When Chris and Leah Simeniuk of Kettle Ridge Organics made the decision to transition to organic grain farming in 2015, they were looking for ways to stay viable on smaller acres.
“We were looking for ways to increase the revenue of our existing acres without necessarily adding more land base. Converting to organic is more hours per acre but so are the returns.” Although the initial leap was made for financial reasons, they have since found additional motivation to stay on their path.
“Learning about cover crops and how different plants interact with the soil has been the biggest point of interest,” says Chris. “Not having access to chem or fertilizer to make a quick fix on my crop has made me have to really think and observe what is happening in my soil. I have to look at soil as an ecosystem as opposed to just a growing medium.”
To be a certified organic farm, Kettle Ridge Organics needs to follow the Canadian Organic Regime and submit to yearly audits by a certifier. In simple terms, they can’t use chemicals for weed control and no synthetic fertilizers. To manage nutrient replacement, the Simeniuks utilize non-synthetic soil amendments and green manure cover crops. The green manure crop is terminated at the flowering stage. Its purpose is to provide food for the soil biology that in turn makes normally inaccessible soil nutrients available to the following cash crop.
Weed management needs to utilize several strategies. Starting with a clean seedbed is the first step, followed by harrowing just prior to crop emergence to remove weeds at the threadling stage. Ensuring the crop comes out first is critical. Harrowing in crops is also done depending on the type of weed pressure in the field. Crop rotation also plays a major part in weed management. Crops are rotated between early seeding, late seeding and fall seeding so as not to create a pattern for weeds to get established.
The Simeniuks organic journey is ever-evolving. They are currently working towards their Regenerative Organic Certification. The regenerative status looks at the farm’s practices to ensure that soil and the surrounding environment are being enhanced as opposed to degraded. One particular topic Kettle Ridge Organics spends a lot of focus on is soil health. Minimizing tillage, increasing cover crop biomass, maintaining living plants as long as possible, and biodiversity all play important roles.
The couple agrees that utilizing an organic system isn’t the only way to farm and that it isn’t going to be a fit for everyone, but it is working for them.
“It isn’t better, it isn’t worse, it’s just different,” says Leah. “It has helped us to remain a family farm and that is what is most important to us.”
Learn more at https://www.kettleridgeorganics.ca/ or follow them on Instagram at @kettleridgeorganics.