Celebrating soils

By Patrick Beaujot

Did you know:
• 95 per cent of our food is directly or indirectly produced on our soils
• A shortage of any one of the 15 nutrients required for plant growth can limit crop yields
• By 2050, food production must increase by 60 per cent globally and almost 100 per cent in developing countries
• 33 per cent of soil is moderately to highly degraded due to erosion, nutrient depletion, acidification, salinization, and compaction
• It can take up to 1,000 years to form one centimeter of soil
• Sustainable soil management could produce up to 58 per cent more food
• Experts estimate that we only have 60 years of topsoil left

Source: United Nations, Food and Agriculture Organization
The United Nations declared 2015 the International Year of the Soil. This is also National Soil Conversation Week so it’s fitting to consider what the soil and the earth provide.

Since 95% of our food comes from the soil, we should treat the soil with great respect.

To make sure our top soil is kept healthy and preserved for future generations, farmers have been changing their practices from using intensive tillage to conservation or no-till. Continue reading

Diversity, innovation and teamwork are the keys to long-term success

By Treena Hein

Brothers (from left) Steve, Glenn and Tom Barrie receive an honour from the Clarington Board of Trade

Brothers (from left) Steve, Glenn and Tom Barrie receive an honour from the Clarington Board of Trade

(Bowmanville) – Brothers Tom, Stephen and Glenn Barrie work well as a team, and like any successful team, they share a similar outlook. They’ve always worked to have their family farm (called Terwidlen Farms, located between Bowmanville, Orono and Newcastle) stay sustainable – both in terms of looking after the land and in terms of long-term profitability. Continue reading

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

Changing the way we approach cover crops

By Micah Shearer-Kudel

Mapleton, Ontario – Sam Bradshaw, Environmental Specialist with Ontario Pork is working with Jake Kraayenbrink, an Arthur area farmer to determine if planting cover crop seeds into growing corn and wheat will improve the establishment of cover crops and protect soil from erosion and nutrient loss during winter months. Greg Stewart, OMAFRA Corn Specialist and Anne Verhallen, OMAFRA Soil Specialist are also involved in the new project.

Ontario’s late fall leaves little or no growing season to establish a cover crop post-harvest. The objective of the Ontario Pork project is to explore cover crop planting techniques into growing crops before they are harvested, so the cover crop is firmly established before winter.

This project is one of 28 Water Adaptation Management and Quality Initiative (WAMQI) projects improving water use of agricultural water resources and to improve management of nutrients.

The project consists of planting cover crops seeds (clover, alfalfa, rye) into growing crops (wheat and corn). The project compares three different seeding patterns using a small air-seeder mounted on a modified manure applicator. Seed is planted as manure is being applied and is broadcast, ahead of a manure tanker, behind it, or directly into the manure application trench. The project will determine the success of these methods in establishing a cover crop. It is expected that by combining cover crop planting with nutrient application to the host crop, that cover crop adoption may become more widespread in corn production as a practical strategy to control erosion and build soil structure.

Cover crops protect soil from winter erosion by wind and water and reduce the potential for runoff of nutrients such as phosphorous. Erosion and nutrient runoff cost farmers money, and farmers are continually working to reduce the potential for these issues to occur.

“We are trying to establish three crops in wheat and four in corn‎ – clover, crimson, red clover, alfalfa, plus rye in corn. We believe planting them with manure will help get them established,” explains Sam Bradshaw. Sam adds, “Cover crops historically have been difficult to establish. We are trying to get them started earlier in the season by planting them in living crops along with manure.” More cover crops on the soil surface will reduce the potential for runoff events to carry nutrients from the field and for the soil to be eroded by water and wind. The approach is unique, but if successful, it may change the way farmers look at cover crops.

The technology available to farmers allows them to do things that previous generations were unable to do. “We are using two pieces of equipment, a German designed disk applicator in wheat and a Nuhn injector in corn” Sam explains of the technology used for the project. Kraayenbrink has been on the forefront of emerging manure application and soil compaction reduction technologies and hopes that the practical use of cover crops will assist him with his objectives of improved soil health and fertility.

