Farm Planning


Keith Reid– Soil Fertility Specialist

Sharon Lane– Regional Correspondent

Keith Reid, soil fertility specialist, was the guest speaker at the Algoma Soil and Crop Improvement Association’s spring twilight meeting June 10 at Paul and Penny Hillstom’s farm near Bruce Mines.

Keith Reid comes with credentials from the University of Guelph in crop and soil science and experience in mixed farming from the Chesley area in Bruce County. According to Keith, nutrient testing allows farmers to put their money where it is most needed. If the fertility of the soil is low, then nutrients need to be replaced and fertilizer needs to be applied. If fertility is okay, then applying fertilizers is a waste of money and may cause soil erosion. Testing can reduce our “environmental footprint” because over-applying fertilizer causes pollution when nitrogen and phosphates get into streams, lakes and rivers.

Keith mentioned that some of the new tools and techniques have improved nutrient placement. In banding manure or fertilizer, farmers put it under the soil with a cultivator near the seed row. This prevents run-off and the phosphate binds with other minerals. The Global Position System (GPS) auto-steering mechanism allows for 10% more accuracy because there is no overlapping or misses in applying fertilizer or manure. These techniques are initially more expensive, but they pay-off in the long-run and are environmentally friendly.

Crop rotation can replace most nutrients and is cost effective according to Keith. Nitrogen can be replaced by growing any legume such as alfalfa, trefoil or clover; however, phosphates can only be replaced with commercial fertilizer or manure.

When asked about organic farming, Reid said that commercial fertilizers can be avoided in organic farming, but it is a challenge. Nutrients can be replaced by recycling nutrients by composting manure and planting legumes. Organic farming needs to be sustainable but not closed. If organic farming is removing nutrients and not replacing them, then it is not sustainable.

Keith Reid is touring Northeastern Ontario meeting with various Soil and Crop Associations to discuss soil fertility issues.


“Make it Happen–Success in Reaching Retail”

Sharon Lane–Regional Correspondent

The panel for this part of the conference consisted of Raymond Savage, the manager of Co-operative Regionale de Nipissing Sudbury; Dan Poulin, owner of Dan Poulin Potatoes Inc.; Troy Isaac, Last Mountain Berry Farms; and Will Samis, Penokean Hills Farms Beef Producers.

Raymond Savage gave his presentation on “Make it Happen” from the retailers perspective. His retail store sells local products: maple syrup, seeds, grains, beef, and preserves. Before he accepts a local supplier, he must consider the risks, which include liabilities, shelf life, type of supply (seasonal or long term), who will deliver product and how, special requirements to stock product (i.e. refrigeration), process involved in preparing and bringing product to market, other points of sale, restrictions on franchise, provincial/federal inspections and labelling requirements. The next consideration is what are the costs associated with selling this product. What does the producer expect to make on his product? Labour usually cost 10% to 15% of the value of the product, and grocery stores have only 20%profit. The third factor that he considers is what are the rewards for the retailer – money, exclusivity and traffic to the store and for the supplier – someone else sells the product. It should be a win/win situation for both the seller and the supplier.

Dan Poulin gave his view from that of a producer. His problem has been with stores that have become incorporated. They no longer will buy locally. His challenge is to educate the store managers/ owner that people want local produce. Often his customers become vocal and ask for his potatoes. He suggested that the potato bags can be used for message such as “Thank you for buying locally” or “You are helping to save the environment”.

Troy Isaac has had five years experience in marketing and selling homemade jams and preserves in Saskatchewan. Demonstrations and exposure in large companies like Costco will help get the product recognized. He mentioned that customers have to see a product five times before they will buy it. He found that if the producer generates a demand for a product the store would stock it. He has been trying to start Saskatoon berries commercially in Algoma since growing conditions are better than in the west.

Will Samis reported on how the Penokean Hills Farms Beef Producers got organized and how it works. A brand must have three recognizable attributes, and they feel that they have five. A mixture of beef cuts is boxed and sold. Each box is given a number so the meat is traceable and

only one animal per box. The cattle are finished on a ration of peas and barley that is grown locally. None of the cattle receive antibiotics or growth hormones. In discussing that it is necessary to build alliances, Will mentioned that they invited the butchers from the local retailers to the Cattlemen’s Association meetings. His closing words were to learn all you can about your product, aim for the highest quality and don’t relax your standards.

Dorene Collins from Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) addressed ‘The What, The Who and The Why – Understanding Food and Value-Added Regulations. The Ministry will provide workshops for producers so that they can understand them. Building relationships and using the resources will help people navigate through them. The rules and regulations are established for the public good.

