by SUSAN MANN
Several farmer members of the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario are conducting their own research trials this year as part of a new farmer-led project launched by the organization.
The project involves association member farmers conducting research trials on their farms to answer pressing questions connected to their operations. There will be two multi-farm research studies and five single farm ones, says Sarah Hargreaves, the program’s manager.
The project has $75,000 in funding through a one-year seed grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, she says. All of the projects have to be completed within the year but the organization is applying for additional funding “to extend the program so that it’s a permanent program within the organization,” she says.
This year’s research studies are taking place in southwestern Ontario.
The project is modeled after the Practical Farmers of Iowa’s Cooperators program, which has been ongoing since the 1980s. “The main tenant of that program is that the research is farmer-led,” she says. “What that means is that the program trains and supports farmers to answer the questions they have about their farms.”
An advisory committee made up of farmers selected the projects.
One multi-farm project, taking place on five organic vegetable operations, will study the effects of quick-turnaround cover crops on late season brassicas.
The other major project, taking place on three farms, is to study commercially available soil health tests and determine which ones “are informative, especially for organic farmers and smaller scale, less conventional farmers,” she says.
The individual projects include:
- Two farms will compare how different breeds of meat chickens do on pasture “to quantify their production efficiency,” she says. “We’re also going to do a blind taste test to see if, in the end, they taste different.”
- A foliar spray experiment with organic products to reduce pest loads and increase the health of plants.
- A trial on the nutritional quality and value of organically grown, small scale vegetables versus commercially grown organic and commercially grown conventional. A lab is conducting the nutritional analysis.
- A study of organic soil amendments on pastures to determine if they improve the pastures. BF