Greater and More-Visible Leadership on Sustainable Agriculture Needed from Farm Organizations

By Terry Daynard
November 2014

Two years ago I wrote a column describing how quickly major global food processors and retailers are moving to create global standards for purchases of ‘sustainably produced’ food ingredients. This change is occurring in direct response to demands from consumers and activist organizations. My column stated that farmers/farm groups need to seize more leadership in this process if they want these standards to reflect/include their own concepts, understanding and experiences for sustainable development – and not just those coming from corporate executives and pressure groups. Continue reading

Riparian Project Funded by SARFIP aims to help erosion control and clean water

By Lilian Schaer for the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association

Susan Chan and Bob Irvine at the pond.

A partnership with a local stewardship organization helped Bob and Gail Irvine leverage habitat development funding from the SARFIP program into a significant wetland development and habitat creation project on their Peterborough-area farm last year.

The story has its beginnings in a project the year before when Irvine, who raises purebred Dorset sheep breeding stock on his 90-acre farm together with his wife Gail, needed a solution for a field that had been wet for many years. With the help of some grant programs, he was able to excavate a pond that improved his field by draining much of the water out of it.

“The eyesore after all these projects in 2012 was the berm around the pond. It was being under-utilized and that’s when we decided we would undertake a pollinator project with plants, shrubs and trees, which develops habitats through creation of a riparian buffer strip,” he explains.

He turned to Sue Chan with Farms at Work, a not for profit project that promotes healthy and active farmland in east central Ontario. She played a key role in bringing the Irvine project to fruition, helping him access additional funds and resources through the members of the Kawartha Farm Stewardship Collaborative, a group of organizations working together to help farmers access technical assistance and stewardship funding.

She also helped secure private donors for some of the plant materials used in the project, as well as growing some herself, and it was Chan who designed the layout for the riparian area around the pond with all the pollinator plants. The total site is approximately three acres in size, which includes the pond in the middle and the buffer strips around it; all the plantings both in and around the pond were chosen for their benefit to pollinators, fish, birds and insects. Blueberries, for example, are great sources of pollen and nectar for bumble bees in early spring, and the fruit can be harvested later in the season.

“We always try to work with models for others to follow so the idea is that this project will become a prototype for other projects in the area in the future,” says Chan, a firm believer in the power of collaboratives to help advance stewardship initiatives.

Irvine is hopeful about the positive impact the project will have, including erosion control and cleaner water as a result of the creation of new habitats in and around the pond, and Chan says the riparian area will definitely benefit the local pollinator population.

“Most of Bob’s property is in pasture and we’ve put in a lot of flowering plants that aren’t typically found in pasture. We’re hoping that we are creating a reservoir of pollinators that can expand their range,” she explains. “Some plants in there, for example, are specialist plants for the specialist pollinators, like Pickerel Weed and a bee that only survives on Pickerel Weed. Others are generalists for all kinds of pollinators.”

“It has become a happy place for our family and grandkids. It has given new life to a marginal area that was just being ignored previously and it has certainly improved the appearance of the berms around the pond. There’s no direct dollar value return to the farmer for doing this but there are other things than dollar signs at the end of the day, like community, health and happiness. Those are all part of being able to sustain a profitable enterprise,” he adds.

SARFIP is a cost-share program delivered by OSCIA and funded by Environment Canada and the Ministry of Natural Resources. The program aims to help farmers adopt Best Management Practices (BMPs) to enhance the farm operation, while supporting local species at risk, improving forests, grasslands, wetlands and wildlife.

SARFIP has been renewed for the 2014-2015 cropping season. To be eligible to participate in SARFIP, Ontario farm businesses must have a completed Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) and an FBRN or equivalent (see program guide). Candidates can then select eligible BMP categories from the SARFIP list that relate to an action identified in their farm’s EFP Action Plan, including improved stream crossings, erosion control work,
and fencing livestock from sensitive areas.

More information about Farms at Work and the Kawartha Farm Stewardship Collective is available here.