Rose Diebolt explained how she, as owner of Garden’s Gate Restaurant on Manitoulin Island, is “Filling the Order – from the farm to the plate”. She buys as much local organic produce as she can and grows all her own herbs. She tries to serve one vegetable that is different (beet greens) to get people tasting different vegetables and to educate people. She sends out a paper newsletter with a recipe, as she is not adept with technology.

Nancy Guppy of Chapman’s Landing Cooking School tries to use as much locally grown produces as she can. She advocates the “100-mile “ or for Canadians,the “160 km” diet. She uses a website to advertise her classes as well as putting information on that educated people on the value of healthy eating.

The final panel of the conference was on “Rebuilding the Middle – Innovative Distribution Models”. Diana Bockus from a Thunder Bay area Food Buyers’ Group explains how the group is organized. Instead of shopping at a store they submit their grocery list and the food comes to them. She has 50 steps to set up a food buyers group.  To her the advantages are they support the local economy, they know when it is best to buy certain items, and they don’t spend time and money going shopping.

Mark Trealout with Kawartha Ecological Growers is supporting small-scale sustainable agriculture in the Kawartha Lakes area, increasing access to “good, clean, fair food, and paying the farmers 75% of the money he charges for their produce. He gathers produce from other farmers and delivers it to Community Shared Agriculture (CSA), to restaurants and goes to Farmers’ markets. He feels that the best way to go is CSA.

The final panellist was Dave Lewington of Dalew Farms. He entitled his presentation “Piracy in the Food System: Taking Back the Middle Ground”. Since he thinks that the word ‘organic” doesn’t mean anything anymore, he prefers to say that he is an “authentic food producer”. He “pastures” his hens, pigs, cows and lambs and uses no pesticides or chemicals in his market garden. He sells at a Farmers’ Market, at his farm gate and has 60 members in Community Shared Agriculture.


Cool Season Corn Production–Lessons from


Birgit Martin

Last fall I had the privilege of being one of 5 Northern Ontario delegates sponsored by the Agricultural Adaptation Council to attend the 6th Circumpolar Agricultural Conference in Happy Valley- Goose Bay, Labrador. Researchers, farmers and community leaders from Norway, Sweden, Alaska, Yukon, Northwest Territories, Northern Ontario and Newfoundland & Labrador shared ideas on production agriculture and rural development. One presentation of potential interest to Northern Ontario producers was on cool season corn production in Newfoundland.

Newfoundland farmers face a short season with typically only about 1800-2150 Corn Heat Units (CHUs). This makes growing respectable tonnages of corn silage difficult. Furthermore, the cost of shipping feed by barge from the mainland makes ‘imported’ feed extremely expensive. The solution is growing corn under plastic. Newfoundland corn producers have adopted a technology developed in Limerick, Ireland that plants corn under strips of biodegradable plastic. This plastic acts as a greenhouse, increasing soil temperatures by roughly 10°C. It accelerates early corn development by about 20 days and effectively adds 300 CHUs to the season – all at the start. These extra 300 CHUs allow higher yielding, later season hybrids to be grown.

At an added cost of $321 per hectare, it seems expensive, but the results are impressive. Between 2001 and 2006, average corn silage yields were increased by 5.2 t dry matter/ha, cob yield was increased by 3.4 t/ha and starch yield was increased by 9.8%. So clearly, not only is outright tonnage increased but because the cob and starch yields are improved, the energy content of the silage is better. The bottom line is that although the plastic adds $321 in costs per hectare, based on the value of the additional yield, the net benefit of the plastic is $1681 per hectare. Feed imports have been reduced from 70% to 28% of total requirements on Newfoundland dairy farms.

Is this technology relevant to Northern Ontario? We can probably assume that the increase in costs would be similar to that in Newfoundland ($321 per hectare= $130 per acre) but the yield advantage may be different here. In Newfoundlandthe yield advantage was 5.2 t DM/ha (2.1 t DM/acre). If Northern Ontario were to see similar increases, corn silage would have to be worth $62 per tonne dry matter or $21.70 per tonne at 65% moisture to make this worthwhile. At today’s corn prices, corn silage is worth over $35 per tonne at 65% moisture. So the numbers would suggest a substantial benefit – the only variable is if our yields respond to the plastic mulch like they did in Newfoundland. It’s worth thinking about!!

One market where it might be a forgone conclusion that it would work may be the sweet corn market. Adding all that time at the start of the season could move the sweet corn crop forward into a more lucrative market.

