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KATE PROCTER - APRIL 2014 PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 08 April 2014 09:55
Maybe the warmth of the late winter sun is giving you spring fever and inspiring you to try something new. Maybe you have been thinking about it for a while. Maybe you have heard speakers talk about it at farm workshops and conferences. Cover crops, says Dr. Ray Weil, “are the revolution that is sweeping North America!”
Dr. Weil is a soil scientist from the University of Maryland who is perhaps best known for his book, The Nature and Properties of Soils.  Dr. Weil will get you excited about cover crops, or at least he’ll do a good job trying.
I heard Dr. Weil speak at the Innovative Farmers Association of Ontario Conference 2014. I’ve heard lots of talk at various farm meetings dealing with cover crops. As I drive around and see all of the plowing that went on last fall, it got me thinking more about cover crops.
Preventing soil erosion is cover crops’ big selling feature. However, cover crops can provide benefits beyond keeping the soil where you want it. “Using cover crops changes everything,” Dr. Weil says.
Dr. Weil’s enthusiasm can be contagious, however, he cautions growers to make a plan before jumping right into planting cover crops. The first question you should answer is “what problems do I want cover crops to solve?” Knowing what you want it to do can help you choose the best species to plant.
People are experimenting with a variety of plants when using cover crops. For me, planting mixes of six or 12 different plants seems a bit daunting, and whenever we think about it, we usually opt to stick with our old faithful, red clover. We like red clover. We have a pretty good idea of what it will do and how it works in our system. Plus, I have to admit, some of those photos of 12-species mixes look a lot like… well… weeds.  Seriously – am I the only one who was reminded of the year the back headlands got missed with the sprayer?
But on the other hand, thinking about planting other species makes some kind of sense to me – especially when we moved on to another speaker who gave a very scary talk about pesticide resistance that is developing in some of our least-favourite weeds. Using other plants, that you choose, to suppress weeds is an idea that perhaps deserves a bit more attention.
Dr. Weil pointed out that planting single species is easier to get your mind around, but also easier to make mistakes with. “Using a cocktail has the benefit of letting nature sort it out,” he says. Mixes are really nice if you can get them planted early enough.
That brings us to our next planning point – planting window. “When can I get them in so they do some good?” asks Dr. Weil. Actually getting the plant seeded so that it has time to grow and help your soil is a big consideration.
Dr. Weil recently travelled to North Dakota, where he saw farmers using cover crops to make big improvements in soil quality in a very cold, dry climate. “If you’re ever wondering how to meet your climate challenges – they are doing amazing things there,” he says.
Dr. Weil showed some research that I hadn’t seen before. He made a point that there is nitrogen stored deep in the soil that cover crops can help recover. “Timing is everything! We need to get cover crops planted earlier,” he noted. His point was that nitrogen moves down deep into the soil with moisture in fall. Lots of nitrogen is too deep to be effective. However, if cover crops are planted earlier – the roots get down a few metres before they die in the fall, then they release the nitrogen in the spring.
Cover crops can utilize otherwise wasted resources. Even when the ground is frozen, microbes are working. Dr. Weil pointed out that our conventional crops are using sunlight and working for only a tiny part of the year. He points out that even before corn reaches black layer, it stops drawing nutrients.
Adding cover crops to the rotation can help increase the length of time that plants are improving the soil quality. Along with preventing soil erosion, they can also enhance crop growth, suppress weeds and, depending on the crop chosen, increase nitrogen content and fertility of the soil.
Planting cover crops can also add organic matter to the soil and when it comes to organic matter, a little goes a long way. “1.2 per cent organic matter versus 2 per cent – makes a huge difference to whether the soil disperses or holds together,” says Dr. Weil.  “Polymers hold things together – when it dries out, low organic matter soils form a hard crust then crack,” he adds.
Some cover crops can also help solve compaction problems. Farmers are trying tillage radish in places where they used to plow. “We can replace steel with cover crops,” says Dr. Weil. Radishes are also easy to grow, and he recommends them to people just starting to think about growing cover crops.
