of a “hobby farm” than a full-time business venture, though that is not to say they don’t plan on developing the business further. The business originated as a small livestock farm run by their parents John and Debbie. John had emigrated from the Netherlands as a young boy and eventually became a livestock drover – a profession he shared with Debbie. After settling down on a small farm and introducing the three sisters to 4-H, Patricia says their herd evolved from a handful of market animals to a mix of purebred Simmental and Angus replacement heifers – young female cattle that have not reproduced.

“Our herd is currently a mix of bought and bred cattle,” says Patricia. “We would like to develop our own breeding program so we can have control over everything in the herd.”

Small though it may be, Megens’ Cattle Company does take up quite a bit of the sisters’ time. However, that doesn’t stop them from working full time too. Sylvia is a recent graduate from the University of Guelph’s Ontario Agricultural College, and currently works as a research associate for a company specializing in the research and production of turf grass and forage crops.

Patricia lives and works alongside her husband and his family on their beef feedlot farm, where they raise about 2,500 cattle at a time, and have 1,600 acres of cropland. She also works for Grober Nutrition – a livestock nutrition company – but is currently on maternity leave with Brooke, her infant daughter. Jennifer works as a large animal veterinarian with a mobile practice, and helps her husband on their strawberry farm in between visits.

According to Patricia, Jennifer’s veterinarian background – and her experience working on a number of other livestock farms – is a big asset to their entire family.

“She’s our resident health management professional,” says Patricia.

With cattle weaving such a strong theme through their lives, it’s perhaps no surprise that the three sisters’ hobbies also sport a bit of beef flavour. Sylvia, for instance, is part of Durham West Junior Farmer association, and is a volunteer club leader with her local 4-H group. She also sits on the provincial board for the Junior Farmers’ Association of Ontario, and, more generally, says showing beef cattle is the “passion” which takes up most of her year. Patricia and Jennifer, too, say showing and working with beef cattle is their favorite way to spend spare time.

There’s yet more to it for Jennifer, however. More specifically, she and her husband keep a small flock of sheep, and have been planning on converting about 30 acres into pasture for the animals. On top of that, Jennifer works with Patricia as a leader in the York-region 4-H beef club, and is part of her regional Ploughman’s Association where she helps run the annual “Queen of the Furrow” competition.

When asked why they farm, the sisters are also of one mind. Agriculture, they say, has allowed them to stay close despite busy lives, and enjoy many opportunities in the process.

“We’ve been fortunate that, even as we start our families we are still close; we still get to work together and it’s a great way to raise a family,” says Patricia.

The eleventh annual “Faces of Farming” calendar, published by Farm & Food Care Ontario, is designed to introduce the public to a few of Ontario’s passionate and hardworking farmers – the people who produce food in this province. Copies can be ordered online at www.farmfoodcare.org.

Aylmer-area fruit and vegetable farmers as calendar models

By Resi Walt

2010 calendar(Aylmer) – The Howes are a multi-generational farming family who enjoy the time they get to spend together on the farm, growing fruits and vegetables for their farm market business.

Glenn and Monica, along with sons Ryan, Rick and Kevin, Ryan’s wife Jill and their children Emma and Cohen grow a large acreage of strawberries, cantaloupe, watermelons, squash, pumpkins and beans. They also grow vegetables.

The majority of the Howes’ produce is sold to a larger grocery store chain, which then supplies the broader Canadian market. About ten per cent of their crop is sold to the local market through the Howe Family Farm Market, which is open from June to November of each year.

In 2015, the Howe family appears in the tenth anniversary edition of the Faces of Farming calendar, published by Farm & Food Care Ontario. Their family’s entry was the winner in a contest launched to select one farm family to appear in the calendar. Their submission was chosen from almost 30 entries by a panel of judges and they participated in a photo shoot in August.

Ryan, Rick and Kevin are fifth generation farmers. Their great-great grandparents William and Esther arrived from England and settled in Elgin County, south of Alymer, Ontario. The Howe family continues to farm in the same area, and is growing many of the same crops as their ancestors.

Monica is proud of the food being grown on their farm, “I love promoting what we produce, because I believe in the wholesomeness of it. We’re lucky to live in southwestern Ontario and be able to produce such a bounty.”