For more information on the Newfoundland experience with silage corn contact Ag Canada’s researcher Dr. Allan Kwabiah ( or Newfoundland Agriculture’s Field Officer Sabrina Brock

FALL 2007

Manitoulin Report

Birgit Martin– CCA


On August 23rd, I had the pleasure of meeting with Algoma’s Soil and Crop members at a corn roast and a tour of a corn silage plot at Brason Farms on St. Joseph’s Island. Brasons, with the assistance of Dave Trivers, the local ag rep, had put together a plot of Roundup Ready corn hybrids ranging in maturity from 2175 to 2650 corn heat units. On tour night, Dave reviewed the season’s rainfall; the plant population; and demonstrated how to determine fresh weight yield by cutting and weighing the plants in a specific length of row, as outlined in OMAFRA’s Field Pocket Guide page 90.

I spoke to the group about corn crop management to maximize energy yield per acre. This is a summary of the main points of that discussion:

Maximizing energy yield with corn silage is a function of maximizing both yield and quality. You can impact yield and quality by covering well the basics like seed bed preparation, fertility, planting accuracy and weed control; and then fine tuning the details like hybrid selection, planting date and harvest timing.

Firstly, choose a hybrid appropriate for silage in your area. That means using a hybrid that has a rating of 100-200 CHU more than what your area is rated for. This is because hybrids are rated for theirCHU requirement to reach physiological maturity (black layer) for grain corn production. Obviously, silage corn is not meant to reach maturity, so a ‘later’ corn can be planted. As a rule, ‘later’ hybrids are higher yielding than shorter season varieties. Targeting your CHU rating accurately also affects quality. A too low CHU hybrid will be too mature at harvest with more lignin (higher NDF) in its stalk and hence lower digestibility. It will also be drier than optimum which causes poor ensiling. (Optimum moisture is 65-70% moisture for bunk silos and silo bags and 60-70% for upright silos.) A too high CHU hybrid will still be too immature at harvest and have lower grain corn content and hence less energy. It will also be wetter than ideal which again hinders ensiling. Beyon heat unit rating, choose a hybrid that will produce excellent grain yield since grain means starch which translates into energy. Silage specific hybrids are also available which are bred to be more digestible (lower lignin and NDF). This lower lignin content may compromise stalk strength and consequently stand ability if the crop has a corn borer infestation; if harvest is delayed; or if strong winds are an issue, but it may be a worthwhile compromise if these conditions won’t be an issue.

Next, planting date. Corn is a warm season crop, so to maximize yields we need to plant as early as possible to capture the full season. Corn will not germinate until the soil temperature reaches 10°C but it is quite resilient in its early stages, so plant as soon as the ground is fit. A corn plant’s growing point remains below the soil surface until about the 6 leaf stage and so is ‘protected’ from frost. Even if the top were to freeze off, the plant would regrow from that growing point.

Although this would delay the crop, the crop is still further ahead than if had just been planted then. Also, use a starter fertilizer. Even if manure has been applied or if your soil is ‘high’ in phosphorus, corn tends to respond to planter applications of phosphorus, which gives it that quick emergence or ‘pop-up’ effect.

Finally, harvest timing. Corn silage should be harvested when the milk line has progressed about 1/2 to 2/3 of its way from the base of the kernel to the tip (cob end). At this point, the whole plant moisture is usually between 62 % and 70% – ideal for both upright and horizontal silos. 1/2 to 2/3 milk line also coincides with grain content in the whole plant approaching 40% which makes silage of better feeding value and of higher tonnage than that from corn that is not as mature.

By covering the basics and then fine tuning your corn management, you can maximize yield while optimizing starch levels and fibre digestibility to produce a crop that offers high energy yields per acre. Corn silage can produce yields like no other crop can, with yields easily being double even the best managed alfalfa. Furthermore, corn silage complementsalfalfa well nutritionally, with your alfalfa acting as a protein source and the corn silage as an energy source.


Getting the Most Out of Your Pastures

Algoma Community Pasture and Algoma Soil & Crop provided a presentation and Pasture Walk on May 30th with Jim Gerrish of the “American Grazing Lands Service”. It was followed by a similar presentation on Manitoulin on May 31.

Following is a summary of his presentation.

1) Build a better solar panel:

Farming is really the business of capturing solar energy and turning it into a salable product. Nowhere is this more apparent that in pasture-based agriculture. If you think of every acre you manage as a 43,560 sq ft solar panel, you easily begin to see how to improve your operation.