“Haphazard cover cropping is not the way to go – plan ahead and treat them like your other crops,” he suggests. Aim for small but measurable increases and do trials until you figure out what works best on your farm.◊
COVER CROPS ARE ‘A REVOLUTION SWEEPING NORTH AMERICA’
By Kate Procter
Maybe the warmth of the late winter sun is giving you spring fever and inspiring you to try something new. Maybe you have been thinking about it for a while. Maybe you have heard speakers talk about it at farm workshops and conferences. Cover crops, says Dr. Ray Weil, “are the revolution that is sweeping North America!”
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KEITH ROULSTON - APRIL 2014 PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 08 April 2014 09:50
I’ve just been defeated – again – by technology.
Ever since my old tape recorder expired, I’ve struggle with my new digital recorder. I’ve finally managed to be reasonably confident in simply recording and replaying interviews, though without the comfort of seeing the tape reels going around, it’s always nerve-wracking to see if the thing actually worked.
My defeat came when I tried to take advantage of one of the simplest of the added benefits of the digital recorder. I mean the manual for the editing program that came with the recorder tells me that the thing can translate voice to text, even translate it to Japanese. All I wanted to do was to load the audio file onto the comp-uter so I could pass an interview on to someone at a distance who’s involved in a project with me.
After searching, I finally found instructions on how to transfer the audio file to the computer – except that none of the symbols I was supposed to see on my screen are actually there. After a half-hour of clicking this and that, I gave up.
I’m showing my age when I say I miss that old, simple tape recorder that could do only one thing but did it simply and well. My comfort zone extends to things like toasters that you buy, plug in and they work. All it does is make toast but I don’t need to get stressed reading instructions on how to program it.
Now I know many readers are much more modern than I, especially you younger people. You love the idea of gadgets that can do more than one thing. A telephone, for instance, isn’t just a phone, it’s a still camera, a video camera, it tells you where to find the closest Tim Hortons and stores your appointments – as long as you have the nerves to program it.
So people who believe that everything should do more than one thing, are way ahead of me when it comes to making use of all advan-tages of the tools of modern life.
We switch sides, however, when it comes to our goals for what to do with these tools. Many people, especially young people it seems to me from observing those near me, have a very simple goal when buying those gadgets: they don’t care where it comes from as long as it’s the cheapest possible price, it’s convenient and it’s the best gadget they can find for the money.
Me, I’m much more complicated. I want the money I spend to do more than one thing. For me, buying a good or service is more than just acquiring something. It’s a vote with my dollars to support a way of life that I want to enjoy: a vibrant rural way of life that offers a variety of occupations and services.
I’m probably fighting a losing battle, but I’m still willing to pay a price premium if I’m supporting a local supplier whose kids will go to local schools, who will be there to provide sweaters for the local hockey team, who will donate to the local hospital or arena and – selfishly on my part, I know – advertise in our publications. I know, for instance, you won’t be reading this magazine very long if the drive to save a few dollars sends my customers’ custo-mers to the internet to buy from distant suppliers who care only for the money they’ll take from my community, not about its future.
A community is an organic thing: recirculating our dollars to support things we often take for granted. In the old expression, what goes around, comes around.
On-line shopping is taking the industrial view of society – first expressed in corporate-owned big box stores and shopping centres – to its ultimate extreme, separating the purchase of goods from the byproducts of local jobs.
Remember, whether you know it or not, you’re voting for a way of life with every dollar you spend. Is the money gained in a bargain worth the cost to your way of life?◊
DOING MORE THAN ONE THING, IN MORE THAN ONE WAY
By Keith Roulston
I’ve just been defeated – again – by technology.
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MABEL'S GRILL - APRIL 2014 PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 08 April 2014 09:44
“I don’t get this Mixed Martial Arts stuff,” said Molly Whiteside as she looked over Dave Winston’s shoulder at the sports page in the newspaper he was reading.
“Seems to me these MMA guys get to do all the things you’d have been accused of fighting dirty if you did in a schoolyard scrap when we were young,” said George McKenzie.
“It’s kind of scary to think these are the heros of young kids today,” said Molly as she filled everybody’s coffee cups. “At a time when we’re supposed to be trying to cut down on violence, we’re inventing a sport that’s more violent than ever.”
