Since today is Earth Day, I feel compelled to post about the environment. Since I don’t know a whole lot about sustainable tourism (although it does really interest me), a farming post it is!
As farmers, we don’t always identify as an environmentalist because we think of Greenpeace and people chained to trees, but truly, farmers have long been environmental stewards. We care for the soil and water, protecting it for the health of our family and animals and making sure it will be productive for future generations who may want to farm.
If you don’t spend much time on a farm though, you may not realize how much we consider the environment in what we do. So, here are the top 10 things our farm is doing to protect the environment.
The Top 10 Ways Our Farm is Protecting the Environment
- Environmental Farm Plan. Our farm completed our first Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) so long ago my dad can’t remember, but I recall my brother did his first science fair project on it. We regularly update it and it’s audited as part of our dairy farm certification. An EFP contains everything you do on your farm to prevent polluting water, soil and the air.
- No-till and cover crops. Soil degradation and erosion have been stated as the single biggest threat to global food production. While it seems to be everywhere, we have very limited soil to sustain life, so protecting it is critical. Cover crops act like anchors for our soil. The roots hold it in place and when we minimize tillage (when you work up the soil), the helpful microbes in the soil are also able to thrive. These microbes both help feed and protect our crops from disease.
- Soil Tests. Whenever you plant anything, whether it’s peas in your garden, petunias in your flowerbed, or corn in a field, the plant takes nutrients from the soil for its growth. When the plant dies or we harvest the corn, those nutrients are gone so every fall, we drive around our fields & take soil samples to send away for testing. The tests tell us what nutrients our soil contains, and more importantly, what they are missing, so we know exactly what kind and how much fertilizer we need.
- Crop Rotations. We strive to rotate crops so no field has the same crop in it one year after another, unless it’s hay. Between hay and wheat, we have a few perennial crops (cover crops) that we rotate with corn and soybeans. This helps the soil by helping those microbes I mentioned above and
- Precision Agriculture. We use GPS whenever we can to automatically “steer” our tractors in the field. Why is this important? Because, if we’re cutting hay as an example, the GPS makes sure we cut the whole field and every pass is the exact same size, so we do not overlap an area we already cut or miss any. This saves diesel fuel because we don’t have to drive as much in the field.
- Compost. Livestock manure is always full of helpful nutrients for the soil. It helps build “organic matter”, which includes those microbes. Compost can be even better because the manure has broken down and is full of those microbes.
- We love bees. Our neighbour has had bees on or near our crops for several years. I think we have a true partnership with him and it’s a win-win-win. For us, him and the bees. For example, when my brother wanted a new crop in our rotation a few years ago, he was researching canola. Our neighbour also wanted to try canola honey and bees love canola flowers. Win for all, especially when we get free honey in return! 🙂
- Buffer strips. Anywhere a stream or creek runs through our farm, we leave some rough area between our field and the creek. This “buffer strip” provides habitat for wildlife (including bees) and can act as a “filter” between our field and the stream.
- Recycling. We go through a lot of bags of shavings and many of our pesticides come in jugs. Both the plastic shavings bags and jugs are recycled.
- Harnessing Nature. In addition to putting a solar panel up, all our barns have curtains which automatically open and close, adjusting to the temperature outside in order to help control the temperature inside. Our new barn was built to make the most of the wind to cool the barn before we need to turn the fans on.