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.

Continue reading

Innovation a key priority for father and son conservationists

by Lisa McLean, Farm & Food Care

Henry and Jeremy Denotter are shown inside their farm shop

Kingsville – In the farm shop at Denotter farms, owner Henry Denotter and his son Jeremy look over an air seeder gang they are retrofitting to be more functional for use on the hundreds of acres of loam clay soil that’s waiting for them under the snow. The Denotters are well known in their community for their fabrication skills. As a young adult, Henry once worked in a machine shop. Continue reading

New water storage eliminates daily ground water use in tree nursery

By Lilian Schaer for Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association

The hot, dry summer of 2012 was the tipping point for Oxford County farmer Jan Veldhuizen, who was using up to 6,000 gallons (22,700 litres) of water a day to keep his tree nursery and garden centre going.

Veldhuizen was pulling water directly from the ground through the small well on his property, and he knew he needed to better manage his water supply in a way that was good for both his business and the environment.

Jan Veldhuizen with his new water storage facility

“I would leave the hose running from the well to fill our holding tank, and if I ran out, I had 24 hours to get more water quickly,” says Veldhuizen, who farms with his wife near Burgessville. “Last year my well ran pretty much 24/7 to keep up and that’s not sustainable in the long term or good for the aquifer.”

Veldhuizen also had another problem. When it rained, the water coming off his greenhouse roof needed to be collected somehow to prevent flooding on both his property and his neighbour’s. His drip irrigation system required clean water, so he couldn’t just use the roof run-off water to water his plants without also installing expensive equipment to clean and re-circulate the water.

Drilling a second well was an option, but wells in his area run between 45 and 100 metres deep, he says, which means the water can be hard and prone to high iron and sulfur content. This option, too, would require an expensive system to manage. Ultimately, Veldhuizen found his solution in an underground water tank with a capacity of 90,000 gallons (approximately 340,000 litres) that collects water and stores it until he needs to use it.

“Building this tank meant I can fix the run-off water problem and have water on hand for my plants at the same time,” he explains. “We have a small parcel of land so we didn’t want to build a pond and use up a lot of real estate.”

“We also had to consider the liability of having an open body of water in close proximity to customers from our garden centre,” he adds. “As well, if you expose water to sunlight, you get algae, but water stored completely in the dark cannot grow algae. So we put a roof on the storage which is suitable for light-duty driving and we now have a water storage that also serves as useable real estate for our operation.”

The water system is located about 200 feet (60 metres) behind his greenhouse and is fed on gravity so he doesn’t need any pumps—or a generator to run the pumps in case the power goes out—to fill the holding tank. Veldhuizen is looking forward to lessening his dependence on ground water sources to run his operation.

“With this system, we’re going to be using all surface water and limiting rain water run-off problems at the same time,” he says. “We’ll also be conserving water since we’ll now be able to go three weeks with no rain in a hot, dry summer without having to draw water from the ground.”

To help fund his new installation, Veldhuizen was able to access cost-share funding through a special program available to Ontario greenhouse, landscape nursery and vegetable farm businesses last year.

The program was developed to implement best management practices (BMP) for improving water quality, water quantity and water management issues.

In order to qualify, program applicants had to have a peer-reviewed Third Edition Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) in place and have selected a BMP from a pre-approved list specific to this program that related directly to an action identified in their EFP.

Portions of six specific BMP categories were eligible for cost-share funding under this initiative, including Horticultural Facilities Runoff Control, Upland and Riparian Area Habitat Management, Improved Pest Management, Nutrient Recovery from Waste Water, and Irrigation Management and Resource Planning.

The Canada-Ontario Environmental Farm Plan and its associated cost-share program, the Canada-Ontario Farm Stewardship Program, were funded through Growing Forward, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. They were administered by the Ontario Federation of Agriculture acting on behalf of the Ontario Farm Environmental Coalition. The Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association (OSCIA) delivered the programs to agricultural producers.

