MacKay Ross grew up on an Angus farm, where at the age of 9 he was given cattle and began his own farming career. Now 20 years later, MacKay has owned land since the age of 21.
Best Tools on the Farm
Though he no longer owns any cattle, he does consider the cattle that he custom grazes in a management-intensive grazing program to be not only a major part of his fertility program, but one of the best tools available on his farm. MacKay puts his no-till-drill on the platform next to the cows. “Everything about it makes sense. It works well, and it doesn’t seem to matter what the neighbours are doing. I can take it out there and everything comes up roses.”
Let’s back up a little.
Beginning in Organics
Growing up, and into his early 20s, farming was a “function of living in the country,” says MacKay. He enjoyed living out in the country and so adopted farming into his own lifestyle. He “wasn’t crazy” about the tillage they were doing, and in the fall of 2007, MacKay purchased a no-till drill, his first real financial commitment to farming apart from buying land. Though his uncle had already been farming organically for several years, a book by the name of “Organic No-Till” by Jeff Moyer, combined with the long-term benefits of organic farming finally tipped the scales. In 2016 MacKay and his wife, Jeanne, took the steps to become certified organic.
Bumps in the Road
Now with 260 acres in certified organic production, he says there weren’t really any challenges to becoming certified that he did not expect, though that is not to say there were none. Of course, there is ever-present peer pressure to stay on the conventional route. Once that is overcome, there is the transitioning timeline during which any transitional crops grown will not be receiving an organic premium, and certifying fees seem disproportionately large when income is not coming in. MacKay does not recommend growing transitional crops in this timeframe, but rather custom grazing or selling hay off of transitional land until certification comes through so that future organic crops are sold at a premium.
Once past the transitional years, MacKay shares a success story. Last year was his first year growing peas. After his peas emerged from the field, they were about an inch tall when he ran a field mower over top of them. They were just tall enough so that he didn’t hit them but rather cut the tops off all the emerging brome grass, other perennial grasses and weeds. This little trick stunted all of the unfavorable and volunteer species significantly and his peas were able to jump up and canopy over in the following weeks.
He feels lucky to have had his uncle and an old family friend to lend him a helping hand in navigating the organic agriculture world. Turning to YouTube and Google searches can be immensely helpful as well, or subscribing to magazines that fit your operation, MacKay says. “I really enjoy Acres USA; there is usually one article every month that pertains to what I am doing specifically.”
MacKay offers a piece of advice for farmers getting into organics – “Find some local organic farmers to act as a sounding board for you.” In his experience, “[Organic] farmers are so friendly and open, and they’ll give you all the advice you can think of.”