Eric Kaiser has spent a lifetime transforming 14 former Loyalist settlement properties into a large, productive egg and field crop farm business – and always with a singular focus on the environment and innovative, sustainable soil conservation practices.

His efforts have earned him the 2017 Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association (OSCIA) Soil Champion Award, which is handed out annually to recognize leaders in sustainable soil management.

“There is no one practice that defines conservation farming, it’s a management system and every component has a part to play,” says Kaiser, who has a civil engineering degree from the Royal Military College. “Sustainability has many components, but the preservation of top soil must be the final result.”

Kaiser bought his first 300 acres in 1969; today, the now-1,300 acre Kaiser Lake Farms is owned by his youngest son Max. It’s on the shores of the Bay of Quinte and Hay Bay recreational area that is also the drinking water source for the Kaisers and their non-farming neighbors.

The farm’s heavy soils don’t drain water well naturally, so Kaiser has spent decades minimizing soil erosion by installing diversion berms, dams and surface inlets to control surface water and direct it into the underground tile system. Using a map he keeps track of all the agronomic information he’s gathered on the farm since 1986, including soil tests, and pH, organic matter and phosphorous levels.

“We’re egg farmers so we have manure to spread, which comes with big soil compaction concerns if we travel on fields with heavy equipment,” Kaiser says, adding that’s why he built laneways and grass waterways throughout the farm long before this became a recommended Best Management Practice.

Kaiser farmed conventionally until the mid-1980s, which meant regularly working the soil, but became an early Ontario adopter of no-till production to reduce erosion risk and maintain soil health – seeding his crops directly into the stubble of last year’s plants without plowing the soil.

He has also experimented with many different cover crop varieties for more than 30 years, ultimately settling on a few that do well on their land, like barley, sorghum, tillage radish, oats, peas and sunflowers. Cover crops improve soil health by boosting its organic matter and nitrogen levels.

Constant change, too, is part of Kaiser’s approach to farming; for example, there’s not a single piece of equipment on the farm that hasn’t been modified and improved somehow to be better suited to the unique needs of their land.

“We never do the same thing every year, but we do the things we think are important for this farm,” says Kaiser. “We hope to keep this place sustainable in the future; we need to be more productive so we need to be more sustainable.”
Published in Corporate News
Birds, butterflies and especially bees have found a welcoming home at Antony John's farm near Guelph, Ontario, named "Soiled Reputation". John's dedication to biodiversity and creating habitats for pollinators can be seen in every aspect of his farm, and the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA), the Canadian Forage and Grassland Association (CFGA) and Pollinator Partnership are happy to announce that he is the winner of the 2017 Canadian Farmer-Rancher Pollinator Conservation Award.

The award recognizes the contributions of Canadian farmers in protecting and creating environments where pollinators can thrive.

John has also been active in spreading awareness of pollinator health and encouraging practices to support biodiversity. He hosts both private and public farm tours, and also hosted a television show on the FoodTV channel for several years. In addition to carrots and leeks, his fields and greenhouses yield at least 50 different organic vegetables used primarily for gourmet salad mixes. The farm supplies produce to restaurants, markets and homes, both locally and in the Greater Toronto Area.

It is difficult to single out a single project that earned the award for John, as the entire Soiled Reputation farm is based around one main crop, which he would tell you is "biodiversity". Aspects of the farm that help attract pollinators include:
  • Huge flower gardens and plantings interspersed through crops to provide pollen and nectar
  • 30-foot buffer strips seeded with legumes that are allowed to flower around a 40-acre field
  • A two-acre meadow that is home to over 20 beehives
"Pollinators are an essential component to any farming ecosystem," said CFA president Ron Bonnett. "The innovation that Antony John has shown is an inspiration for many growers looking to enhance pollinator habitats. His projects are incredible examples of how farmers can work to both improve their business and their land's biodiversity."

Over $2 billion of Canadian produce sold annually is reliant on pollinators, including staples like apples, berries, squash, melons and much more. These species are integral to the continued health of both the environment and agriculture sector, and Canadian farmers like Antony John are integral to ensuring that our environment will be healthy for generations to come.
Published in Corporate News
Farmers Edge™, a global leader in decision agriculture, announced today a strategic partnership to bring Planet’s best-in-class global monitoring data and platform capabilities to the Farmers Edge precision agriculture product suite.

Planet is an integrated aerospace and data platform company that operates the world’s largest fleet of earth imaging satellites, collecting the largest quantity of earth imagery. Farmers Edge is now a sole distributor for Planet in key agricultural regions, with the right to use and distribute high-resolution, high-frequency imagery from Planet’s three flagship satellite constellations.

Through this multimillion-dollar, multi-year global distribution agreement, Farmers Edge and Planet are significantly expanding their existing partnership. The companies will deliver the vanguard of remote sensing driven and analytics-based agronomy services to growers worldwide.

Farmers Edge customers will be among the first to take advantage of field-centric, consistent, and accurate insights from satellite imagery. While traditional imagery products provide only a partial, delayed, or inconsistent view of fields, this partnership equips Farmers Edge growers with comprehensive, high-quality field imagery more frequently updated than any other company in the industry.

“Until now, the challenge with satellite imagery was the data was simply not frequent enough to react to crop stress in a timely manner,” said Wade Barnes, President and CEO of Farmers Edge. “At Farmers Edge, providing our customers with the most concise, comprehensive, and consistent data is at the core of what we do. We understand the need for more image frequency, that’s why we are partnering with Planet. Daily imagery is a game-changer in the digital ag space.”

