Originally published September 13, 2018, on Global News
A Sask. farmer who was raised on a conventional farm is converting his 40,000-acre farm to organic, making it the largest in Canada. Katelyn Wilson reports.
A Saskatchewan farmer is blazing the trail when it comes to organic farming, attempting something that’s never been done before- at least in Canada.
Travis Heide built his farm in eastern Saskatchewan from the ground up four years ago. He started with 7,000 acres and since 2014 he’s grown his operation to 40,000 acres and counting.
Once he converts the entire operation to organic, it will be the largest organic farm in Canada, possibly North America.
“This year we’re about 50/50,” Heide said. “Next year, 75 per cent essentially of what we’re farming will be organic and the following year 100 per cent- but that’s if we don’t add anything more.”
Raised on a conventional farm, Heide made the decision to go organic because he says it made sense economically as demand for product grows.
“I discovered flax was worth $35 a bushel and I discovered if I could reduce this fertilizer cost, this chemical cost, pull those out and even if we got a manageable crop of 10-15 bushels to the acre, we would still probably be further ahead just because our costs would be reduced,” Heide said. ” I couldn’t believe through all these years the grain prices hadn’t really changed yet farmers were spending more- they were risking more, they were growing more but they were almost being paid the same price although their costs had doubled and tripled.”
In Canada the market for certified organic products is estimated at $5.4 billion, with organic exports at more than $500 million annually.
“What Travis is doing is showing that it is possible,” Sask Organics Executive Director, Marla Carlson said. “It’s against conventional wisdom in the industry that it’s not possible to farm that many acres. A recent report indicates that we’re having a 17 per cent year on year increase in the demand for organic products so that means there’s lots of opportunity for supply.”
While Heide primarily grows organic red spring wheat he also grows peas, lentils, chickpeas, flax and alfalfa. With such a large scale operation, Heide says he’s felt a huge pushback from major grain companies.
“If a young farmer can start from scratch and build something like what we’re building here and you can do it without seed, chemical and fertilizer- I think we pose an incredible threat to the existence of these grain companies,” Heide said.
“It’s the companies who are targeting the farmers and the farmers have become the mules of all these companies through debt and everything else and left them with just a paper-thin couple per cent margin.”
At the end of the day, Heide is living the change he wants to see in the industry. He’s not only a champion for farmers, but he’s taking the money he saves on chemicals and fertilizer and reinvesting it in people.
“If what we’re doing can help open some doors and can show a glimmer of hope to farmers that’s what we’re excited about.”