By Lilian Schaer for AgInnovation Ontario
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.”
“I didn’t set out to win an award 40 years ago – I just didn’t like erosion and seeing my soil go into the bay,” he adds.
Kaiser is a frequent speaker and participant at agricultural conferences and events across North America.