The combination of Planet’s unprecedented data set and Farmers Edge state-of-the-art image processing technology allows for early crop monitoring and gives growers the best opportunity to correct factors that could limit crop performance and compromise yield potential.

Growers will now have a wealth of field-centric data updated throughout the growing season, including early monitoring of crop stand, detection of pest and weed pressure, drainage issues, hail damage, herbicide injuries, nutrient deficiencies, yield prediction and more.

“Farmers Edge is consistently at the cutting edge of innovation in agricultural technology, and we’re proud to expand our partnership with them as we work to improve profitability, sustainability, and efficiency for the world’s producers,” said Will Marshall, CEO of Planet. “The challenges faced by the agriculture industry are complex in nature and global in scale, and we believe our data is uniquely positioned to solve agricultural challenges.”

“Retailers, co-ops, equipment dealers, agronomists, and all other important advisors to the farmer can now partner with Farmers Edge and leverage this industry changing capability within their business,” said Ron Osborne, Chief Strategy Officer of Farmers Edge. “We're pleased to be able to help so many in our industry manage risks, in near real-time. This is great for our customers, our partners, and agriculture.”

In 2016, Planet awarded Farmers Edge its Agriculture Award, recognizing the company’s pioneering work with ag-based analytics, Variable Rate Technology and field-centric data management.
Published in Corporate News
Dr. Anfu Hou is a leading plant breeder. He works at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Research and Development Centre in Morden, Man.

Hou was born in China and his research took him through several countries before he settled in Morden, which is located just north of the U.S. border. Geography is not insignificant here. Hou and his team develop crop varieties specifically suited to grow and grow well in the unique soil and weather conditions in Manitoba and Western Canada. For the full story, click here.
Published in Plant Breeding
August 31, 2016 - Horizon Seeds Canada Inc. celebrated 10 years in business with an open house on August 30, 2016.

Rick and Angela Van Laecke started the company in 2006 when they transitioned from growing tobacco. Horizon Seeds produces, processes and packages all seed at its Courtland location. They primarily produce seed corn but also produce seed soybeans and seed rye. Fifteen local growers are contracted to produce seed. The company started with one employee Steve Gubesch who is Horizon Seeds production manager plus the Van Laeckes.

“Looking back 15 to 20 years, it’s clear that you never know where time will take you," says RickVan Laeke. "I’m sure I speak for Ang as well, as former tobacco farmers I can honestly say that we never dreamt we would be hosting an event like this in our lifetime. Celebrating a tenth anniversary of a Canadian, independent, family owned seed company is a great milestone.”

“I saw a quote not so long ago that said, ‘if you want to go fast, go it alone, if you want to go far, do it together’," Van Laeke adds. "I realized this is very true for Horizon Seeds.”

Rick thanked their growers for their work to grow a good quality seed; their suppliers whose service and products are essential to processing, and their customers for supporting their business. He also thanked the Horizon staff.

The Van Laeckes continue to grow their business, which employs 27 people from Norfolk, Oxford, Elgin, Brant, Middlesex and Waterloo Counties. This includes their son Curtis who is head of research and product advancement.

Sales include both wholesale and retail across Ontario, Manitoba and Wisconsin.

Horizon Seeds is a CFIA-registered seed establishment and an accredited organic handler with a bulk storage facility.
Published in Corporate News
August 31, 2016 - Cargill’s canola research facility in Aberdeen, Sask. has undergone a facelift after a $3.5 million investment in new equipment and technology.

Improvements to the facility include a 14,000 sq. ft. expansion, a larger pathology lab, a new quality assurance lab, ventilated seed preparation room and high efficiency LED lighting throughout the facility, with UV repelling windows.

“The new facility will allow Cargill to showcase the research and innovations within our specialty canola business,” says Mark Christiansen, managing director, Cargill Global Edible Oil Solutions.

Cargill says Saskatchewan continues to be an important province for the company to invest in, saying that 26 per cent of its Canadian investment is in the province.
Published in Corporate News
August 15, 2016 - The Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association (OSCIA) is seeking a worthy receipient for the 201 "Soil Champion" award. Nominees must be residents of the province, and continually contribute to soil management in a way that directly influences improved soil health and crop production sustainability in Ontario.

Sustainable soil management practices may be defined as those that:

  • Make the most efficient use of nutrients
  • Support systems with no net loss of organic matter and soil aggregate ability
  • Build the population and diversity of soil organisms
  • Effectively manages surface water to support reduced tillage systems

Click here to retrieve a nomination form.

The deadline for all nominations and supporting documents is September 1, 2016.
Published in Corporate News

June 17, 2016 - Farm Management Canada (FMC) and the Canadian Association of Diploma in Agriculture Programs (CADAP) have announced the selection of the winners of the 2015-2016 Excellence Award for Ag Students Competition. Congratulations to the three winners.

FMC and CADAP collected submissions from agricultural students across Canada and selected three winners who will receive scholarships towards furthering their education in agriculture. First place won $1,500!The award is designed to help students develop their communication skills by having the opportunity to voice their opinion on a on a subject related to farm management.  

Students were asked to submit a multimedia presentation, a video, a Twitter chat, a blog or a Wiki, responding to the following question: 

What top 3 priorities should Canada's agricultural industry focus on in order to be a leading agricultural body going forward? How will you, as a new graduate, positively contribute to these priorities? 

