Provincial director's report
Huron County hosts drainage field day
Tier 2 project update
Before the Plate screenings in Heartland Region
Ontario agricultural topsoil sampling program
Mental health resources for farmers
For those of you who pay attention, you may notice that this edition of the Heartland News is arriving a little bit later than usual. That’s because we wanted to cover the Huron County Drainage Field Day June 15—which pushed our production date back a week or two. For those of you who also receive the hard copy version, it should arrive in your mailbox any day now.
If you missed the event at Huronview, don’t worry! There is a recap of the project in this edition or you can visit the project website, Huronview.net. You can also sign up for project updates and research results on that site.
The #1 topic of discussion in #OntAg is the weather—specifically, the historic amounts of rainfall we’ve experienced this year. There are many summer events happening where you can join with your colleagues, industry professionals and OMAFRA field staff to chat more about the longer-term effects as the season goes on—FarmSmart Expo, the Forage Expo in Perth and the many field days and twilight tours planned. ~Mary
Provincial director's report
As a change of pace for this newsletter I am going to ask your indulgence as I bring a personal perspective to a couple of different topics. Mental health has been a focus for some of the past season’s Soil and Crop meetings including the OSCIA AGM as well as other ag organizations and farm media. Something happened at one of our Executive meetings that triggered some memories for me and brought some experiences into focus. We are constantly brainstorming ideas for speakers at the AGM and sometimes delve into the past to review our performance. Sometimes our ideas work out fabulously, sometimes not. One of the not so good ones revolved around a speaker who we assumed was going to tackle a certain topic and then delivered a presentation on a completely different one. We would joke from time to time about this until one meeting someone, I can’t remember who, reminded us that this person suffered from mental health issues. All of us I think suddenly realized the seriousness of this and it reminded us of the burdens that others carry. For me I was transported back in time to my teenage years in 1974. Yes I am that old. It's strange how certain memories stick clearly in your mind for reasons you really can’t understand but I recall a summer night at my friends farm. His brother, a few years older than us, had just bought a car. It was, if I am not mistaken, a ’70 Javelin. Not exactly a Porsche but back in the day it was a pretty sporty set of wheels. I remember him laughing and talking with the excitement that only a young guy with a new car can generate. He was relaxed and happy and natural and I guess all the things you are when you’re 21 and things are going your way. But sadly it wouldn’t last. His life would be devastated by mental illness and he would spend years in assisted living. I would see him very infrequently but when I did he would be pale and gaunt, chain smoking with a look of perpetual worry on his face. What he had taken from him was impossible to measure. And while this is a story I am telling I know you have your own in the place where you live. People have varying degrees of illness but all of them are challenged in a very real way and its easy for us fortunate ones to forget. We must remember that they walk the same path as we do but they are dragging heavy stones, their vision blurred by that which is not their doing, not their fault, not their true nature. And maybe that’s what we can offer them. With a kind word or a simple conversation we can let them know that we see the essential truth, the essential value and even on their toughest days the essential joyfulness of who they are.
Next I have to talk about this spring of 2019. Not fun. At all. You could say it sucks or you could say it Super Sucks. Either would be the correct answer. Sometimes as I get older I think maybe with all the worry and challenge I am missing spring. Maybe we are so preoccupied with arranging seed and fertilizer, searching out the best options to speed up the process and fixing equipment that spring sneaks by without us even noticing it. Instead of racking my brain to try to decide which too wet field to go to next I should be strolling through gardens or walking on a breezy beach. But then I ask myself how can you be missing something that consumes you, devastates you, delights you, bewilders you, excites you, infuriates you and causes you to search for answers you didn’t think you could find. While it can be a depressing overload of uncertainty and hard decisions you have to remind yourself this isn’t a world of pretty and perfect. Its a world of real and imperfect. But there is no other place, no other dimension where you can experience what we have right here right now so we might as well find a way to enjoy it. And the joyful truth is we can’t miss spring. We are intrinsically and naturally connected to it and that my friends can be viewed as nothing less than a wondrous blessing.
Huron County SCIA hosts drainage field day
Hundreds turn out to Innovative Drainage Field Day held at Huronview demo farm in Clinton on June 15
Four tile contractors were installing innovative drainage tile at Huron County’s Huronview Demonstration Farm near Clinton, Ontario on Saturday, June 15, 2019 and 350 people came out to see it. Farmers, drainage contractors and members of the public attended the Drainage Innovation Field Day. Visitors came from across Southwestern Ontario and from other parts of Canada as well as from the United States (even from California) to take part in the day. The drainage demo day included field tours on wagons, workshops, soil and water education activities, and an industry trade show.
Attendees during the day included the Honourable Ernie Hardeman, Ontario Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs; as well as Hon. Lisa Thompson, Huron-Bruce MPP; and Ben Lobb, Huron-Bruce MP; county and municipal representatives; and other dignitaries from agricultural, drainage, and conservation organizations.
