Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario Commentary
By Suzanne Armstrong, CFFO Director of Research/Manager of Board & Committee Services
The CFFO hosted our Annual Convention and Banquet on Tuesday November 29, focusing on “Emerging Opportunities for Ontario Agriculture,” this year with a focus on innovative small and medium sized farm businesses among our speakers for the day.
Our Keynote Speaker was Dean Glenney, who shared his innovative “Fencerow Farming” methods. Glenney farms his family farm in Dunnville, on Haldimand clay soil. Our Vice-President Richard Blyleven, who is one of Glenney’s neighbours, reminded the audience that the average corn yield for the county is only 127 bushels per acre, while Glenney has been able to achieve yields as high as 301 bushels per acre. Glenney described plowing as equivalently devastating to crop farming as a barn fire is to a livestock operation. He strongly advocated letting the worms and soil organisms do the plowing, and minimizing traffic by running all equipment in the same tracks in the field. By combining his no-till with intercropping rows of corn and soy beans, he has been able to achieve these award winning yields.
Our afternoon Panel Speakers included Jeffrey Linton, who runs Linton Pasture Pork, Jim Eby who runs a Guernsey breed micro-dairy called Eby Manor, and Thorsten Arnold, general manager for Eat Local Grey Bruce. All have combined innovative farming techniques with local marketing to fulfill emerging or niche markets with local consumers.
Jeffrey Linton, having improved his animal husbandry skills abroad, returned home and started his pasture pork business. His methods of raising pigs outside grazing on cover crops and the undercover growth of wooded areas have many health benefits for the pigs and environmental benefits too. Linton was pleased to discover that this method also resulted in rich tasting meat with good colour and marbling.
Jim Eby, on the other hand, knew the distinct characteristics of milk from the Guernesy cow breed, including the naturally golden colour and creamy taste, and the higher milk fat content which makes for better tasting skimmed and whole milk. However, in marketing his milk he made some decisions to appeal to his consumer, including selling the milk in glass bottles, and going GMO free.
Although Thorsten Arnold had significant local support through early memberships for the Eat Local Grey Bruce food cooperative, he still finds challenges in working to adjust consumer behaviour from the grocery store expectations of the same foods year round, to seasonal fresh local produce.
All four speakers raised the issue of “sustainable” farming, but recognized that this term gets used and co-opted in many different ways. Arnold challenged the farmers present to think about the sustainability of their family farm businesses in terms of the capital involved. Significant farm business capital assets can be prohibitive to the next generation taking over the business, and thus makes them unsustainable.
All four speakers fielded many questions from interested audience members, and provided excellent food for thought about the opportunities for different types of innovation on small and medium sized farms.