This year's winners are: 

  1. Tomina Jackson, University of Saskatchewan, SK: View the winning entry
  2. Jessica Thompson, Maryfield School, SK: View the winning entry
  3. Laurie Laliberté, Université Laval, QC: View the winning entry

Visit for more details on the winners and their competition entries.

Published in Corporate News

Photo courtesy of Ag-West Bio.


May 25, 2016 - Richard Keith Downey, O.C., F.R.S.C., received the 2016 Saskatchewan Order of Merit, the province's highest honour, in a ceremony May 24, 2016 in Saskatoon.

Born in Saskatoon, Dr. Keith Downey earned degrees from the University of Saskatchewan and Cornell University. He joined the Agriculture Canada Research Station at Lethbridge as an alfalfa breeder, producing the world's first winter hardy, wilt resistant alfalfa variety before returning to the Saskatoon Research Station in 1958 to direct the oilseed breeding program. It was there Dr. Downey earned a world‐wide reputation as one of the "Fathers of Canola" for converting rapeseed into nutritionally superior canola.

As a plant breeder, he is associated with the release of 13 rapeseed/canola varieties and five condiment mustard varieties. His work with canola has resulted in the acreage expanding from only a few thousand in the 1950-60s to more than 20 million in 2014 and into a multi‐billion dollar industry for Saskatchewan and Canada. Equally important, canola oil is a significant factor in improving health and reducing health care costs due to its positive effect on cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes.

Dr. Downey's expertise and contributions to scientific research are recognized and in demand world‐wide. He has held numerous professional and administrative positions with a broad range of organizations. He is an inductee in the Saskatchewan and the Canadian Agricultural Halls of Fame. He is an Officer of the Order of Canada; a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and the Agriculture Institute of Canada; and holds Honorary Doctorates in Science from the
University of Saskatchewan and Law from the University of Lethbridge.

Established in 1985, the Saskatchewan Order of Merit recognizes excellence, achievement and contributions to the social, cultural and economic well-being of the province and its people. It acknowledges individuals who have made their mark in the arts, agriculture, business, industry, community leadership, occupations, professions, public service, research and volunteer service.

Read more about Dr. Keith Downey and the development of canola in Canada.


Published in Other Crops

May 2016 - Jan Drost first began farming in Bentley, Alta. about two decades ago. Back then, just as today, Drost was always looking to improve the quality and yield of his crops. One of the ways he focused on doing that is to minimize disease pressure through good crop management, use of inputs and careful planning of his rotations.

"We deal with a short season here, so we try to get the most benefits from the crops and keep them as healthy as we can," said Drost. "The more wheat we grow, the more disease problems we create – especially when the rotation window is narrow."

In recent years, Drost grew approximately 2,200 acres of wheat on his farm which is located in an area of particularly dark soil. While the soil on his farm is well-suited for wheat, canola and potatoes, Drost is aware that it is also conducive to disease pressure which can cut yields and quality. He also knows this from his upbringing in The Netherlands, which prompted Drost to be an early adopter to spraying fungicides.

"After doing some trial work on my wheat, I found there were always benefits to spraying a fungicide like Twinline and Caramba," said Drost.

Drost is convinced the input costs of applying fungicides in cereals – especially with higher market prices for cereals in recent years – pays off on his farm and it will for others too. "We don't hesitate to spray (fungicide)," said Drost. "It is worth spraying. The crop is healthier and we get a plump kernel. A lot of growers here now spray for fungus in wheat."

Regardless of the weather pattern any particular year, "I would definitely recommend using a fungicide for a good, full wheat crop," said Drost. "We know the margins can be small, so we have to get the most out of our yields and the health of the crop. A couple years ago we had a wet year and we sprayed one field. The one we sprayed fungicide on, we had an increase of about 10-15 bushels per acre – there was a lot of disease pressure that year. I always spray, even in a dry season. I couldn't believe the difference in yield and quality."

That's because whether a dry or wet year, and whether a hot or cool season, Drost can see healthier plants in the wheat fields he sprays. He knows this protects the quality of his wheat crop – satisfying the relentless pursuit for yield and quality he began 20 years ago and continues with even more passion today.


Published in Cereals

Feb. 17, 2016, Ontario – There’s nothing that makes Tyler Vollmershausen happier than sticking a shovel into a field to see what’s happening underground.

Dec. 7, 2015, Paisley, Ont. – Vince and Heather Stutzki of ElmCrest Farms, sheep farmers in Bruce County, have been named this year’s Innovative Farmers of the Year by the Innovative Farmers Association of Ontario.

The Stutzkis use a system of rotational grazing, pasture remediation, manure and compost application, double cropping and minimum tillage. By building their soil, their 200 acre farm supports their large flock, and their family.

The Stutzkis moved to their rolling property near Paisley in 1988 and there they raised a daughter and three sons, two of whom bought a farm down the road and farm with their parents. “When we came here the whole place was cropped,” says Vince. He recalls how he and Heather ‘fell into’ raising sheep: “One day, we had ten ewes and a ram that just showed up here because people wanted to get rid of them. We had an old bank barn with a roof that was leaking, the walls were collapsing.”

