New Regenerative Accelerator Project on the Prairies

Alex YuzwaBanner, News, The Conservation Trust

In an effort to improve soil health, Holistic Management Canada has received $324,179 from Manitoba’s Conservation Trust to support new Regenerative Accelerator projects across the province.

Ninety five percent of our food is directly or indirectly produced on our soils.  Scientists are warning that soil health has been degrading faster than our current ability to replenish it.

A Soil Health Report Card for Canada was produced by the Soil Conservation Council of Canada in 2021.  One of its conclusions was not encouraging: “Poor soil health caused by decades of past management practices is cutting into farm profits and hurting the environment.  Greater attention must be given to the costs and benefits of soil management practices going forward.”

“The focus of regenerative farming is improving soil quality by building organic matter back into the soil,” said Dana Penrice, project coordinator for Holistic Management Canada.  “Zero and minimum tillage were a fantastic start to building soil, but we need to expedite soil improvement strategies like intercropping,  cover cropping, eliminating tillage, adding organic matter,  and integrating livestock into cropping systems.”

“We have been working with five farmers across Manitoba to provide support for the transition to regenerative farming practices,” said Dana.  “Project goals are to improve soil quality, boost production, reduce inorganic fertilizer and pesticide applications, reduce soil erosion, sequester carbon,  and increase the water holding capacity of soils.   We also want to preserve and restore pastures and grazed grasslands by helping farmers implement planned grazing systems.”

Cam and Shelley Hamilton along with their son Liam and daughter Andrea are participants in the Regenerative Accelerator Project.  They operate Fair Valley Farm Ventures, a cow-calf operation on the sandy soils near Glenboro, Manitoba.

“Our sandy soil doesn’t hold inorganic fertilizer and it doesn’t hold water,” said Cam.  “With light soils we are always managing for drought.  We look to more organic ways to build our soil, store water and provide nutrients.

“Increasing organic carbon and organic matter to improve soil health is a key principle of regenerative farming, so we are experimenting with making bio complete compost from manure,” said Liam.  “Adding organic matter helps hold water which improves plant resiliency during dry periods.   The compost is loaded with microorganisms which helps with nutrient cycling in the topsoil.”

“We are also trying multi-plant species crops, corn grazing, interseeding and cover cropping to get ground cover, prevent erosion and build fertility,” said Andrea.  “The financial support from the Conservation Trust and Regenerative Accelerator Project really helps to minimize the risk associated with trying to implement new soil building strategies.”

“Farmers and their families know that healthy soils are the foundation of their productivity and profitability,” said Dana. “Sharing the outcomes of the Regenerative Accelerator Project is essential to gaining producer support of regenerative farming.”

Based on the success of the $124,179 Trust-funded first phase, Holistic Management Canada (HMC) was approved for an additional $200,000 in Conservation Trust funding. In Phase Two, HMC will work with an additional 10 farms to increase the ecosystem function of their properties and impact over 4,000 acres.

“What I love about this project is that the ecological services from Regenerative Agriculture go well beyond the farm gate,” Dana said.  “These include improved water quality, reduced flooding, improved biodiversity, enhanced wildlife habitat, and sequestering carbon from the atmosphere that helps reduce the impacts of climate change.  These benefits are enjoyed by all Manitobans.”

Beginning in 2019, the Government of Manitoba took a unique approach to funding new conservation and climate change adaptation activities by establishing three permanent trust funds at The Winnipeg Foundation. With a total investment of $204 million, the Conservation, GROW and Wetland GROW Trusts are annually awarding $10.0 million to new projects across Agro Manitoba. The Manitoba Habitat Conservancy, a private charity based in Manitoba, manages the granting programs.

As farmers move to modify farm practices to improve their soil and the environment, it would be nice to see an improvement in Canada’s next Soil Health Report Card.