“We really appreciated the support we were able to get for this project and our local OSCIA program rep did a fantastic job in helping us get through the paperwork and get everything in place,” says Veldhuizen.   –30 –

For further information please contact the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association at or 1-800-265-9751.


Constructed treatment wetland purifies vineyard waste the natural way

By Lilian Schaer for Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association

Tough new regulations governing vineyard waste management meant the owners of Sixteen Mile Cellar in the Niagara Region had some tough choices to make. Previously, small estate wineries were allowed to store the liquids and residues from their grape crush on-farm and then haul them away. The rule change now requires waste treatment facilities on site, which can get very expensive very fast.

“For small wineries, this is a big burden. Even if you only crush grapes for one week of the year like we do, you have to provide waste treatment,” says Paul Vander Molen, Sixteen Mile Cellar’s farm property manager. “So we started searching for ideas that would address the waste issue properly but also be affordable.”

The owners of Sixteen Mile Cellar in the Niagara Region were one of the first Ontario wineries to build a constructed wetland as a means of purifying waste from their winery.

The solution was a constructed treatment wetland that uses nature to pre-treat the winery waste—wash water, grape liquids and stems and skins left over once the grapes are crushed—before it is disposed of. The crush residue flows out of the winery into a holding tank and is then pumped into a four-chamber constructed treatment wetland that is located just outside of the main winery building. Continue reading

Making room for diversity

By Nancy Tilt for Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association

Rudy Zubler is a dairy farmer. He is also an avid naturalist and a wildlife photographer. His appreciation of natural areas comes as no surprise then, either within his neighbourhood or on his own property.

Zubler and his wife, Barbara, came to Canada from Switzerland twenty years ago. Their 170 ha certified organic farm lies just east of Ridgetown in Kent County. The realities of economic survival in the field of agriculture are only too well known to any farmer making a living from the land. However, as Zubler puts it, “The world is all one. It takes both cropland and natural habitat to make a landscape.”

Rudy Zubler on his farm near Ridgetown

Continue reading

Returning land to its original state builds habitat, improves water quality

Daryl Hutton and his family are shown in front of their restored wetland

By Lilian Schaer for Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association

They say you can’t turn back time. Yet Wellington County landowner Daryl Hutton has done just that by turning an old pasture on his farm near Harriston back into a wetland. And in doing so, he is helping improve water quality and increase wildlife habitat in his community.

Wetlands are abundant in the area, which is the headwater for both the Maitland Valley and Saugeen watersheds. An abandoned Grand Trunk Railway rail line runs along the east side of the Hutton farm. Drainage tiles and culverts to handle water were placed under the rail bed when it was built in the 1800s, but many no longer function properly, causing spring runoff water to back up in the field. Continue reading

Environmental cost share program supports rotational grazing by sheep

By Nancy Tilt for Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association

Just north of Fenelon Falls there are 160 acres of rolling land; more than 100 acres are pasture and hayfields, the rest a network of creeks, wetlands and woods. The land had been in Janice Craig’s family until several decades ago, and about 12 years ago, she and her husband Peter bought it, bringing it back into the family. This is a story of stewardship, not only of family roots, but also of the land.

The Craigs, along with their daughter Jillian, manage a 250-ewe sheep operation. Peter and Janice tend a commercial Rideau-Arcott x Dorset flock. Jillian manages purebred Rideau-Arcott and Dorset sheep.

The Craigs completed the Third Edition Canada-Ontario Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) in 2012. “All farmers are stewards and want to do the best for their land,“ says Craig. “The EFP process really raises awareness of environmental issues surrounding farming. It gave us the chance to better know our issues and learn how to deal with them.” Continue reading

Ontario’s Environmental Farm Plan Program

By Patricia Grotenhuis

Farming is not just about working in the fields and barns, caring for the land and animals. It also involves a large amount of paperwork and record-keeping. Some paperwork is basic and regular, but there are times when the farmer finds himself or herself voluntarily undertaking a project which adds extra paperwork and extra time away from the farm. Continue reading