First think about what makes an excellent solar panel when it comes to maximizing photosynthesis. It is green growing leaves. Bare soil does not capture solar energy. Dead, brown plants do not capture solar energy. Only green, growing leaves take solar energy and make it into livestock feed. If you are using permanent perennial pasture plants, look at how much of the soil surface is covered by green leaves on any day of the year. An excellent, pasture should have at least 90% of the ground covered by green growing plants. If you are raising annual pasture crops, think about how many days the soil is left bare during the year or between crops. Timeliness of farming operations and rapid establishment orc keys to successful annual pasture crops.

Bare soil means lost production and provides opportunity for weed invasion in both permanent and annual pastures.

The most common cause of thin spotty pastures is grazing too short or staying on the same pasture too long.Leaves are the photosynthetic factory of the plant. If excessive grazing removes too many leaves too frequently the plant cannot support itself and must either reduce its size or die out completely. All across the world, grass farmers lose significant production potential because they keep tearing down their factory. In most of North America I believe farmers and ranchers lose up to 50% of their production potential due to grazing too short and not providing adequate rest periods for plants to recover. Key principle is it takes grass to grow grass.

Letting pastures get over mature is another significant loss of photosynthetic efficiency. While it might seem contradictory for what appear to be two opposite trends (grazing too short vs. pastures getting out of control) to be such significant problems, the two trends often occur in the same pasture side-by-side. An individual blade of grass will only have 3 to 5 weeks of effective solar capture. Letting perennial plants continue to grow much longer than this without grazing lowers photosynthetic efficiency.

Other keys to keeping your pasture as an efficient solar panel include seeding only adapted pasture species, appropriate fertilizer management, and timely weed control. There are very few real wonder grasses. Don’t expect a plant developed in a totally different climate to do well on your farm. Choose species and varieties that are proven in your environment. Take care of the fertility needs of your pasture to keep green leaves growing vigorously. Soil testing is a critical tool for pasture management. Remember weeds are opportunistic plants that invade unhealthy pastures. Take care of your pastures and weeds will not be a problem. If you do have a weed problem, deal with it promptly.

2) Harvest more of what you are already growing:

Livestock will only harvest 30 to 50% of pasture production with continuous grazing. In years with excellent growing conditions, grazing to capture the increased production. Conversely, in dry years we tend to harvest a higher percentage as animals are forced to work a little harder for adequate forage. Rotational grazing systems allow you to harvest a higher percentage of the annual forage production.

Traditional rotations using 3 to 6 pastures only give a slight increase in grazing efficiency, allowing more consistent harvest in the 50% range. As grazing periods become shorter and rest periods can be more closely managed, grazing efficiency increases. In very intensively managed systems, 80 to 90% of the annual forage production can actually be captured by the grazing animals. This is a high or higher than mechanical harvest systems, at a fraction of the cost.

Remember, high seasonal grazing efficiency does not mean grazing each pasture to a high percentage in every grazing cycle. A 90% annual harvest efficiency can be accomplished without ever grazing off more than 50 % of the standing forage. The key is to leave ample residual and return to the pasture more frequently.

3) Keep pastures from getting out of control:

Aggressive spring pasture management is crucial for keeping pastures in a vigorously growing state. Almost every temperate environment experiences explosive spring growth followed by reduced summer productivity. A great deal of that spring explosion in cool season grasses producing their seed heads. If we can eliminate seed head development early, most of the photosynthetic energy going to stem and seed head production is channeled into new leaf growth.

Getting pasture early and rotating pastures rapidly are keys to successful spring pasture management. Most localities have traditional turnout times based on years of experience with continuous grazing or slow rotations. Successful graziers are usually turning livestock to pasture two to four weeds earlier that traditional turnout dates. One important key to successful spring pasture management is getting across every grazable acre in the first 40 days of the growing season. Our goal is to have livestock bite off the newly elongating seed heads before they ever reach boot stage.

4) Graze as many days of the year as possible:

Numerous studies and producer experience have shown grazing is a much cheaper way of feeding livestock than feeding harvested forages such as hay or silage. Very often we find about a one dollar difference per day in feed costs for beef cows grazing stockpiled pastures compared to bay feeding. Just adding a few weeks more grazing on the front and back side of winter can save substantial dollars.

Planning spring and summer pasture use to allow stockpiling some pastures for fall and winter grazing is key to success. If every acre is grazed too short by August, there is not opportunity to grow late season forage. The three principles already presented above are essential management strategies to ensure having forage available for winter grazing.

Good luck and Good grazing!


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