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

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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.

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By Blair Andrews, Farm & Food Care

Greg Devries, president of Truly Green Farms, displays tomatoes-on-the-vine being grown in the company’s greenhouse in Chatham.

Greg Devries, a farmer from Chatham-Kent, is hoping to use innovation and a unique partnership to redefine the greenhouse vegetable industry. If successful, his efforts could also get people to think about tomatoes in a “greener” way.

Devries is the president of Truly Green Farms, a company that is gradually building a 90-acre greenhouse complex across the road from the GreenField Ethanol plant in Chatham.

In a first for North America, the greenhouse operation will be using carbon dioxide (CO2) and low-grade, waste heat from the ethanol plant to help grow the tomatoes. The concept is to take a greenhouse gas like CO2 that would otherwise be emitted into the atmosphere, and use it to produce a healthy food product. Continue reading

Posted in Biodiesel, Bio-energy and Byproducts, Climate Change, Crops, Environmental Sustainability, Farming in Ontario, Fruits & Vegetables, Greenhouse gases, Local food, Research and Innovation, Sustainability of Farming, Wildlife on Farms | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

By Blair Andrews, Farm & Food Care

University of Windsor chemist Bulent Mutus holds samples of chitosan that were tested in his lab to filter phosphorus and micronutrients from wastewater. Encouraged by promising results, the method will be tested this growing season in the field.

(Windsor) – Ontario researchers are testing a new way of removing phosphorus and micronutrients from wastewater. Dr. Bulent Mutus, a chemist at the University of Windsor, has developed a bio-filter made from chitosan, the hard material from shellfish.

The filters, which have produced promising results in the lab, are going to be tested this year at three agricultural sites.

“It’s very heartening that we can do this in a laboratory scale,” says Mutus. “This agricultural scale will tell us whether our lab results can be extrapolated to the real situation.”

Dr. Mutus’ project was one of 17 that were funded partially through the Water Resource Adaptation and Management Initiative (WRAMI) administered by Farm & Food Care. The WRAMI project supported research into improved agricultural water management. Continue reading

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By: Lauren Benoit, CanACT member, University of Guelph

Farming has been an industry long dominated by men, but recently women have become a more dominant presence in the agricultural landscape. Pictured here is author Lauren Benoit. Photo by Lauren Benoit

Farming is an industry that has long been dominated by men, but that is changing. The presence of women in agriculture has been rapidly increasing over the past few decades, and shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. Historically, the roles of women on the farm have been confined to support functions. However, in a growing number of cases, women are beginning to have influence in leadership roles, as executive members, as farmers, and as researchers.

Since 2006, the proportion of farms under sole female operation has steadily increased from 26.3 per cent to 27.4 per cent in 2011, and this number has continued to rise. On multiple-operator farms, women contribute as much as 40 per cent of the work force. Continue reading

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On behalf of the Farm & Food Care team and Ontario’s farmers, happy World Environment Day.

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By Andi McKillop, Farm & Food Care

Nathan Crocker holds a tray of heartnuts.

(Maidstone) – It started as an idea for retirement. At a meeting featuring a prominent economist, Olga Crocker paid attention when an audience member asked what to do to keep active in retirement. Now Olga and her son Nathan have partnered in farming and processing nuts in southern Ontario.

“We had 27 acres and thought we’d start a business,” explains Nathan. “Mom suggested a nut farm and the economist thought it was a good idea. The economist was Stephen Harper before he was anybody – and I think he was referring to three or four trees – not 2000.” Continue reading

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By Melanie Epp

(from left) Neville Spencer, Greggory Foster, Ken Forth, Donald Deyer and Richard Edwards in a greenhouse full of young broccoli plants.

When Donald Deyer started working on Ken Forth’s vegetable farm in southwestern Ontario, he was just 29 years old. The Jamaican native is now 58 years old, which means he’s spent the better part of his adult life working here, on a part time basis, in Canada. Like many seasonal workers, Deyer arrives on the farm in late spring and remains throughout the growing season. On average, his contract lasts six to seven months each year. He is one of 16 seasonal workers that work on Forth’s farm through the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP), a program that has been in place since 1966. Continue reading

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

Glossing over my Twitter feed, I stumbled upon an interesting article recently. A tweet shared an article by Tom Spears, a reporter for the Ottawa Citizen. Continue reading

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After a long winter, Ontario’s farmers are in their fields, or will be as soon as the land dries.  Spring planting is a busy time on the farm, with a lot of work to be done but no knowledge of how long the good weather will last.  Here is an infographic to show what farmers are doing right now in the fields.

If you would like more information on tillage, click here. Continue reading

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