In Ontario, there are about 4,000 shepherds and the average flock size is about 85. The Stutzkis are part of a loose network of large flock producers, numbering fewer than 50 in the province. They raise 850 sheep on 200 acres and lamb five times a year, shipping every two weeks into a value chain that brings lamb products to Metro shelves. The Stutzkis were early innovators with traceability technology, and give back to their industry through sharing data and mentoring young farmers. Vince is also a past director of the Ontario Sheep Marketing Agency Board. For the Stutzkis, managing the risks of a fluctuating global market means creating cost and labour efficiency, and so they have designed their operation and crop rotation to the very last detail.

And when it comes to innovation, they have had to look to other commodities for inspiration. “In the dairy industry, for example, there are lots of systems to look at and get ideas from but in the sheep industry, there’s not many places to look,” says Vince. The Stutzkis have been all across Ontario, Quebec and Michigan to see how others manage their livestock and pasture, and even made a trip to Scotland. They have plans for New Zealand next, as farmers there manage flocks in the tens of thousands of sheep.

The Stutzkis rotate their flock on 36 acres of pasture located on the hilliest section of the property. They have subdivided this into 27 sections and use an innovative Spider fencing system imported from New Zealand to manage flock movement between pastures. Water lines are run to every section and the intensive rotational grazing keeps both the pastures and the sheep healthy.

“Pasture is one of those things that is forgotten,” says Vince, who goes to great lengths to maintain soils in his pasture. The Stutzkis take four acre sections out of pasture on a rotational basis for two years to ‘renovate’ the soil. They use a crop of corn, sorghum sudan grass or mixed grains for the break year and they will graze it, followed the next year by a cover crop they will harvest for forage before planting the area back to grass, which they might even graze again that fall.

On such hilly ground, they never plow and use a light disking if needed. The "renovation" is important not only for thistle and other weed control, but it also breaks the worm cycle, to control parasites and worms that can build up in a pasture that isn’t properly managed. Building soil health builds up pasture health which in turn builds the health of the animals. “There’s quite an art involved in managing the pastures,” says Vince.

Vince and Heather have also had to be innovative with livestock mortality, as there are no deadstock services available for the sheep industry. A few years ago, they constructed a three-bin deadstock composting system behind the barn. The first two areas serve to alternate as the primary intake piles, with the start date marked on each and the third pile is for secondary aeration, at which point nearly everything is broken down. Soybean stubble serves as the substrate, though they use sawdust or corn silage in the winter because it will generate more heat.

The manure storage was built to hold over a year’s capacity in order to give them flexible timing of application. The addition of manure and compost into a diverse rotation has helped to build soils on the Stutzki’s farm.

Vince, Heather and the family are constantly learning, innovating and evaluating as they strive to farm in a difficult industry with limited marketing options and services available. At ElmCrest Farms, necessity is the mother of innovation.

The Stutzki family will be recognized at the Innovative Farmers Association of Ontario’s Conference on Feb. 23 and 24, 2016 in London, Ont. More details on the conference are available at

Published in Corn

September 22, 2015 - The annual summer directors’ meeting of the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association (OSCIA) was held in Oxford County, starting at the farm of Gord Green near Embro.

Gord Green was the 1st Vice President of OSCIA and has been acclaimed as the President Elect for 2015. He represents the Counties of Middlesex, Elgin and Oxford in the Thames Valley Region. Greenholm Farms, is a family farm operated by Gord, his wife Laura, along with their son David, his wife Shannon, and their three daughters.

Greenholm Farms operates about 750 acres in the Embro area. The Green family milk approximately 200 cows in
a modern free-stall barn. Their crops are all planted using no-till other than their corn, which is planted strip-till.
They grow forages, corn, soybeans and wheat with about half the crops going for livestock feed. The rest is sold
as cash crops. They have an anaerobic digester for processing manure as well as other off farm organic materials.
And they have a FIT contract for 250 KW of power from the biogas they produce.

“We at Greenholm feel very strongly that we have to protect our land and the environment for future generations. We feel that our no-till practices improve our soil and also reduce wind and water erosion. We get better water retention and reduce soil compaction problems. We currently use cover crops on part of our acreage and are looking to expand this,” says Green.“I am grateful for the opportunities that OSCIA has presented to me such as Environmental Farm Plan Workshops and Growing Your Farm Profits Workshops. They have helped guide our farm to where it is today."

The last OSCIA President from Oxford County was Pat Lee in 2008. Pat and his wife Margaret were able to join
in on the Summer meeting tours and commented that “The summer tour is a real learning experience in
combination with delicious meals, meeting new people and refreshing past acquaintances. The assortment of
topics and tours certainly provided a new look at the numerous agri-businesses that Thames Valley has to offer.”

OSCIA’s President Alan Kruszel commented that “Gord and Laura, along with their family did a great job in
presenting the diversification of Thames Valley agriculture to their fellow directors, past Presidents, their families
and guests.”

Published in Seeding/Planting

Researchers are studying Dean Glenney’s fencerow farming system (shown here at 30 days after planting), which involves strip cropping, no-till and controlled traffic practices.     Photo by A&L Biologicals.

Farmers often ask the question, “Why is my neighbour getting double my yields, even though we both use the same cultivar and the same fertility package?”

According to George Lazarovits, research director at A&L Biologicals, the answer could lie in the types of microbes in their fields. So the company, a research facility with a focus on healthy agricultural ecosystems, is working on a project with some Ontario growers to investigate this possibility.

