“We had never done soil sampling,” said Courtney Denard who, with her husband Rob Kirkconnell, operates Valleykirk Farms Ltd. in Owen Sound, Ontario.
Founded in 1982 by Kirkconnell’s parents, Valleykirk Farms houses 50 cows and approximately 300 acres of hay, corn, barley, and alfalfa. Last fall, the couple turned to Stratford Agri Analysis, a soil analysis laboratory, to have soil sampling done for the first time on the entire farm to create an implementable crop plan. Although there was an initial cost, Denard explained how they got a return on their investment applying fertilizer using the 4R Nutrient Stewardship principles (Right Source @ Right Rate, Right Time, Right Place®). “It might cost money up front but the return on investment will show up, and you’ll see it in production down the road.”
When asked about sustainable agriculture, both Denard and Kirkconnell agreed it needs to be a priority on farms. “Whatever we take out of the land, we need to put back into it. If you’re stripping the land dry of all nutrients, you won’t see the yields down the road,” said Kirkconnell. “It’s important to feed the land as well as you feed yourself.”
Implementing a 4R plan has already demonstrated improved yields and crops. The plan has also allowed the couple to increase profits while remaining efficient. “One result of treating the land well is you have a better farm business, financially,” said Denard.
Denard explained how surprised she was by the different needs of individual crops, or the varying requirements within one field. “Things were not how we thought they were. When you have the concrete scientific results in front of you, you realize it’s an accurate map.” Denard also encourages farmers to seek outside resources, such as grants or funding, to begin farming in a more sustainable manner.
“I see good value in soil sampling because it gives you a ballpark of where you’re at and how you need to improve,” explains Kirkconnell. “We tested our fields for the first time, and the results were surprising. After seeing the results of soil sampling, it made sense what we weren’t doing. It’ll be interesting to see in five years how the crops grow.”