Going organic can be a challenge…

It smells of hay or silage, and the swath I leave behind almost looks like it too. I’m combining Theo Feitsma’s organic barley. To his credit, the organic part has nothing to do with the green matter. Feitsma’s got hail on their crop about a month ago and he figures about 20 bushels/acre are on the ground. Much of that germinated and is growing nicely. Because the barley’s been mature for a while already (weather wasn’t cooperating to combine) some of it isn’t much taller anymore than the new growth – a bit of a challenge to cut. Well, I’ve always liked a challenge!

Lush green regrowth - hail a month ago threshed out about 20 bu/acre of Feitsma's barley. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

Lush green regrowth - hail a month ago threshed out about 20 bu/acre of Feitsma's barley. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

This December Feitsmas will finally receive certification as organic dairy producers. Due to strong demand Alberta Milk was calling for organic milk. . “We have a healthy lifestyle, and I thought it is a shame if I don’t take that opportunity,” Theo told me. He hopes to see a 25 cent/litre premium over the regular milk price.

To have milk certified as organic, cows must be held on an organic basis for one year. They must be fed all organic rations. Treatment for disease and other problems must be carried out according to organic standards.

Feitsma’s produce much of their own feed so crops must be organic too. Farmers have to abide by organic rules on their fields for three years before they receive certification as an organic grower. No herbicides or fungicides, or fertilizers on a chemical basis are allowed.

“It’s a huge change,” Theo said. “I was not aware that it was so complicated. Every year you learn, but it takes a lot of years before you find out what is good for your farm.”

Because of the dairy cows, Feitsma’s have manure for fertilizer. That helps. Theo is thinking of intercropping peas with barley next year. The two can easily be harvested together, and work well in the dairy ration. Right now his crop rotation is barley – oats – barley – alfalfa. Peas or faba beans would help bring more nitrogen.

Fields and crews are ready for harvest - waiting for the sun and wind! (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

Fields and crews are ready for harvest - waiting for the sun and wind! (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

Being dairy farmers has made it easier for the Feitsmas to transition to organic production. They can grow more legumes – alfalfa for hay or silage, peas and faba beans for feed. There are always options for a crop – if there are too many weeds they can silage it instead of combining.

As Renata, Theo’s wife said, they can always go back to standard farming if it doesn’t work. But for now they’re feeling confident they’ve done the right thing.

* * *

Last night it rained again. The weather report is all about showers and cool temperatures. It’s hard to be patient with all that crop ready to go out there!

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