Understanding microbial communities in soil and plants is no simple task. These communities can have a wide diversity of species and huge numbers of organisms. The recent and remarkable advances in DNA sequencing technology, and the rapid drop in sequencing costs, are allowing researchers to sequence the genetic material from these microbial communities, generating enormous amounts of data. Then the researchers have to sort through all of that data to try to figure out which components are most important for high yielding crops.

“A very large percentage of organisms in the soil and on roots have never been identified or sequenced,” Lazarovits notes. “[So if we do very detailed DNA sequencing of the samples, we can’t relate most of the genetic data to specific organisms.] And – more importantly – we don’t know what the unknown organisms do. Are they fixing nitrogen? Are they producing antibiotics that act as plant protectants? Are they giving plants hormone stimulants that make them grow faster? Are they involved directly in the plant’s ability to synthesize chemicals?”

So how can the researchers go about identifying which microbes are key to healthy, productive crops? “First you have to identify where and when to look – you have to find the haystack that has the needle in it. Once you find the right haystack, then you can start searching for the needle,” Lazarovits explains.
He thinks Dean Glenney’s farm in the Dunnville area of southwestern Ontario is one of those “haystacks.” Earlier this year, the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association (OSCIA) named Glenney as its 2015 Soil Champion.

Lazarovits met Glenney at a conference in Montreal where Lazarovits was speaking about microbes in crop production and Glenney was speaking about his novel farming system that produces corn yields of around 300 bushels per acre in a region where the average is about half that.

Glenney asked Lazarovits why his farming system produces such high corn yields. “I said, ‘I haven’t a clue, but it would sure be a great model system to study,’” Lazarovits says. “So, through this project, we’ve been trying to unravel what is going on.”

Glenney developed his unique system because he noticed corn planted near fencerows was higher yielding than elsewhere in the field. So he gradually changed from a conventional production system to a system that tries to recreate the yield-boosting conditions along his fencerows.

His system, which he calls “fencerow farming,” includes such practices as no-till, controlled traffic and strip cropping. He has a corn-soybean rotation and grows the two crops in alternating strips; each strip is four metres wide and 80 metres long. He seeds into exactly the same rows every year.

Glenney has been using this system for about 15 years. “According to Dean, for the first five years he didn’t get any yield increases with this system,” Lazarovits says. “But in the sixth year, he started to see some increases, and he continued to see yield increases for a 10-year period after that.”

The project is led by Rafiq Islam, a research scientist at A&L Biologicals. One of the project’s main objectives is to determine if the microbial ecosystem in Glenney’s fields is enhancing the performance of his corn crops. As part of that, the researchers hope to figure out how best to assess a crop field’s microbial ecosystem. They would also like to identify practices that would help Glenney’s farm and other farms to become more productive.

Initial study
The project started in 2012 with a two-year study to identify key biological and non-biological factors contributing to Glenney’s higher corn yields. The study compared conditions at Glenney’s farm and a neighbour’s farm, with one site on each farm in each year of the study, and four randomly selected replicate plots at each site. 

The neighbour’s production system differs from Glenney’s in a number of ways. For example, the neighbour has a corn-corn-soybean rotation, he tills the soil before planting, and he doesn’t use strip cropping or controlled traffic practices.

For the study, both Glenney and his neighbour planted the same corn hybrid and used their normal production practices.

The researchers measured a wide range of factors, including soil characteristics, plant populations, nutrient levels in the soil and the plants, plant height and biomass, leaf chlorophyll content, and root and ear disease levels. They also examined the microbial communities on and in the roots, and inside the stems and leaves. As well, they determined grain yields, grain nutritional values, production costs and net returns.

To assess the microbial communities, the researchers used a molecular biology technique that identifies a small percentage of the most common microbes. This allows them to compare how similar or different the communities are.

Highlights of findings
The corn crops on Glenney’s sites had 75 per cent higher yields and were four times more profitable than the corn crops on the neighbour’s sites.

The researchers determined that 21 per cent of the higher yields was due to Glenney’s somewhat earlier seeding dates and higher seeding rates, and to the lower incidence and severity of ear disease. The researchers think the lower ear disease levels may be due to beneficial effects from the distinctive microbial community at the Glenney sites.

Although both farms had high levels of microbial activity, the microbiological communities were “different as day and night between the two farms,” Lazarovits notes. “The largest group of organisms present in Dean’s field are a group of bacteria called the fluorescent Pseudomonas. (They glow white under ultraviolet light, which is why they are called fluorescent.) These bacteria are known to be suppressive to diseases; they produce a whole slew of antibiotics. So it is quite possible these bacteria are acting as internal fungicides that protect the plants from diseases.”

The other 54 per cent of Glenney’s higher yields resulted from more productive ears. The ears were longer and wider and had more kernels per cob, the kernel weights were higher, and the grain weights per plant were much higher. The researchers think the beneficial effects of the microbial community might be contributing this higher productivity.

The sites on both farms had sandy soils; the neighbour’s soil had more organic matter. Although the researchers found various differences in soil nutrient levels between the sites, plant tissue analyses indicated the plants likely didn’t have prolonged nutrient deficiencies. So the researchers think soil fertility was probably not a major cause of the yield differences.

The researchers found the corn root systems at the Glenney sites became larger, longer, thicker and more branched. This implies the roots could move more easily through Glenney’s soil, likely because it was less compacted than the neighbour’s soil. Better root systems enhance nutrient and water uptake, which could have contributed to the higher yields.

Root disease levels varied considerably, but overall they were slightly higher at the Glenney sites, suggesting those sites had higher levels of soil-borne pathogens.

