Taking initiative to protect the environment and build the soil

By Treena Hein

John and Grace Kinghorn are shown with two of their environmental initiatives – a double walled fuel tank and some of the trees they’ve planted on their farm.

John and Grace Kinghorn are shown with two of their environmental initiatives – a double walled fuel tank and some of the trees they’ve planted on their farm.

(Woodville) – John Kinghorn grew up with a strong love of the land, and it was that love which called him back to make concrete improvements to his farm and the surrounding area after a very successful career off-farm.

Kinghorn’s ancestral beef and crop operation is located near Woodville, Ontario. He farms about 250 acres with his wife Grace of 52 years. John’s great-grandfather settled the land, and his father continued the tradition. When John was ready to enter the workforce however, he was attracted to an education/work program at General Motors in Oshawa. “Over the years, I was able to be involved in many innovative new ideas and had the opportunity to travel extensively in North America and Europe to explore these ideas and be involved in implementation of some of them,” he recalls. “It was 35 years of a fairy-tale ride in the industrial world for a farm boy.” Kinghorn retired early at the executive level, as Operations Manager of the Oshawa Truck Plant. Continue reading

Grown-Up Bullying Alive and Well in Ontario as Farmers Get Steamrolled Over Neonics

By: Lyndsey Smith, reprinted with permission

Yesterday, the Ontario premier’s office and the ministry of the environment and climate change revealed its plan to restrict the use of neonicotinoid seed treatments. The goal, referred to as “aspirational,” is to reduce the number of Ontario corn and soybean acres planted with the seed treatment by 80% by the year 2017. The details of the new rules, regulations and certification for using the pesticide will be determined by July of 2015, the province says, following a two month consultation process running through December, 2014, and January, 2015.

You’ll note I didn’t say that the ministry of agriculture, food and rural affairs is proposing this plan, even though, yes, technically it is. Want to know why? Because from what I saw yesterday, OMAFRA isn’t the lead on this even a little — premier Kathleen Wynne and her environment minister, Glen Murray, are. And if I were Jeff Leal, minister of agriculture, food and rural affairs, or an Ontario farmer, I’d be feeling more than a little bullied at this point.

That this isn’t being driven by OMAFRA is a significant point, and speaks to the challenge ahead for farmers. It’s one thing to have to deal with changes and increased regulation stemming from your own ministry — a ministry that should understand and respect the complexity of your industry. It’s another beast to be expected to morph and fall in line with the demands of a ministry that is only handing down demands and not offering up any help on the solutions side. Mix in a bit of blatant ignorance of (or disregard for, I can’t tell which it is) farming and agriculture, and we’ve got ourselves a hot mess.

Farmers are, understandably, upset over the coming regulations. Wynne and Murray are busy patting themselves on the back and reminding voters how great they are, while simultaneously disregarding what it means on the ground for farmers and the environment. How so? Read on.

Access the full article here.

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.

Community involvement, sustainability at heart of local blueberry farm

By Lilian Schaer

St. Williams – Blueberry maple syrup, widespread environmental improvements, a rural events centre and a pink tractor that raises funds for cancer research are all part of Dale Vranckx’s approach to sustainable farming. Together with his wife, Angeline and family, he runs Blueberry Hill Estate on the shores of Lake Erie near the Norfolk County hamlet of St. Williams.

The farm, which overlooks the Long Point World Biosphere Reserve, had its start in 1975 as Ontario’s first commercial blueberry operation. The Vranckxs, former tobacco farmers, have owned it since 2005 and when they took over, adopted a fully sustainable model for the property. This includes everything from establishing a farm outreach program and diversified products to environmental improvements and giving back to the community by raising funds for cancer.

Vranckx family, from left, Angeline, Wesley, Dale Jr (in front), Nicholas, Dale

“We did a lot of research on sustainable model operations to find something that makes sense with what we’re doing. It’s been just over five years since we developed our overall strategy and everything is now just finally coming into operation,” says Vranckx. 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

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Blueberry grower builds on-farm habitat for endangered snake species

By Lilian Schaer for Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association

The north shore of Lake Erie is a known habitat for the Eastern Fox Snake, Ontario’s second largest snake species.

It’s protected under the province’s Endangered Species Act, so when Dale Vranckx saw them on his Norfolk County farm, he wanted to do what he could to help bring back the population.

Dale Vranckx and his hibernacula project

His solution was to build hibernacula—protected areas on his property where the snakes could overwinter safely.   “Our farm is in a wintering area for the fox snake. We have found some on the farm around our pond area so we know they’re here and they’re endangered,” says Vranckx, whose 20-acre sustainable blueberry operation, Blueberry Hill Estate, overlooks the Long Point World Biosphere Reserve. “It’s unique that we have these snakes here and we are doing what we can to rejuvenate the population.” Continue reading

Innovations protect fruit crops against weather and predator damage

By Lilian Schaer

Charles Stevens in his apple orchard near Newcastle. (Photo by Courtney Stevens)

Newcastle – Damaging weather and predators can mean the difference between a good year and a bad one on the farm. No one knows that better than Charles Stevens, who grows apples and blueberries on his farm near Newcastle, east of Toronto. He’s turned to technology and innovation to protect his apples against hail and frost – and to Mother Nature to help keep his blueberries safe from hungry wildlife. Continue reading

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

Finding the balance between farmers and grassland birds

Prepared by Lilian Schaer for Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association

Two grassland bird species are currently listed as threatened within Ontario. Their habitat is often also used by farmers as grazing land for their livestock. So what’s the best way to strike a balance between conservation and farming? That’s what a two-year demonstration project headed up by the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association (OSCIA) and funded by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources through the Species at Risk Stewardship Fund is trying to determine.

The Bobolink

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Bambi and the cows

by Patricia Grotenhuis, Lifelong farmer and agricultural advocate

Farmers see some strange things on their farms.  Sometimes things will happen that are completely unexpected – yet absolutely beautiful reminding us,  first-hand, what nature can do.

One day, while I was at university studying agricultural science, I got a call from my mom at home on our farm.  The call wasn’t unusual –  but the story she was about to tell me certainly was. 

One day, while out checking the beef cattle, they noticed a young fawn in the same pasture as the cattle.  Over the next few days, my family noticed the fawn was always within sight of the cattle – but never too close.  They never saw a doe, and were wondering who was caring for this little fawn.

Bambi in the field with the cows.

Continue reading