WAMQI is administered by Farm & Food Care with funding provided under Growing Forward 2.

For more information on any of the 28 WAMQI projects visit: www.farmfoodcare.org and click on the Environment button.

Happy Earth Day!

Our farmers are working hard year-round to protect the environment for future generations.  Here is an infographic showing just some of the ways they do this. Continue reading

Nutrient Dilemma: The challenge of keeping nutrients where they belong

Reduced tillage and a winter soil cover can both help to reduce erosion.

By Bruce Kelly, Environmental Program Coordinator, Farm & Food Care Ontario

Dry fertilizer, manure or compost must be added to land, annually, to replace nutrients removed by the previous year’s crop demands. This is a fact for any sustainable cropping system. Farmers understand that sunlight and water alone cannot provide what crops need, and the land must be replenished with nutrients.

The challenge is to apply fertilizers (liquid, dry, manure or compost) to the land following the 4R principles (Right fertilizer source at the Right rate, at the Right time and in the Right place) in such a way that the nutrients are used by the plant or bound to the soil and aren’t able to leave the field. Continue reading

Soil Structure and Soil Health: Preparing for Drought on Ontario Farms

By Micah Shearer-Kudel, Farm & Food Care Environmental Coordinator

West of Guelph, Heather Engbers takes soil core samples at one of ten test sites. The samples will then be sent for laboratory analysis of soil moisture to help prepare farmers for variable weather and drought conditions. Engbers is a research assistant with the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association (OSCIA) and the goal of the project is to understand and improve soil health best management practices about drought and row crop management.

Soil coring provides a profile of the soil telling farmers the type and quality of the soil.

The Water Resource Adaptation Management Initiative (WRAMI) funded this project to help understand how soil and soil structure could be impacted by climate and weather variability – conditions that have affected farms throughout Ontario over the last decade.

The project employs a variety of soil moisture monitoring and testing equipment to compare the water holding capacities of different types of soils and with different degrees of organic matter.

The OSCIA wants to help row crop farmers to be better prepared to cope with drought, and understand how farming practices and management can improve water conservation and prepare for low water years. Continue reading

Today’s farmer relies heavily on science

Farming isn’t what is used to be.  In fact, Saskatchewan farmer, Cherilyn Nagel, says farming may be one of the most technologically advanced sectors of the economy.

“Farmers use technology all the time. We use GPS to make sure that when we’re seeding, spraying or harvesting, we’re doing it as efficiently as possible by reducing overlap,” she says. “In the last couple of decades, we’ve also seen dramatic improvements to the quality of seed available to us, as well as to inputs, like pesticides, that we use to ensure our harvests are robust.”

A GPS system in a farm tractor helps map a field.

Dr. Stephen Yarrow, vice-president of plant biotechnology at CropLife Canada, agrees that there is a lot of innovation available to help farmers improve their yields and farm in ways that are better for the environment.

“One example of how science has improved things on a whole range of levels is conservation tillage. When a farmer plants a herbicide-tolerant canola, for instance, the ability to control weeds without tilling the soil helps to improve overall soil quality.

“When soil is not tilled it is better able to resist wind, so the soil doesn’t blow away, it’s better able to absorb moisture, which helps plants to grow,” he explained.

“Plus, because the stubble from the harvested plant is left to decompose in place, additional nutrients are added to the soil as the plant materials decomposes.”

Over 70 per cent of Canadian farmers currently use conservation tillage practices.

New Stream Crossing in Niagara Vineyard Improves Fish Habitat

By Lilian Schaer for Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association

Fish are once again flourishing in their natural habitat in a small tributary to Niagara Region’s Sixteen Mile Creek, since an eroded culvert was replaced with a new clear-span bridge crossing. Now, fish can make their way downstream and farmers can easily cross the stream with equipment without endangering the habitat.

New bridge crossing

“We knew we needed to come up with a plan to replace this culvert,” says Paul VanderMolen, farm property manager with Sixteen Mile Cellar, a vineyard near Jordan Station, ON, who oversaw the project.

“The culvert was perched from erosion and the fish couldn’t get through so we knew we had to do something.” Continue reading

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.