Next phase
In the current phase of the project, the researchers are conducting several studies to better understand how to work with microbial systems to enhance crop yields.

“According to the literature, the theoretical yield for corn in southwestern Ontario should be around 425 bushels. Can we push Dean’s yields from 300 to 400 bushels by changing some things in his system?” Lazarovits asks. “We also want to see if we can speed up the technology on other farm sites. If [the yield boost] is microbiological, could you transfer those microbes to other sites by some other technology, rather than by repeating what Dean has done, so instead of taking six years, it might take three years?”
In a study that started in 2014, the researchers are examining the effects of two changes to Glenney’s system on crop yields and the microbial community.

One change is tillage. Each year before planting, Glenney is tilling one side of each of the two strips that he has allocated to the project.

“One possibility is if you don’t disturb an ecosystem for a very long time, you build up a community in the soil that becomes associated with corn. So the bacteria are there to colonize the plants very rapidly,” Lazarovits says. “However, if you plow the soil, then you spread the bacteria all over the place. So you get a lot more bacteria of different types colonizing the plant, but they never reach a critical mass to benefit the plant.”

The other change is to add a green manure crop into the rotation. Last year, the research team grew plots of mustard, winter pea, and a plant that is related to corn, and plowed those crops into the soil as green manures. In 2015, those plots will be planted back to soybeans and corn.

Lazarovits explains that, with just a two-crop rotation, certain detrimental organisms might build up, which could be why Glenney’s corn yields have levelled off. The researchers want to see if green manuring might hamper some of the detrimental organisms, while maintaining the beneficial ones.

In another study, which will start this year, the researchers will be looking at microbial communities in other farmers’ fields. “Every farmer has zones in their fields with very high yields and zones with very poor yields. We want to see if the microbiology is correlated with the yields,” Lazarovits says.

Another aspect the researchers are planning to explore is why Glenney’s agro-ecosystem doesn’t provide the same sort of yield benefits to his soybean crops. “While Dean gets reasonably good soybean yields, he has not had the increasing yields that he has seen with corn,” Lazarovits notes.

In addition, the researchers are now collaborating with Greg Gloor, a medical microbiologist at the University of Western Ontario, who is using advanced techniques to sequence microbes for the project.
Lazarovits is excited about what could be learned by understanding the links between microbial communities and crop yields. “We think this is really going to be the next phase of agriculture. We are going to be able to understand how to grow crops in ways that take advantage of nature.”

Published in Tillage

March 17, 2015 -  Dr. Murray McLaughlin, Executive Director of Bioindustrial Innovation Canada (BIC), has been named one of the "top 125 people in the advanced bioeconomy" by the international industry publication Biofuels Digest. Award recipients were recognized at the 2015 Advanced Biofuels Leadership Conference in Washington.

“This award recognizes Murray’s outstanding contribution to global collaboration and growth of Canada’s bioeconomy,” says Alexander (Sandy) Marshall, BIC’s chair of the board.

The Top 125 People in the Advanced Bioeconomy list was compiled from votes by readers and the editorial board of Biofuels Digest. Leaders from organizations based in 15 different countries were recognized in the listing, which considered commercial deployments at scale, key figures in deployment of alternative fuels and pioneers in renewable chemicals.

“It’s an honor to be included in this listing,” says Dr. McLaughlin. “Canada has made great progress in recent years in building its bioeconomy and a strong future for its agriculture and forestry sectors.”

Jean-Francois Huc, president and CEO of BioAmber Inc. which is currently building a biosuccinic acid plant in Sarnia, was also named to the list. BioAmber received early funding support through BIC’s investment program.

In 2014, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) announced $7,098,800 in funding assistance to support BIC’s BioProducts Agriculture Science (AgSci) Cluster program. The funding, through AAFC’s Growing Forward 2 program, supports the development of the bioeconomy in Canadian agriculture and will be managed by BIC in its ongoing role to generate new business opportunities and build bioproducts clusters across Canada.

Bioindustrial Innovation Canada ( is a Canadian not-for-profit organization catalyzing the commercialization of bio-based and sustainable chemistry-based technologies, with a focus on advanced biofuels, biochemicals, biomaterials and bio-ingredients. BIC supports the creation of jobs and economic value sustainably in Canada.

Published in Corporate News

January 23, 2015 - Each year, the Innovative Farmers Association of Ontario and BASF Canada recognize an Ontario grower as the Innovative Farmer of the Year. This year the award goes to Wayne Cantelon.  

The Cantelons began zone tillage in the early nineties and haven’t looked back, experimenting and fine-tuning a system that they now use on a large scale across a wide variety of soils in Huron County.

As more acres were added to the farm, the Cantelons had a decision to make: “do we add bigger conventional equipment or do we take a different direction?”  Perhaps taking some lessons from history, they wanted to use less equipment, control soil erosion and be able to manage fertility. But first and foremost, they had to make the economics work. That’s when Becker Farm Equipment (Exeter, Ont.) brought in a Trans-Till demo unit and they tried zone tilling.

Through a bit of experimentation, Wayne was convinced to break away from conventional tillage. In the first five years, he ran a side-by-side comparison and he says that the zone tilled fields did as good as or better than conventional and were generally drier as well. Wayne recalls the first year was the only time the conventional plot pulled ahead and that was because they hadn’t yet found a way to add fertility into the zones. Once they solved that problem, they were sold on it.