“Next they’ll be bringing back gladiators,” said Cliff Murray.
Molly stopped and stared as Dave  poured three spoonfuls of sugar into his coffee. “Whoa! Did you not see that latest report that you’re only supposed to get six spoonfuls of sugar for the entire day?” she said.
“I’m so sick of people trying to scare me out of eating this or that,” said Dave. “Has anybody done a study on the hazards to our health caused by all the stress these people are putting us under worrying about what we’re eating?”
“No, but I’m sure some professor will apply for a grant if you give him the idea,” said Cliff.
“I’d like to get all these scientists and put them into one of those MMA cages and let them fight it out,” said George. “Let the guys who say fat’s going to kill you fight the guys who say it’s salt that most dangerous against the guys who say sugar’s most deadly. Whichever one’s left standing gets to have the airwaves to himself to persuade us that his food is the one we should give up.”
“I don’t think there’s any way you can possibly keep them all happy,” said Molly. “I mean the one thing all the nutritionists agreed on was that we should eat more fruit and vegetables but now they’re saying the natural sugar in the fruit has to be counted against our daily sugar limit. How many apples or grapes before you’ve maxed out your quota?”
“How about those calorie counts the government wants on menus? You going to get into that, Mabel?” asked Cliff.
“I’m not quite up there with McDonald’s,” said Mabel. “Thank-fully they’re saying this only applies to chains with more than 20 restaurants so I’ve got a margin for error of 19.”
“I’ll bet somebody’s already lobbying the government that the poor chains are being discriminated against in favour of you little guys,” said George.
“I figure it’s all part of the government’s jobs strategy,” said Cliff. “Think of all the nutritionists and food scientists who are going to be put to work figuring out how many calories there are in a Timbit.”
“Great, if it keeps them away from  their studies about how food is going to kill me,” said Dave.
“There will also be lots of jobs for the printers who’ll be busy printing new signs and menus,” said Mabel.
“Not to mention the government inspectors going around to make sure the signs have been converted,” said George. “And will it change anything? I think if you like a Dairy Queen banana split you’re going to buy it whether it’s got three days worth of your calorie quota or not.”
“And the food manufacturers will find a way to get you hooked anyway,” said Dave.
“Yeah, I was reading this article that stores can actually increase the sales of French or German wine by playing French or German music on the store’s speakers,” said Cliff.
“So what would stores play to promote Canadian wine?” wondered Mabel. “Hardly anybody knows who’s Canadian and who’s not.”
“Unless it’s Justin Bieber,” said Molly.
“That’d drive you to drink all right,” said Dave. “And hard liquor, too, which I suppose is what Canada’s most famous for anyway.”◊
WHAT CAN YOU EAT THAT WON'T KILL YOU?
The world’s problems are solved daily ’round the table at Mabel’s Grill.
“I don’t get this Mixed Martial Arts stuff,” said Molly Whiteside as she looked over Dave Winston’s shoulder at the sports page in the newspaper he was reading.
“Seems to me these MMA guys get to do all the things you’d have been accused of fighting dirty if you did in a schoolyard scrap when we were young,” said George McKenzie.
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KATE PROCTER MARCH 2014 PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 05 March 2014 16:57
Last month, I wrote about communication, but from the standpoint of the technology that we use to communicate with. Since writing that, I was given a book written by Elaine Froese called Do the Tough Things Right… How to Prevent Communication Disasters in Family Business.
As well as farming with her husband and son in Manitoba, Elaine has helped farm families work through change for over 30 years.
One of my big life lessons has been that good communication, while being the most important thing in our business and family relationships, can also be the toughest. Lots of times I think I’m being very clear and to the point, but the message that the other person hears is completely different. Sometimes it seems as if the words get wrapped up in some sort of crazy dance between leaving my mouth and entering the other person’s ears until they don’t even come close to having the same meaning. Charlie Brown’s teacher comes to mind…
I worked on a couple of farms in England when I was younger. Between the North Yorkshire accent and the slight variations of language, I’m sure the people I was working for thought I had much less experience, and smarts, than I really did. After all, what kind of a farm kid can live for almost two decades without knowing what a spanner is? Strewth!