The Howes all agree that farming together as a family is their favourite aspect of life on the farm. They run their business as a team, with each person utilizing their skills to contribute to the overall success of the farm.

Ryan manages the farm’s sales and incoming orders, and can also often be found repairing machinery. Kevin handles the greenhouse, and does research and development work to keep the farm innovative and moving forward. Rick works as an agriculture consultant off farm and helps in the family business when he can. His expertise is in providing information about fertilizer, crop protection and soil inputs.

Glenn, the patriarch of the family, is the voice of experience and reason, his kids say. He guides the farm in the right direction and helps to keep things in perspective for the family. Monica, a natural organizer, is in charge of the farm market. Jill works off the farm as a physiotherapist but helps when needed too. While the family’s sixth generation, Emma and Cohen, are too young to help yet, they love spending time with their parents, uncles and grandparents on the farm.

The family is very involved in the community. Kevin is a director on the Ontario Berry Growers’ Association, replacing Ryan who had previously served on the association. Rick and Kevin both serve on the board for the Elgin Federation of Agriculture. Monica, a retired teacher, volunteers at a local school and involves the students in growing and harvesting a school garden. The Howe family’s commitment to their community also shows through donations of produce to churches, school, sport groups, service clubs, food banks and nursing homes.

The family’s received several awards in recognition of their sustainable and environmentally responsible farming practices. In 2005, they were presented with a Conservation Award from the Catfish Creek Conservation Authority for being the first farmers in the area to use drip-tape irrigation to conserve water.

A few years ago, Ryan tried a no-till approach to growing pumpkins. This innovation resulted in reduced labour costs for weeding, less herbicide use, and better soil health due to decreased erosion. For his efforts, he was presented with the prestigious Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovations Excellence in 2013.

The farm has also become known for hosting nature tours. Nature walks include a tour of Glenn’s bird sanctuary. Glenn, a passionate aviculturist (or birder), has raised many species of birds from all over the world. Sometimes birds are brought to him for special care because they are endangered in their native countries.

The Howes have a lot to be proud of – their farm’s history, their team work, their community involvement and environmental stewardship – and the fact that they’re doing it all as a family.

The tenth annual “Faces of Farming” calendar, featuring the theme of Home Grown and Hand Made, is designed to introduce the public to a few of Ontario’s passionate and hardworking farmers – the people who produce food in this province. Copies can be ordered online at www.farmfoodcare.org. A list of retailers selling the calendar is also located on that website.

The Top 6 Roundup

We thought it would be fun to look back at the most popular posts on The Real Dirt on Farming Blog in 2015. Here’s how they stacked up in popularity with you, our readers.

#6: Day in the Life – ‘Kidding-around’ with a goat farmer

Anna, Mark and their children at their farm and butcher shop

Anna, Mark and their children at their farm and butcher shop

Hi! My name is Anna Haupt and together with my husband and three young children, we run Teal’s Meats – a provincially licensed butcher shop on our farm in Haldimand County, on the north shore of Lake Erie in Ontario. I also raise a small herd of registered Boer goats on our farm, Springvalley Boer Goats. I enjoy showing, sell breeding stock to other producers and process our market animals for sale through our butcher shop. Our summers are extremely busy serving our butcher shop customers, so I like to kid out (giving birth) my does (female goats) in the winter months when I have a little more time to spend in the barn. Today on our farm…READ MORE Continue reading

Renovating the family farm business

By Matt McIntosh for Farm & Food Care

Scott Douglas stands next to his combine.

Scott Douglas stands next to his combine.

(Leamington) – It was in the midst of the Great Depression in 1935 that Scott Douglas’ grandparents first purchased 50 acres of farmland on a small concession road just north of Leamington, Ontario. Now, after 80 years, two generations and several major farm changes, the Douglas family farm is going stronger than ever.

The now 1,800 acre farm, known as Cloverview Farms, produces corn, soybeans and wheat, and features a small hobby operation usually containing a couple of beef cows, a few pigs and some chickens. Scott farms alongside Jennifer and parents, Harold and Linda. Scott and Jennifer also have three children – nine year old Graydon, seven year old Shannon and five year old Cameron – who help with the small number of animals. Continue reading