Wayne continues, “Conventional might look a bit showier but it didn’t mean anything when the combine went through.”

The Cantelons grow a rotation of corn, soys, white beans and wheat, zone tilling the corn and no-tilling the soys and wheat. They put down P and K in the zones in the fall, follow in the spring with a starter mix of 30-70-20-12S-1Z and later side-dress nitrogen. They built a folding toolbar with coulters to side-dress dry urea every 60 inches. Scott says this is an important part of their program: “It lets us control the amount of nitrogen. We can vary the rate and use almost 20 per cent less that what most would.” More recently, they’ve had success planting oats and radish down with the dry fertilizer in the fall, admitting that it’s not a perfect system because seeding and fertilizer depths don’t jive.

Still, the innovation continues at Cantelon Farms with cover crops. Last September, they tried aerial seeding 200 acres of cereal rye into corn with some success. Though the Cantelons have long put red clover after wheat, this year they have 250 acres into an eight species mix. While Scott plans to zone till his field this fall, Wayne wants to pull zones in the spring and kill off the cover crop just after he’s planted the corn. The rationale is that living roots take up more moisture than dead ones, so they will dry the soil more quickly.

“One thing I’ve noticed on the cover crops,” adds Wayne, “is that when we put something green in our wheat stubble, there’s something about that combination that the worms and the biology must really like. When we come back and do a spring zone, even the wheat stubble is gone.  And the proof is there, you can see all the worm tents.”

Wayne continues, “we really don’t understand what’s going on underneath the ground.” He believes agriculture needs more farm level research to better understand nature’s soil biology. “This isn’t something that you can just bottle up and sell.”

Not wary of sharing trade secrets, both Wayne and Scott keep in touch with others on social media, to spur on their collective understanding.

Published in Cereals

January 12, 2015 – With the new year comes a new calendar, and that means it’s time once again for Farm & Food Care Ontario’s annual Faces of Farming calendar contest.

Each year, Farm & Food Care opens the contest to Ontario farmers and farm families who want to tell their story, and see their faces in homes and workplaces across the province. One winner in total will be chosen from among the applicants.  Applications will be accepted until March 16.

The winning family, pairing or individual will participate in either a spring or summer photo shoot, and will receive complimentary copies of the calendar plus two tickets and accommodation for the 2015 Ontario Harvest Gala and calendar launch later this fall.

Last year’s winning entry came from the Howe family of Aylmer who grow strawberries, cantaloupe, watermelons, squash, pumpkins, beans and other vegetables. Their three generation family photo appears in the 2015 edition of the calendar.

Since it was first published in 2005, the project has featured the faces and stories of almost 140 Ontario farmers and farm families. Each year, the calendar is distributed to thousands of Ontario media, grocery retail outlets and politicians and is sold through the Farm & Food Care office. The project’s overall goal is to connect the public with the true faces of Ontario agriculture, while introducing consumers to the farmers who work 365 days each year to provide quality, local Ontario products for our homes.

Farmers or farm families are encouraged to enter the contest by submitting both an informal family photo and short essay (400 words or less) describing their family. Candidates must make their primary income from agriculture. Their essays must include the following to be considered:

  • Names and ages of all family members
  • Address including county or region of residency
  • A description of the farming operation including types of crops grown and/or livestock raised
  • History of the farm – number of generations farming, etc.
  • Any other details that make their story unique including community involvement, environmental initiatives, unusual hobbies, etc.
  • Why they’d like to appear in the Faces of Farming calendar.

Entries can be emailed to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or mailed to 100 Stone Road West, Suite 106, Guelph, Ontario, N1G 5L3.

Published in Corporate News

November 17, 2014 - Wellington County’s Simon Signer has been named the Ontario Forage Master for 2014.
Signer, who operates Sigview Farms Limited, near Drayton, was named at a recognition event at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair on November 12. 

He credits high quality forage as the foundation for their 47-head Brown Swiss milking herd.

The annual Ontario Forage Master competition is an annual event sponsored by PICKSEED Canada Inc.,
SGS Agri-Food Laboratories, the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, and the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association. There were over 200 entries this year representing 24 different counties and districts. Local winners are declared based on field judging of forage quality. From there, winners have the opportunity to move to the public speaking portion of the competition, staged at the provincial level.

Participants present how forages are selected, grown, harvested, stored and utilized for top production on
their farms. Judging is done by a panel of experts.

“All of our four finalists in this year’s Ontario Forage Masters competition were dairy producers that had no difficulty expressing their views on the role of forages in their cropping and feeding programs,” says Allan Mol, OSCIA President. “That made the judges decision difficult, but Simon Signer’s presentation had just a little extra polish that made him this year’s winner.”

“As a sponsor of the Ontario Forage Masters competition, SGS AgriFood Laboratories wants to congratulate Simon Signer as the successful winner,” declares Nelmy Narvaez. “It was my pleasure to serve as a judge. There were four excellent speakers from different counties, and all of them took special care to create a presentation that conveyed their experiences on the best forage management practices and the benefits forages bring to their farms. Simon was an excellent speaker providing a clear and organized presentation with techniques easily applicable and transferable. He demonstrated that the real value of forages is given by farming practices focusing on producing quality forage with proper management.”

Signer took over management of the dairy farm from his parents in 2011. “We aim for top quality forage
without sacrificing yield or plant health,” declares Signer, “Quality never lets you down.”