But aside from all that, when there are no language or accent barriers, even communicating with people you’ve known all your life can be challenging. When those people are your business partners or co-workers as well as family members, and the topic relates to big changes, it can be even tougher. While Froese’s book deals with communication, it is in the context of change. “Unfortunately there is one blind spot, a tough situation that is causing a lot of angst around the country. The tension resides around the lack of clear, open, conflict-free communication that would catapult businesses into a more successful scenario for future expansion, succession, and legacy. Family businesses need to talk and ACT!”
Froese has written a workbook that is a “collection of my last five years of writing for the farm newspaper Grainews, in a column intended to ‘kick farm families in the butt’ to discuss the tough issues – what I call the ‘UndiscussabullsTM’ and then to take action.” These conversations are tough because not only do they involve emotional issues wrapped up in family dynamics, but also because below the surface can be a lifetime of stuff, both good and bad, as well as hopes and fears for the future.
When Froese refers to ‘UndiscussabullsTM’, she is talking about is “the bull in the middle of the family business living room that no one wants to talk about.”
Another author who writes about the same topic refers to a moose and has written a book called The Moose on The Table.  Whether you think of a moose or a bull, the idea is that in all family businesses, really in all relationships, there are touchy topics that no one really wants to discuss, but that have the power to derail the entire business or keep it stuck. “Talking about the ‘moose’ helps create options, names issues, and decrease the power of secrecy and hidden agendas,” writes Froese.
This book provides a great resource with lots of worksheets to help people identify where they are, what their barriers are, and how to move forward. One of the worksheets includes “60 Questions for a Farm Transfer”. Having a set of questions helps to take the emotion out and get difficult conversations started.
In the introduction, Froese provides questions that help people get thinking about transfer of the farm. She includes communicating, developing a plan for the farm enterprise, integrating a plan for knowledge and decision-making power, and preparation for a retirement plan “as opposed to just planning to die in the dirt”.
I have often heard the phrase “Fair is not equal” when it comes to discussion about succession. “A family business is not a piece of pie. You don’t take a viable farm and cut it into four equal pieces like a pumpkin pie,” says Froese. She challenges readers to see beyond their upbringing and helps them think about the viability of the business, as well as the long-term well-being of all involved.
The book also gets into what are often tough issues – our attitudes around money, lifestyle, and what we really want out of life.  The book is both inspiring and hopeful. It helps readers to think of possibilities and to break out of old thought patterns and ruts that are holding us back – both personally, and in their farm businesses.
I would recommend that anyone involved in a farm business – whether actively farming or not – to pick up a copy of Elaine Froese’s book. And get reading it before spring calls us outside for another season!◊
BOOK GIVES GOOD ADVICE TO DO THE TOUGH THINGS RIGHT
By Kate Procter
Last month, I wrote about communication, but from the standpoint of the technology that we use to communicate with. Since writing that, I was given a book written by Elaine Froese called Do the Tough Things Right… How to Prevent Communication Disasters in Family Business.
As well as farming with her husband and son in Manitoba, Elaine has helped farm families work through change for over 30 years.
Read more...
 
GUEST COLUMN - MELISA LUYMES PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 05 March 2014 16:49
By Melisa Luymes
What I saw at the Guelph Organic Conference made me rethink agriculture. With 40 workshops to choose from and hundreds of people to talk with over four days at this year’s conference, each participant would have taken away something different. For me, the sessions and conversations challenged my assumptions far beyond the petty organic vs. conventional debate and got me to thinking that we might have agriculture all wrong.
“We live on a real planet that doesn’t follow the rules that people have told us,” said Mark Shepherd.  He said that while there are hard facts in nature, many of us are blind to these facts due to our concepts and assumptions about nature.
Shepherd has gone far beyond organic on his Wisconsin farm and is transitioning from annual mono-crops to a perma-poly-culture that mimics systems in nature.  Both organic and conventional farms are losing truckloads of top soil every year and he reasons that if we want to create farms that are actually sustain-able, we’ll need to drastically rethink agriculture: we will need to grow a diversity of perennial, woody crops.
