A history of environmental responsibility

Effective use of resources at Kaiser Lake Farms

By Treena Hein

Eric and Max Kaiser

At Kaiser Lake Farms in the Bay of Quinte peninsula near Napanee Ontario, care for the land goes back many decades. Father and son Eric and Max (vice president and president of the farm) are building on a long history of environmental stewardship as they work the farm today – and look to the future.

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Inside Farming: Playing in the Dirt

By Greta Haupt, CanACT member, University of Guelph

Dirt is one of the most carefully managed aspects of farming, and with the management of soil nutrients, farmers can not only achieve great yielding and high quality produce, but can also keep the environment clean and healthy. Photo by Rudy Spruit.

Dirt: we walk on it every day without thinking much of it, let alone the value of it. But to farmers, soil is an invaluable resource and a crucial part of our operations. From forage crops to feed animals, to grazed pastures, to cultivated lands growing the high yielding grain crops needed to feed an ever growing population, it all starts with soil. A nutrient-rich and fertile soil is essential for growing the high quality product consumers demand, and therefore is one of the most carefully managed aspects of farming. Continue reading

Our first spring

By Patricia Grotenhuis, sixth generation farmer

Cultivating a field to prepare for spring planting. Photo by Patricia Grotenhuis.

Spring is a funny time on the farm. You know it is coming but you don’t know exactly when the weather will be spring-like. Regardless of the timing or conditions, you still need to be prepared. Through the winter, you work on cropping plans and fixing equipment. Cropping plans are what is created when farmers look at the fields they have available, what crops have been planted in previous years and what crops they want or need to grow in the current year and future years. The farmers will then come up with a plan of which crops will be planted in which fields and select the seed varieties they will be using.

To help maintain soil health, farmers rotate their crops, planting a different crop in their fields each year. This prevents nutrient depletion in the soil, and allows different root systems to grow through the soil. Crop rotation is also a form of natural disease and insect control, since the diseases and insects that thrive on one family of crops will not thrive on another. Pasture plans are less complex, but just as important. Over-grazing the land can leave it barren, so farmers often use “rotational grazing”, moving the animals to a different pasture every few days. It gives pastures a chance to regrow between grazing periods. As snow melts, you fix fences and pick up supplies. And then you wait.

Some years, spring comes early and there is a lot of good weather. Other years, a long, snowy winter delays field work, and then a wet spring delays it even further. Checking the weather forecast becomes more of an obsession than a daily chore, and the forecast changes as often as you check it.

Whether a farmer is preparing for their first year on the land or their fiftieth, they wait with anticipation for the first day in the fields to arrive, minds whirling. What will the year bring? When the weather turns nice, will it hold long enough to get all of the fields and fences done? Did I make the right choices for crops to plant this year? Will we find ourselves in a drought, or will it be such a wet year we’ll have flooded patches in the field?

Manure acts as a natural fertilizer for the crops, adding both nutrients and organic matter. Photo by Patricia Grotenhuis

Suddenly, the weather improves and the busy season starts. Even on a small farm, there is a lot of work to do. This year we planted our farm for the first time since buying it from my in-laws in January.  The succession makes everything a milestone on the farm during our first season. For a few weeks straight, we were either busy in the field, or we were busy in the barn doing extra jobs to be ready for the next field day. Mothers’ Day was spent planting barley, Fathers’ Day was spent baling hay, other days were filled with spreading manure and cultivating. Then it was time to plant corn. After our corn was planted, we immediately started cutting the hay fields. Some was harvested while it was still wet, to be stored in our silos. It will ferment in them and become “haylage”, a nutrient-packed feed for our milking cows. The remainder was dried and baled, to be fed as hay throughout the year.

We’re finished field work for a short time now, at least until we cut hay again. Because hay is a type of grass, it will re-grow after being cut, allowing the farmers to harvest each field several times during the year. Fields are being monitored to watch for growth of the crops and for the amount of weeds a field might have. We have the fences up around the pasture, and the dry cows (cows who are pregnant and are not being milked until after the birth of their calves) and heifers (females who have not had a calf yet) are back outside. It does not mean we get a break, it just means the frantic schedule of the past few weeks has slowed to a regular busy pace.

Planting is one of the biggest milestones, this year. The seeds we planted represent our hopes, not just for this year, but for the future of our farm and our family. Now we have to nurture them into a reality. It will take more hard work, it will take precise planning, and it will take chance, because we will never have control of the weather or the markets, no matter now much we wish for it. We are up to the challenge, though, and so are all of the other farmers out there.

In farming, the outcome of our work is never a sure thing because so many factors are beyond our control. But, luckily for us, our parents instilled their love of working the land and caring for animals in us at an early age, so that now we can continue on as the next generation. Who knows? Maybe as our children grow up, they will also decide to follow in the footsteps of so many generations before them to continue caring for the environment and animals while feeding the world.

The farm does not sleep

By: Patricia Grotenhuis, 6th generation farmer

Corn stalks stand in a no-till field during winter

Winter winds howl and snow is so deep in the fields we can barely see the fence posts in places. The tractors and equipment (other than the snow blower and the tractor that runs it) are tucked away in the shed. Field work seems a long way off, but it is always on the minds of farmers.

