Regenerative Farming Techniques Designed to Mitigate Impact of Climate Change

Photo Karen Graham.
Local famers enjoy the opportunity to share and learn from each other at educational sessions like this one at Woodleigh Farms in Cavan.

Early in September, Norm Lamothe hosted another educational session in partnership with the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Associations at the family farm in Cavan.

Roughly forty farmers, mostly young and female, joined the tour to learn about Norm’s latest experiment has he continues to explore ways to make their operations more efficient, sustainable and environmentally responsible.  For the first time in many years, this experiment included farm animals.

Woodleigh Farms is a multi-generational family farm producing 500 acres of crops, manages forests and operates a three-acre market garden in Cavan.  It is one of 25 working farms in southern Ontario conducting applied research to identify farm practices that improve soil health and agronomic indicators.  The experiments explore ways to make food production sustainable both economically and environmentally.  The bottom line? Healthy soil = healthy crops.

Lamothe is fairly new to the industry, and is taking a long view of the farm business.  He is among the many young farmers who are using modern techniques and new technology to adapt farm practices to help address new threats to the industry.  Some techniques are not so new or modern.  Among the strategies are crop rotations, cover crops, organic amendments and precision technology tools to help the operation become more sustainable.  The goal is to produce healthy food by building healthy soil, preventing erosion, conserving water, minimizing pollution, promoting biodiversity and maximizing productivity and building farms that are more climate resilient.

Industrialized farm practises have contributed to soil degradation over the past few farm generations.  Modern farmers are looking to turn that around, but it takes time.  It takes at least a year to see the impact of a new technique, and three years is probably a more reliable timeframe to determine if something is working.  Communication is helping this new breed of farmers share research results which offer clues to what works best, and Norm is eager to share his findings with like-minded farmers like the ones who come to the sessions hosted at his farm.

The goal is to build the organic content of the soil.  It’s a long process with big rewards.  Grazing animals can help.  Using them to consume cover crops is a natural extension of the reduced till philosophy, which became popular in the 1980s.  Tilling activities were reduced and in some cases eliminated as seed, fertilizer and other nutrients were drilled directly into the soil.  The process not only reduces labour and equipment costs and environmental impacts but also improves moisture retention, reduces erosion and protects organic matter in the soil.

Last August, sheep were introduced to one of the Woodleigh Farm fields. The animals provide a natural and effective way to clear cover crops while providing natural fertilizer which increases organic matter in the soil and helps to reduce erosion, with the added perk of providing an additional revenue source.  At the September session, Norm demonstrated the flexibility of the solar-fueled electric fencing system they use, that is light and easy to move around.

This week, another initiative will be launched at Woodleigh Farms when Net Zero Farms introduces a pilot project to support local farmers taking climate action.  A partnership with Green Economy Peterborough and RBC, the program’s intention is to coach agribusiness leaders in measuring their greenhouse gas emissions, set targets, and develop a plan to reduce their impact on the environment.

As climate conditions bringing drought and heat make the climate less hospitable to crop production, the future of agriculture depends on building resilience to improve the odds of producing abundant, healthy crops.  No one has more vested interest in making this happen than a farmer. Young farmers like Norm are on it.   KG

Tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.