Video: Organic Farming in the Prairie Provinces
Earlier this fall our intrepid videographer, Anders Gurda, traveled up to the Canadian prairies to capture some footage of wheat harvest on Boyd Charles’ 12,000-acre organic farm in Stoughton, Saskatchewan. Boyd has been been an organic farmer since 1999, when he made up his mind to give organic a try and transitioned all of his acres at the same time. One of the reasons he had for the move was that he was tired of giving what he estimated to be one-third of his profit away to chemical companies, and watching that amount get higher every year.
Boyd says he gets made fun of by some conventional farmers because many of them think he’s just growing weeds (or nothing) because he’s not using chemicals, but, “that’s a real misconception if you know how to farm”.
According to Marla Carlson, executive direct of Sask Organics, farmers consider switching over to organic for many reasons, but the main one is that organic farming is more profitable than conventional, with more return per acre, largely because farmers have few input costs and a higher price per bushel at the farm gate.
As documented in the video, weights and measures were taken as the wheat was harvested, so Boyd could calculate what the harvest yielded, right to the pound. The final yield was 42 bushels per acre. Says Marla, “Even if that’s 30% less than the conventional bushel per acre, the price at the farm gate far outweighs any disadvantage that you’re getting from the decrease in yield.”
Additionally, she said, “Experience combined with research is resulting in increasing yields, so I think that in time we will see that yield gap between conventional and organic lessen if not disappear”.
So, what should first steps be if one is thinking of transitioning to organic?
“If you’re thinking about organic farming and don’t know what the next step is,” says Marla, “I think the first thing is to understand is that it’s a bit of a journey. and that you’re not going to get it right the first time. Find an organic farmer and talk to them. They’re incredibly generous with their knowledge and experience”.
There are also many resources available, including an online guide developed by the Prairie Organic Grain Initiative (POGI).
“We’re all farmers, we all grow food and we’re neighbors,” says Marla. “We have more in common than we do different, and if we focus on the differences then we’ll miss the opportunities in that common ground. I think that if you are doing no-till or intercropping and cover cropping, I actually believe that those are the areas of crossover between organics and conventional, and that’s where the most innovation is happening. Whether you’re an organic farmer or conventional farmer, [we can] learn from each other, to grow better food.”
“I try to get every possible yield out of every acre that I can without doing anything except looking after the land,” says Boyd. “It’s a real challenge, and I like challenges; that’s the reason that I decided to go organic. There’s some disadvantages I guess because of the way we farm, but I wouldn’t go back to chemical farming for anything.”