The event was run by Huron County Soil and Crop Improvement Association (HSCIA), a volunteer board of farmers who are passionate about improving soil and water quality. HSCIA has a fifteen-year agreement with the County of Huron to farm on the 47-acre Huronview Demo Farm field with cover crops, no-till, and best practices. “We knew we needed to invest in field drainage there in order to control erosion and we took this opportunity to try the most innovative system out there,” said Doug Walker, President of HSCIA. “By partnering with Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority (ABCA), we’re able to use it for research.
Organizers of the Drainage Innovation Field Day thanked the hundreds of people who attended as well as all the funding partners and other partners in the project and the volunteers who organized and ran the day.
“It is an unprecedented partnership,” said Melisa Luymes, Project Coordinator. “We brought agricultural, drainage, and environmental stakeholders together to align on innovation and research to improve soil and water quality,” she said.
This is the first time in Ontario that controlled drainage has been installed on a slope, according to Luymes. An Illinois-based drainage design company, AGREM, made the plans for the site and the designers, Jeremy and Bob Meiners, worked with the contractors in early June and presented their work to the crowd at the field day.
Drainage is essential for farming, but it needs to be designed well to reduce the potential for impacts downstream, according to Luymes. “Essentially, we’re trying to ‘shut off’ drainage systems with underground control gates at certain times of the year,” she said. “It works on flat fields in Ontario, but the key to making it work on a slope is that lateral tiles need to be installed on contour at a very precise grade. Conventional tile lines usually run straight, but these curve around the field. It is quite a sight.”
The demonstration farm site features a side-by-side-by-side plot of contoured/controlled drainage, conventional drainage, and an area that remains undrained. Water quality and quantity will be measured, along with yield and soil data. The site also features a research plot comparing 15-foot and 30-foot tile spacing and a demonstration of surface drainage with terraces and a grassed waterway.
The workshops at the drainage demo day featured speakers including Kirsten Grant (University of Waterloo); Sid Vander Veen (Land Improvement Contractors of Ontario); Lynne Warriner and McKenzie Smith (Fertilizer Canada); and Dr. Jeremy Meiners (AGREM). In the soil pit, Anne Verhallen (OMAFRA); Peter Johnson (LICO); and Ross Wilson (ABCA) showed participants how field drainage works and the importance of soil health for water infiltration.
The Huronview Demonstration Farm drainage innovation project was funded and supported by dozens of partners, including the Huron County Clean Water Project, the Land Improvement Contractors of Ontario (LICO), Ducks Unlimited Canada, and Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority (ABCA). This project was also funded in part through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership (CAP), a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. The Agricultural Adaptation Council assists in the delivery of the Partnership in Ontario.
Tier Two Project Update: Maximizing Cereal Rye Cover Crop Management for Multiple Benefits
Submitted by Jake Munroe
When should you terminate a cereal rye cover crop before seeding soybeans? Can you improve weed suppression and soil benefits by delaying termination and “planting green”? And is it possible to provide season-long weed suppression with a roller crimped rye mulch to grow no-till organic soybeans?
These are the questions being asked by plots by six farmer cooperators and at two research station sites in the Heartland and Eastern Valley soil and crop regions.
Early results from on-farm sites in Heartland found that biomass increased substantially by delaying termination until time of planting. At the Kenilworth site, where rye was drilled in late October following corn silage, biomass was 9.5x greater when left to grow until planting vs. spraying in mid May (Figure 1). Soybean stand counts will be performed in the coming weeks and yield compared at the end of the season on these replicated, field-length trials.
At the organic sites evaluating cover crop-based no-till soybeans using a roller crimper, the cool spring has delayed progress. Rye needs to be in full flower to crimp properly. Normally, this happens at the beginning of June for early-seeded rye, but a cool spring delayed flowering by more than one week. One site near St. Marys was roller crimped and seeded on June 8 (Figure 2) and a site near Drayton (Figure 3) was seeded into standing rye on the same day and will be crimped shortly. The small plot site at the Elora Research Station was crimped on June 11 and seeded on June 12.
Achieving a thick and uniform stand of rye is essential to making cover-crop based organic no-till soybeans work. A few early lessons have included: good background soil fertility is important, but too much nitrogen can lead to lodging; seeding rye in mid to late September is key; and achieving a good stand can be more challenging in heavy textured soil.
To learn more about this OSCIA Tier 2 project, check for updates in future Heartland SCIA newsletters, look out for summer twilight tours, and visit the cover crops page of www.fieldcropnews.com.
Before the Plate
We all know the statistic: less than 2% of Ontarians are farmers, and the gap between the people who grow food and the people who are eating the food is growing wider. Heartland Soil & Crop has taken on the challenge to help educate the consumers of Ontario by promoting the documentary Before the Plate throughout the region.