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Soil is key to farm success

Farmers rely on good, fertile soil to be successful. Without it, they simply cannot produce enough food to ensure our grocery store shelves are fully stocked.

“Soil is the well spring of future income for the grower, and if we did not have modern tools we would have to revert to more tillage and other practices that are unsustainable,” says agronomist Mark Goodwin.

Before farmers had access to crop protection products to control weeds, Goodwin says, they used to till, or plough, their fields to get rid of the weeds. This was hard on the soil, however. It would break down organic matter and make the soil more susceptible to being swept away by water or wind. Continue reading

Planting in progress

Across Ontario, a team of young farmers have started documenting their lives using a new blog at www.dinnerstartshere.ca

Through photos, tweets, YouTube videos and posts, this group is documenting day to day occurrences, as they happen, on their family farms. Today, we draw your attention to a blog by beef, crop and egg farmer Scott Snyder where he talks about spring planting on his Waterloo Region farm. You can also follow this group on Twitter @howdinnerstarts

Planting in Progress

By Scott Snyder

So I’m sure you’ve all seen farmers out in the field planting in the distance. Maybe it’s on your way to work, so then later in the season you notice what that particular crop is, and how it develops. However, with the variety in the different types of machines, different crops, or even mixed crops, it may be kind of hard to keep straight or notice which machines match which crop. I took a couple pictures and videos earlier in the planting season and thought it might be beneficial to give our readers a closer look at some of the machines in action, along with the farmers running them, to show how they keep the process of planting underway.

To see the rest of Scott’s blog and view his photos, visit




What is green manure?

Green manure.  It’s one of those terms that can lead to inaccurate mental images!  So what exactly is it? Green manure is s a term used to describe a crop which is grown without the intention of being harvested.

Instead, it is incorporated back into the soil to release the stored nutrients it holds.  These crops also help improve soil structure by preventing erosion while they grow and adding organic matter after they are incorporated into the soil.

Crops such as clover, alfalfa, oats or barley can be used for green manure.  All will trap nitrogen and hold it as long as the plant grows, then release it back into the soil once the crop is worked into the ground with tillage.

These “green manure” crops will help the crops planted in the following year, and help improve soil structure for a long time.

The foundation of farming

Soil is the beginning of life on a farm. Without healthy soil, we can’t grow a productive crop and without crops, we can’t feed livestock.

Planting corn into a field using minimal tillage

Farmers used to work their soil every spring and fall in order to control weeds and prepare the fields for planting crops. This was called “tilling” the land. Now many farmers are tilling less, or not at all, in an effort to reduce soil erosion and soil compaction, preserve organic matter and promote the growth of earth worms and other soil-dwelling creatures. As referred to by farmers, “no tilling” also means farmers use less fuel, therefore reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Continue reading

Were the good old days really so good?

by Patricia Grotenhuis

When people think of the farms of the past – small, diverse and all work being done by a small handful of people, they often comment that it is better for the environment than the farms of today.  The pastoral views of 50 or 100 years ago conjure up many “warm, fuzzy” feelings about caring for the land and animals.  Today’s farms, with their modern equipment and technologies, are often regarded as less environmentally friendly in their approach.
As someone who lives and works on farms, and who has also worked in the crop protection and livestock research sector during my studies for my agricultural science degree at university, I see it a little differently.  This excerpt, from “The Real Dirt on Farming II” helps explain the environmental benefits of today’s farms.
A common misconception is that early agriculture functioned in harmony with nature, and that environmental degradation is a phenomenon of “modern” farming.  Historical records reveal a different story.

For example, the farming systems adopted by settlers prior to 1850 was wheat monoculture coupled with biennial summer fallow – meaning the production of one crop every second year, with the soil being intensively cultivated but not cropped during alternate years.  This system was wasteful of land and ruined soil health and organic matter levels.
Many of the early methods of crop protection involved either excessive tillage or inorganic chemicals, such as sulphur, mercury, and arsenic compounds.  Many of these older chemicals are no longer used because of their toxicity or inability to be broken down in the environment.
Between the 1960s and 1980s, monoculture corn was common, leading to pest problems and soil degradation in many areas. Today, we’re learning from our past shortcomings.  Crop rotation is the norm, we’re much better at looking after our soil’s health and crop protection products are safer and highly regulated.
As farmers with families whose livelihood and way of life are very close to the land, we understand more than most the importance of healthy soil, water and air.  We live on our farms with our families and depend on the environment to create a healthy place to live, as well as the right conditions to grow crops and raise livestock. Through farm groups, we invest in environmental research and help develop programs to disseminate the latest findings to our members.  In fact, Canada is a world leader in on-farm environmental programs.”
Farms today use modern technology and equipment to protect the environment as much as possible.  Yes, there will always be farms which have room for improvement, but part of the reason for that is technology changes so quickly today that it’s impossible for farmers to use only the newest technology on their farms.  Whether a farmer has all new equipment and uses the latest in crop protection, or they are like most farmers with a mix of new and old, they are adjusting their practices regularly to protect the environment as much as they can with the means they have available.
For a full copy of “The Real Dirt on Farming II” visit: http://www.farmfoodcare.org/index.php/farm-a-food-resources/2-farm-food-care/37-dirt-on-farming