PromotedStewards of the Soil

Stewards of the Soil

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My family has been growing potatoes for half a century and during that time we’ve always focused on taking care of our land. We’re currently in transition mode as myself, my cousins Daryl and Colson Wiebe, are working to take over our family farm, Beaver Creek Farms near MacGregor, Man., from my uncles, Stan and Don Wiebe. But even as we work to transition the farm, we keep in mind our farm mission statement — to be good stewards of the soil.

Thirty years ago, we started really focusing on promoting healthy soils. Over that time our focus has changed as we have learned more about soil conservation. Soil health has always been a goal for us because it’s how we make our living. We know that we’re only going to be farming the soil for a time and somebody else will be farming it later, so we want to keep it healthy.

Our focus on soil health isn’t just for the good of our spuds but for all the crops we grow — our rotation in general needs to be healthy. When we reduce tillage in corn to help our soil, we’re also helping potatoes and our other crops. We started to reduce tillage 10 years ago on our farm by eliminating fall tillage in our corn crop. We only make two vertical till passes in the spring to help incorporate in our fertilizer, and then we plant. Since doing that we’ve noticed a lot more earthworms and improved soil structure.

We’re hoping to keep building on what we’ve learned with minimum tillage with strip tilling. We’ve only done it for one year, and we did it with three trials. Two of those trials showed about a five per cent yield increase in our corn yield — so that was great to see.

Reducing our corn tillage has led to some challenges for our canola crop. Reducing tillage meant we were leaving behind more material in our corn fields which made planting canola after not as easy. We switched from using an air seeder to a planter for canola to help with managing those challenging conditions.

When it comes to trying out new soil health practices on our farm, we’re always cautious to research beforehand if it’s agronomically viable for our soil. And it also must be economically viable because in the end that’s what pays the bills. We can’t just buy new equipment to try something that we aren’t sure is going to work.

This year we have decided to try out growing perennial crops. We are planting our first crop of perennial ryegrass this spring. It’ll go in with wheat, and then will overwinter and be harvested in 2024. We’ll terminate it in the fall of 2024, and then plant corn or soybeans on the field in 2025. We’re contracted to grow the rye through a seed grower, so the harvested seed will be marketed back to them to be sold as forage seed. We look forward to seeing how having living roots in our soil longer helps the soil.

Soil health isn’t just a priority for us but for all farmers. We care about our land. This is something that we’ve been doing for decades and that we will continue to work towards in a cautious economically viable way.

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