“Why do we go to all this trouble?” asks Signer rhetorically, “Because it makes sense, lots of cents!”

Signer now qualifies to compete in the 2015 American Forage and Grassland Council’s Forage Spokesperson Competition to be held January 2015 in St. Louis, Missouri. !The Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association is a grassroots farm organization committed to facilitating responsible economic management of soil, water, air and crops through development and communication of innovative farming practices.

Published in Seeding/Planting

Winnipeg, Man. - John Heard, long-time soil fertility specialist with Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development at Carmen, was recognized in December at the Manitoba Agronomist's Conference for his significant contributions to agronomy on the Canadian Prairies.

John Heard was given the Certified Crop Advisors' 2013 John Harapiak Prairie Pioneer Award during the conference, which was held at the University of Manitoba.

Heard has led soil fertility research and extension work with Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development since 1996. Previously he worked in extension in Ontario's agriculture department.

The John Harapiak award is named after the former chief agronomist and prominent researcher with Westco Fertilizers, who helped create the Certified Crop Advisors program in the mid-1990s.


Published in Corporate News
Many Manitoba farmers struggle yearly with wet, compacted soils and high residue situations. Crop producer Greg Smith is no different: his farm is situated in an area with very heavy clay soil that, when wet, compacts quite a bit, causing water infiltration and root growth issues.

Along with three brothers and a son, Smith – a pedigree forage seed producer in the Oakbank/Dugald area – farms about 3300 acres. Smith’s Honey and Seed Farm produces perennial ryegrass, meadow fescue, timothy, orchardgrass, alfalfa and birdsfoot trefoil, along with rotation crops winter wheat, spring wheat, oats, canola and soybeans.

The Smiths’ forage seed production is under contract and, typically, the length of the contract for seed varieties is three to five years. These are generally the most productive years, and if left longer, weeds become more of an issue. Smith says many of the forages tend to produce a wonderful crop the first year, a good crop the second year, but by the third year the yield drops off dramatically.

“The timothy yields fall off less than some of the other grasses,” he says. “Meadow fescue can produce a wonderful crop the first year. The second year is okay, and then it really takes a nosedive.”

Smith felt the drop in productivity might be because of his heavy clay soil. As a result, several years ago, he decided to change up his tillage system. “We decided to try tillage to rejuvenate these fields with a deep tiller that has a narrow point,” he says. “But as soon as we’d get in there, we’d start creating a field that was extremely rough with sods. We did see a slight improvement, but not anything to write home about.”

So two years ago this fall, Smith tried using a demo vertical tillage unit in the forage fields. “I went into portions of a grass field and ran around some drains [shallow ditches] that were extremely rough with ruts from the sprayer going up and down to see what would happen to the field,” explains Smith. The next year, the timothy and orchardgrass crops showed great improvement.

In spring 2012, Smith purchased a Salford 41 foot Independent 2100 vertical tillage unit. “I went out that spring and did some more passes – going up and down the field on an angle, doing part of the field and then leaving the rest,” he says. “Come harvest, in the orchardgrass field, you could see where I went up and down the drains and where I worked the one side of the field the previous fall. The crop actually produced more heads; you could see a big difference. At that point, we figured we were on to something.

“Now, we’ve gone in and harvested the crop and worked our fields in the fall after harvest – going in and working it twice with the vertical tillage unit.”

Smith admits to being new to the many benefits of using a vertical tillage unit, but is so far very impressed with the results. “I have a meadow fescue going into its third year of production and we have gone through it twice with the vertical tillage after harvest,” he says.

Most of Smith’s forage grasses are harvested relatively early – anywhere from the end of July to the end of August – and this is followed by chopping and spreading the crop residue. After about a week, when things become dry, Smith goes back in to do another pass with the vertical tillage unit. To date, he hasn’t seen any crop damage or other negative impact from vertical tillage on the grasses when it comes to over-wintering – only improvements.

Although still on a learning curve, Smith says some of the benefits of using the vertical tillage unit he has seen so far include getting more water infiltration into the soil by opening up the soil. “We’re also getting rid of some of the sod-bound conditions, possibly forcing the plants to grow some new roots.”

The biggest production issue Smith has experienced over the last two years is having very dry weather, which affects his yields. But overall, Smith says, “We think we’re on to something here, and I’d like to see other people try it too and confirm what we’re getting out of it.

“This machine works well without making a mess on the field. It’s also something we can use elsewhere on the farm with our regular cropping practices.”

Smith uses the vertical tillage unit in several of his other fields to break out the sod, effectively getting the field back into what Smith calls “a conventional cropping system.”

“It does a nice job of finishing the field off for next spring for seeding, making a really nice seed bed,” he notes. “We’ve switched to a disc drill seeding unit which doesn’t move any dirt, as we’ve found it to be very important to have a properly prepared seed bed. The vertical tillage unit works well in this area.”  

Smith uses vertical tillage in his alfalfa fields in spring as well, which he says has helped in managing the previous year’s residue and in smoothing out the soil. “We’ve never baled the alfalfa,” he notes. “We chop and spread it, working it in with the tillage for residue management in the spring.

“In the grass fields, it gets rid of the trash well enough for us that we no longer need to bale any of the grass seed fields. So we’re not losing nutrients from our straw. Not baling also reduces compaction.”

Smith hopes that, by using the vertical tillage unit to maintain his forage fields, he will get three or four years of consistent production. “At this point, the stands look good. Time will tell how we do from here.”

Published in Tillage
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