Soils Champions

Confidence is the cornerstone of this farm soil conservation plan

Ontario farmer Eric Kaiser has a plan that works for his soil, his neighbors and his bottom line

Eric Kaiser (right) and son Max.
Eric Kaiser (right) and son Max.

A drive along the edge of Eric Kaiser's farm is a drive along a line where agriculture meets the urban public.

Kaiser Lake Farms Ltd. spans 1,200 acres of land and includes 950 of various crops on the north shore of Hay Bay, part of the Bay of Quinte at the east end of Lake Ontario. His farmland runs up to a roadway separating it from a long row of houses lining the beautiful waterfront.

To him, it's a daily reminder that what happens on his farm affects people around them, and it's a reason why the Kaiser family has built a reputation for sound, confident soil management as well as a successful farming operation.

Realistic business planning

Eric has always had a realistic view of what sustainable farming means for his operation. Soil has to be conserved but the farm also has to be viable economically. That challenge of building for the future as well as producing today was driven home when son Max joined him in the farming operation.

"Being on the shore of Hay Bay we could see the brown water flowing into the bay. As a user of the bay for recreation and water source, I was determined to find better ways to farm to reduce the impact on the environment. Having Max join us added to that incentive to farm sustainably," he says.

Today, they have substantially met those goals.

The heavy clay farm soil is a management challenge and Eric realized early on that he had to do something more than grow crops. Continuous corn, for example, simply would not be viable in the long-term on that soil type. They added a 26,000 bird layer operation and 118,000 pullet operation to the farm. Manure from the flock is stored and spread in liquid form. It is important for them to control the rate, distribution and concurrent incorporation of manure. It is applied on a rotating basis to land, every three years.

Conservation plan

Farm management revolves around a specific soil management plan.

Cover crops protect soil.
Cover crops protect soil.

No till soil management. The Kaisers knew as early as the mid-eighties that they needed to switch to no-till farming. They accomplished that and today are 100 percent no-till, with the exception of incorporation of manure on a third of the land annually.

Grassed waterways, dams and inlets. To control water erosion a network of grassed waterways was established beginning more than 30 years ago. They installed systematic tile drainage and built a series of 15 small dams and 40 surface inlets to draw water off the land in a controlled manner.

Cover crops. "I feel very strongly about having no or very little erosion on cropped lands," says Kaiser. For example, their cropping system has a "cocktail mixture" cover crop planted after winter wheat to protect the soil surface and help tie up nitrogen.

On-farm research. For many years the Kaisers have carried out research on their farm, both on their own and in conjunction with the provincial government. That includes agronomic trials such as planting populations, variety trials and trials testing the benefits of side-dressing nitrogen fertilizer to crops.

History of leadership

Kaiser Farms from the air.
Kaiser Farms from the air.

Eric has shown his willingness to be a leader both on and off the farm with experience in a range of organizations at the local, county and provincial level. His land was one of the first in Ontario to have an Environmental Farm Plan completed on it.

Eric thinks there's a message for the public in the farm experience with soil conservation.

"The technology exists to reduce agriculture's impact on the environment. However it usually requires farmers to spend money with no likelihood of increased market returns to pay for it," he says. "As farmers, we continue to look for practical ways to be more effective without going broke."