Soils Champions

B.C. farmer builds good "growing conditions" for soil conservation

Progress at the local level plays a big role in winning the day, says Peter Reus.

Growing a good crop takes quality inputs. Growing support for soil conservation takes the input of good people.

In B.C., one of those people is Peter Reus.

Reus, who along with his wife Ria operates VanEekelen Enterprises on No. 4 Road in Abbotsford, is a long-time supporter of soil conservation groups in the Fraser Valley. He is also a strong supporter of the work of the Soil Conservation Council of Canada (SCCC), who is willing, say industry compatriots, to jump on board at every opportunity to assist SCCC with projects in B.C.

Reus realizes that progress is often won with strong effort day-to-day, where soil issues are debated and decided at local levels. He is an example that relatively small, specialized producers – not just extensive operations – can be powerful difference makers, by throwing their voice and energy behind issues the feel passionately about.

It's an approach Reus brings to everything of critical importance to his operation and his industry. For example, in addition to his work with soil conservation groups, Reus is also a long-serving member of a local drainage and irrigation committee of the City of Abbotsford. Much of the acreage farmed by Reus is in a shallow lake drained over 50 years ago by the city to allow for extended farming on the Sumas Prairie area.

Heading into National Soils Conservation Week, Reus shares thoughts on his operations, progress with conservation and the challenges ahead.

"The biggest challenge is raising the awareness level of soil conservation, because the benefits are long-term, they are the most difficult to get across."

Tell us about your farming operation

Our farm is located in Abbotsford, B.C., between the Vedder and Sumas mountain ranges. On the farm we grow a variety of crops, such as legumes, cereals, and crucifers. The majority of product grown is for the fresh market year-round, the remainder for the processing industry. The total amount of land in production is just over 200 hectares. The soil series is Sumas and the texture is sandy to sandy loam, with a low organic matter.

What is the focus of your involvement in soil conservation efforts off the farm?

Off the farm we are currently active in the Abbotsford Soil Conservation Association (ASCA) and have been for the last couple of decades. Through ASCA and our own efforts, substantial research data and information has been gathered over the years. As an example the latest possible seeding date for cover crops, species of trees used for windbreaks, impacts of turf farming, etc.

What kinds of soil conservation techniques have you used in your management?

On our farm we use cover crops and straw driving later in the season. Laser leveling, minimal till, wide tires with low pressure, rotation crops with different plant families, and applying mushroom manure are part of the routine. All these management practices are intended to prevent wind and water erosion, prevent compaction of the soil and raise the organic contents of the soil. Some land was taken out of production in order to plant a row of windbreak trees.

What are the benefits of soil conservation you have experienced?

The benefits of the soil conservation techniques that we have experienced are keeping the topsoil in place instead of having it blowing away, especially because the Sumas soil series is susceptible to wind erosion. We also experience improved soil structure and reduced water clogging, which results in better and more predictable crop yields.

What are the biggest challenges of soil conservation in the future for farmers and how will they be tackled?

The biggest challenge is raising the awareness level of soil conservation, because the benefits are long-term, they are the most difficult to get across. Short-term gains are almost always the easiest route to go. On the other end of the scale, with regards to challenges for soil conservation, is the thinning out of the processing industry. This is limiting the crop rotation choices. A possible solution could be to form a farmer's co-op processing plant, decreasing dependency.