"Before the Plate follows John Horne, one of Canada’s most renowned chefs, on an epic journey as he follows each ingredient from one plate of food back to the farms they came from. Beginning in John’s prestigious restaurant Canoe, located on the 54th floor of a downtown Toronto highrise, John’s journey takes him from the busy, urban city to the rustic, rural origins of his ingredients. During his voyage, John investigates some of the most pressing issues facing farmers today, and discovers what it takes to produce food in a rapidly evolving agricultural landscape. Enjoy a rare look at today's food system, as the worlds of agriculture and cooking come crashing together in one mouth-watering Canadian food story.“ (www.beforetheplate.com/about)
, and Waterloo SCIA hosted a screening June 9, followed by exclusive dinner hosted at Uptown 21 and Harmony in Waterloo. Wellington SCIA is currently planning a screening at Conestoga Conservation Area on August 24, with support from the Grand River Agricultural Society Mini Grants, presented to Wellington president Ed Siefried at a ceremony in June.
The film is produced by Dylan Sher, who grew up in the Toronto area and enrolled at the University of Guelph to study agriculture. “I came with one set of ideas about how food was produced,” he told the crowd at the Waterloo SCIA AGM in December, “but I quickly learned that everything I thought I knew about farming was wrong.” After spending some time getting to know his classmates—the ones who actually grew up on farms and had first-hand knowledge of agriculture production, and some part-time jobs on local farms, Sher knew he had to do something to help educate urban consumers about modern food production in Ontario.
Find out more about the film at www.beforetheplate.com or watch for one of many screenings being held across rural Ontario.
Huron County renews commitment to improving water quality
Septic system upgrade category added to the Huron Clean Water Project
The County of Huron has announced its continued support for the Huron County Clean Water Project with a $400,000 allocation in the 2019 budget. The program provides financial and technical assistance for on-the-ground projects that improve surface and ground water quality, conserve soil and increase tree cover.
Service delivery is provided by Maitland Conservation and Ausable Bayfield Conservation. To learn about grant rates and eligible projects phone Maitland Valley at 519-335-3557 or Ausable Bayfield at 519-235-2610 or toll-free 1-888-286-2610.
The grants have helped people complete more than 2,800 projects since 2004. Combined with support of local landowners, the value of completed projects is more than $10 million over the program’s history and about $1 million worth of projects are completed in a single year. That’s good for water quality and the economy, according to staff delivering the program. The program’s success has three pillars: stable funding from the county; water and soil expertise; and – most importantly – landowner participation. “The program wouldn’t exist if landowners didn’t get involved,” said Kate Monk, Manager of Stewardship, Land and Education at Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority (ABCA). “Huron County has some of the most productive farmland in Canada. Grants help people be good stewards while making a living.” The stable funding helps people complete projects on a time frame that’s affordable. “People might install an erosion control project after wheat in the crop rotation, plant trees along a creek another year, and decommission unused wells they come across,” said Doug Hocking of Maitland Conservation.
Anyone with property in the county is eligible to apply. Conservation authority staff complete the paperwork with the applicants and present the proposals to a review committee. Grants cover up to 50 per cent of project cash costs and can be combined with other funding sources. “These projects preserve valuable topsoil; keep nutrients on the land and out of our creeks, rivers, and lake; control erosion; and provide economic benefits too,” he said.
The grant categories include cover crops, erosion control, well decommission or upgrades, barn yard runoff control, manure storage decommission, forest management plans, fencing livestock out of watercourses, tree planting (plantations, windbreaks, watercourse buffers), and wetlands. The new category this year is septic system upgrades for systems that contaminate water quality, especially along Lake Huron and near municipal wells. The category is limited to only 20 projects so people are advised to apply early.
Huron County property owners have, with the support of the county initiative: planted more than 580,000 trees (more than 800 acres); decommissioned more than 550 unused wells; planted more than 20,000 acres of cover crops (more than 30 square miles); established 180 kilometres of windbreaks; completed more than 220 erosion control projects; decommissioned more than 90 liquid manure storages; upgraded more than 380 private wells; and completed more than 120 forest management plans.
To learn more visit abca.ca, mvca.on.ca, or huroncounty.ca.
Mental health resources
Dr. Andria Jones-Bitton, a researcher from the University of Guelph studying mental health in Canadian agriculture, was a guest speaker at the 2019 OSCIA AGM in February. You can read more about her presentation in the OSCIA newsletter.
When asked what “stressors” existed for farmers, the unpredictability of the weather was something that came up time and time again. Weather is not something we can control, but as this spring planting season has reminded us, impacts us greatly.
We recognize that incredible toll that the weather has taken on our community over the past few months.
Here are a few resources to reach out to if you or someone you know is struggling: