Read the March 2019 print edition (PDF) Upcoming events Wellington member honoured Menacing Mollusks: FarmSmart recap Huron County drainage project Perth County AGM OSCIA news OMAFRA CropTalk Upcoming workshops
March 27: Perth Production Meeting & Heartland Spring Meeting. Elma Memorial Community Centre, Atwood. 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. $15 advance registration; $20 at the door.
More information and RSVP at heartlandsoilcrop.org
Editor’s note: Did you miss FarmSmart? Didn’t get to all the sessions you wanted to? Visit farmsmartconference.com to see the presentation slides from the speakers, and check upcoming editions of Heartland News for a recap of one of the speaker sessions.
While there are many benefits to planting no-till, one of the challenges that farmers may face is yield loss due to slugs, which can thrive in heavy residue and moist conditions.
Slugs can damage virtually any crop — soybeans, canola, corn, alfalfa — and can cause crop damage in the spring as juveniles, and again in the fall as adults. They lay their eggs in the fall and can survive over winter. One slug can lay 500 eggs, which means that the problem can intensify quickly.
“The problem can go from seemingly nothing, to something serious very quickly,” says John Tooker, associate professor of entomology at Penn State University, a speaker at the FarmSmart conference in Guelph in January.
Tooker says that there are few options to deal with slugs. The chemical application Metaldehyde is available in the US but banned in Canada — but it has limited effectiveness and is expensive. “It’s just another thing to swear at,” he jokes. “More people swear at it than by it.”
He says a beer and salt concoction may work in a back-yard garden, but isn’t feasible in large-scale agriculture and nitrogen applications will just burn your crop.
Some farmers in Pennsylvania, where slugs affect yields in 20 per cent of no-till acreage, have resorted to tillage to combat the problem.
But the best way to manage slugs, according to Tooker, is an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) plan.
Tooker says that it’s important to know exactly what pests you’re dealing with on your farm, and to respond accordingly. “Not scouting your fields is like driving blind. You have to know what’s there.”
Slugs are a mollusk — not an insect — which means that traditional insecticides won’t kill them, and if used indiscriminately may, in fact, make the problem worse. That’s because insecticides kill predators that can help control a slug infestation naturally.
For example, “ground beetles are the lions of no-till fields,” says Tooker. In addition to eating slugs, they can help control black cutworm, true army worm, stalk borer and wireworm. Tooker’s research has shown that as the predator population goes up, slug feeding damage goes down — and with higher insecticide application rates, more slugs are often the result.
“The more predation, the better.”
“Insecticides are a valuable tool,” he says, but advises using them only when necessary and when it makes economic sense rather than “using them blindly.”
Cover crops have also shown to be beneficial to controlling slugs. Lucas Criswell, a farmer from Union County, PA turned to interseeding cereal rye into his soybean and corn crops, with dramatic results.
“A clean field provides one food source — the crop,” says Tooker. In Criswell’s trial, the rolled rye cover crop was a preferred source of food for the slugs, and provided a habitat for predators.
“Where we had rye between the rows, we cut damage from slugs by half, and increased the ground beetle population by three times,” says Tooker, “while also providing the benefits of weed control, conserving moisture and decreasing input costs, without sacrificing yield.”
The bottom line, says Tooker, is that there is value in knowing what is happening in your field and building an IPM plan to address the issues based on what you find. “You need boots on the ground, you can’t plant and forget about it.”
Innovative drainage project receives federal-provincial funding to move ahead
Funding from the Canadian Agricultural Partnership (the Partnership) will support an innovative project to demonstrate and monitor contoured drainage on a field at the Huron County demonstration farm near Clinton.
Technology is opening new opportunities for farm drainage that could improve both yields and water quality. Control gates manage water levels in field tiles, effectively ‘shutting off’ drainage systems when they aren’t needed and sub-irrigating a crop. While they’ve been tried on flat fields in Ontario, this Huron County field will be first in the province to try controlling drainage on a slope. The trick is to run tile laterals on precise contours with a 0.1% grade to allow the control gates to work.
“Through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership we are investing in on-farm solutions for soil and environmental sustainability,” said Lawrence MacAulay, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food. “This collaborative, in-field, innovative approach will enhance water management and environmental practices for farmers and help keep the sector on the cutting edge of sustainable growth.”
“We’re working with farmers and others in our agricultural sector to keep improving nutrient and water management and other practices to benefit both productivity and the environment,” said Ernie Hardeman, Ontario’s Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. “Not only will this project help agriculture become more competitive and sustainable, but it also supports our made-in-Ontario environmental plan.”
Huron County Soil and Crop Improvement Association (HSCIA), in partnership with Huron County, Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority (ABCA), and two landowners are installing a side-by-side comparison of two contoured systems in June 2019. The contoured and controlled drainage system will be compared with a conventional pattern-tiled field with a contoured terrace to control surface erosion, and a third field area which will remain untiled. ABCA will be monitoring the surface and sub-surface flow and water quality, while Huron Soil and Crop will compare yields across the various systems.
“Traditionally, only gently sloped fields benefited from controlled drainage and sub-irrigation,” said Jeremy Meiners of AGREM, the Illinois-based drainage design company that made the plans for the site behind Huronview. “But our designs reduce erosion while improving yield on sloping ground, and that should work well in Huron County.”
“The Huron Soil and Crop Improvement Association would like to thank the Canadian Agricultural Partnership for supporting this innovative research and recognizing the yield and water quality benefits that are possible by studying and sharing methods of in-field water management,” said Doug Walker, President of the Huron Soil and Crop Improvement Association. “Huron Soil and Crop is pleased to work with industry partners to introduce innovative approaches to managing water including controlled drainage on a slope.”
The combined resources and expertise of this group of partners will help to create new possibilities for new approaches, according to Walker. “The study of contoured drainage at the Huron County Demonstration Farm can help to demonstrate how contoured drainage strategies could work to better manage water on fields in this part of Ontario,” he said. This study can help producers know how to better manage water on the field to store water at the right times and the right places, Walker said. “We have the potential to learn a great deal about in-field water management and yields and water quality by comparing contoured and controlled systems with conventional pattern-tiled systems,” he said.
The field is located behind Huronview and the Huron County Health Unit and has long been owned by the County of Huron. It is currently being rented to Huron County Soil and Crop Improvement Association, a volunteer board of directors whose mandate is to develop and communicate innovative and environmental farming practices.
“The Huron County Demonstration Farm field at Huronview builds on Huron County’s efforts to support our vital agricultural industry while protecting water quality, wetlands and woodlands,” said Jim Ginn, Mayor of Central Huron and Huron County Warden. “Huron County Council is proud to partner with HSCIA, ABCA, the drainage industry and others to host this innovative project.”
The project is being funded by the Huron County Clean Water Project, Huron County Soil and Crop Improvement Association, the Land Improvement Contractors of Ontario and the Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority. This project is also funded in part through the Partnership, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. The Agricultural Adaptation Council assists in the delivery of the Partnership in Ontario. The project will receive up to $181,593 in funding through the Partnership.
Farmers, drainage contractors and the public are welcome to attend a demonstration day, which will be held during installation in June 2019.
Perth county AGM
By Andy Bader
Reprinted by permission by the Mitchell Advocate
Keeping it Real in Ag. That was the title of the topic for guest speakers Mark and Sandi Brock, of Shepherd Creek Farms Ltd. in West Perth, that concluded the annual meeting of the Perth County Soil & Crop Improvement Association Thursday, Jan. 17 at the Mitchell & District Community Centre.
However, the pair ignored the title and led the approximately 110 members in attendance on an interesting, informative and inspirational peek into their busy lives; lives that are deeply connected to agriculture.
“Like true farmers, we were given the topic but we’re not paying attention to it,” Mark said at the outset.
Mark and Sandi have been married 20 years and live, with their children Jack, 18, and Jessica, 16, on their 1700-acre cash crop and sheep farm outside Staffa. Mark just finished three years as chairman of the Grain Farmers of Ontario (GFO), a committee he served for nine years, travelling for meetings between 120-160 days a year, he guesses, wearing out three suits, three pairs of dress shoes and two suitcases in the process. Sandi, meanwhile, looks after the 500 commercial ewe flock (“when they’re not dying on me,” she joked repeatedly, usually from what Mark called SBI – Something Bad Inside); is active on social media and creates and produces “Sheepishly Me” vlogs on YouTube. She’s also a director with the Sheep Farmers of Ontario.
Both are fiercely independent yet equal partners on the farm and have, according to Mark, “created our own industry identity.
“At the end of the day we have the utmost respect for each other and trust each other,” he said.
“He likes to take care of the dirt and the plants,” she added, “I like to feed it.”
The Brocks are asked many times if their kids are interested in one day carrying on the farm, and they admitted they don’t know what the future holds. Jack currently attends Fanshawe College for electrical engineering and that in itself was a difficult decision as his parents wondered if he felt pressure to join the farm business in some capacity, while Jessica, a Grade 11 student at Mitchell District High School (MDHS), is still trying to decide what path to take once she graduates.
“Our kids might likely come back to the farm, we don’t know that, but I think farming is going to look different,” Sandi said. “We’ve learned that our dream can’t be their dream. Our dream has to end at us.”
Mark said he’s often asked, as other farmers are wont to do, about yield.
“It’s hard not to focus on yield…it’s such a large part of the economic equation,” he said, admitting they focus on return on investment and encourages a little experimentation and trying new things, saying it’s okay to fail – but on a small scale.
“As farmers we’re really good at growing stuff, or raising things, but I find we’re missing out on the business side of agriculture,” he added.
Sandi is active on YouTube with her video blogs, or vlogs, about the sheep merely to educate. Since YouTube is owned by Google, anytime anyone conducts a Google search, she hopes her fun, educational videos pop up “instead of those that want to put us out of business.
“The more authentic, the more we bring people along for the whole entire journey, the better,” she said.
His commitment with the GFO complete, Mark’s final meeting locally as a Perth director was Feb. 11.“I wouldn’t have done it if I wasn’t asked,” he said, adding it’s important to get involved and to thank all those who do volunteer for anything because it makes a difference and so often goes under appreciated.
“Never underestimate the good that you’re doing in your own communities,” Sandi added.
Politically, Mark admits, things at the board level can be frustrating “but we’re pretty lucky to be in Canada.
“I absolutely love farming,” he continued. “I could not think of something else to do. We’re challenged by the grass is always greener, because there’s opportunities to do stuff elsewhere….but I’m always happy to be home and to drive up the laneway.”
Mark was recently awarded a Nuffield Canada scholarship, a two-year process which will allow him to travel around the world for 10 weeks, six weeks continuously, that he plans to use to open doors to other like-minded individuals in other countries.
“It’s going to be a great way to learn from other people,” he added, hoping that Sandi will be able to travel on occasion as well.
“The ability of not forcing your partner to not fall in love with what you love to do has been why we’re successful,” Sandi said. “Independence is still very important on a farm for that happiness and we’re both very happy in what we do.”
The Heartland board of directors met for their AGM in January, and discussed the business of 2018 and made plans for 2019. Thank you to directors Horst Bohner (OMAFRA), Doug Walker and Gord Mitchell (Huron), Ed Siefried, Laurence Helmuth and Stuart Wright (Wellington), Darcy Weber and Jeff Strenske (Waterloo) and Kaye McLagan and John Poel (Perth) for representing their local associations at the regional level.
John Poel was elected as president of the Region, with Kaye McLagan as vice-president. Stuart Wright will continue to represent Heartland as director to Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association.
At the meeting, the board discussed the highlights from 2018 which included a successful spring meeting hosted by Huron Soil and Crop in Brodhagen in March and many outstanding county events.
Heartland was awarded a 3-year Tier 2 grant from OSCIA, “Maximizing Cereal Rye Cover Crop Management for Multiple Benefits”. We are also cooperating with Northumberland on their project “Making Relay Cropping Pay” and the Thames Valley Region’s project “Roots Not Iron 2”.
Heartland Region is very proud to have Stuart Wright represent us on the OSCIA board as 1st vice-president for 2019. Stuart will be hosting the 2019 OSCIA Summer Meeting in Heartland Region August 18-20. Heartland Region was pleased to sponsor the Summer Meeting with a financial contribution.