In the early 1990s, Shepherd transformed his farm into an agro-forest. He based his design on the land’s topography, digging swales and ponds on contour to manage water and eliminate erosion.
He planted a diversity of fruit and nut trees (with vine crops and mushrooms) in rows along the swale and ensured two widths of his equipment to easily take off hay for his animals. He grazes cattle, pigs, sheep, chickens and turkeys on pasture between the trees, along with asparagus.
He says that people often ask him what is the most profitable part of his farm and he explains that he can’t answer that.  His hard cider might make him more money than sheep but that doesn’t make his apples more valuable to him, because his sheep do his pruning, fertilizing and weed management. He argues that the value of an animal to a farm goes far beyond the money made by selling its wool, milk, eggs or carcass.
Shepherd also breeds his plants and animals for hardiness using a technique he calls the STUN method. STUN stands for sheer, total, utter neglect. He doesn’t want them to rely on him for anything.
For example, he will set 1,000 chickens lose on his farm for a season (and train them to a whistle for feeding times) and at the end he might find that 200 have survived. He breeds the survivors and maybe the next year he’ll get 500 back and by the third year, he will have an 80 per cent survival rate because the chickens have learned how to scavenge for their food and hide from foxes.
Ken Taylor, owner of Green Barn Nursery in Quebec, uses a similar method in creating what he terms “regionally adapted genetics”.  He uses “tough love” on his trees and propagates fruit and nut trees to withstand extremes of temperature, thereby adapting to a changing climate.
Taylor taught how to propagate genetics and choose for certain traits, and then gave away his seeds and trees to participants. His hope is that anyone and everyone could do this work themselves, and that we would not rely on him for the answers.
“Go R&D and be fruitful,” he adds. He argues that agriculture should be a bottom-up enterprise, with farmers as the experts contributing to genetics and research.   He hopes that farmers won’t be left vulnerable to volatile weather and markets, depending on big business for food and seeds.
“Seed saving is a sacred act,” said Cory Eichman of Saugeen River CSA in Durham. He believes it is a shame that farmers have given so much seed-saving knowledge and ability away.
In his workshop, Eichman went on to describe each farm as an individual expression of the farmer.  He equates farmers to doctors who can walk around inside the body of their patients, and are also part of the patient.
He reasons that pests, diseases and weeds on a farm are ways that the farm communicates to the farmer.  Though a farmer’s immediate response may be to just get rid of them, these “problems” indicate that something needs to be changed. Responding to the deeper root of the problem (and not simply eliminating the symptoms) will lead the farmer to new and better ways to manage the farm.
To Shepherd, permaculture is about managing relationships between organisms on the farm, and that includes people. He is part of the Organic Valley co-operative that gives him access to larger markets and makes insurance and infrastructure affordable.
For a landscape to be resilient it needs a diversity of species in various relationships to each other and perhaps this is also true of rural communities; our strength is in the complexity of our relationships.
These sessions showed me feasible possibilities outside our current concept of agriculture. These visionary farmers have re-thought water management, crops, pests, marketing, research and genetics. They have turned agriculture on its head and it is working.
Farming is about finding relationships that work in our respective regions and we cannot afford to leave this to some far away bureaucrat or scientist. We are facing real problems here in rural Ontario: pesticide-resistant weeds, army worm, soil erosion and water pollution, extreme weather and PED, alongside farm succession and other social issues.
But crisis means opportunity. It signals a need for change. I believe there are still many exciting opportunities in agriculture and it all starts with a willingness to re-examine our assumptions.◊
GUELPH ORGANIC CONFERENCE SPEAKERS TURN AGRICULTURE ON ITS HEAD
By Melisa Luymes
What I saw at the Guelph Organic Conference made me rethink agriculture. With 40 workshops to choose from and hundreds of people to talk with over four days at this year’s conference, each participant would have taken away something different. For me, the sessions and conversations challenged my assumptions far beyond the petty organic vs. conventional debate and got me to thinking that we might have agriculture all wrong.
Read more...
 
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