Conservation and agriculture have always gone hand-in-hand for organic farmer Colin Bialkoski, so partnering with Ducks Unlimited Canada to conserve part of his land just made sense.
Seeing Mother Nature as a partner rather than a force to contend with has been the ethos that drives him on his farm, which is located near Rossburn, 145 kilometres northwest of Brandon.
“You should be trying to align yourself with nature, rather than working against it,” Bialkoski said.
Last year, Bialkoski took his concern for nature a step further by aligning with Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) to protect nearly 50 acres of land dotted with marshes and bluffs of trees on his farm.
His decision to work with DUC was motivated by the amount of wildlife already abundant on his farm.
“We love having the birds and seeing the deer. We have no desire to bring a bulldozer in here and plow down the bush and drain the sloughs and make it all ‘productive,’” he said.
Registering their farm as organic in 2021, Bialkoski and his wife Cheryl were following in his father’s footsteps.
“My dad had been organic farming for quite a while at that time, by that point. He had been doing really well,” he said.
Even while he was living in B.C., Bialkoski would come home every harvest to help out. He ended up learning more and more about organic farming.
“As far as getting certified, my dad had already done that, so I could learn off of him how to do it. I kind of used his experience and knowledge, and piggybacked on what he had done.”
Currently, all organic farms in Manitoba must comply with the Canadian Organic Standards and be inspected to these standards annually by a federally accredited certification body.
On organic farms, there are certain standards based on food, feed and seed products that are represented as organic in import, export and interprovincial trade, the website for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency says.
Prohibited substances can’t have been used for at least 36 months before the harvest of an organic crop. Measures must also be taken to minimize the physical movement of prohibited substances onto organic land and crops from adjacent areas and equipment used for both organic and non-organic crops. If unintended contact with prohibited substances is possible, distinct buffer zones or other features sufficient to prevent contamination are required.
Organic seed, bulbs, tubers, cuttings, annual seedlings, transplants and planting stock must be used. Best practices for soil health that must be adhered to include maintaining or increasing levels of soil organic matter, promoting an optimum balance and supply of nutrients, and stimulating biological activity within the soil.
Instead of using synthetic fertilizer, Bialkoski replenishes soil nutrients and improves fertility with organic management techniques.
“It’s all part of this ecosystem,” Cheryl said. “It’s the way nature intended.”
Practices to control pests such as insects, diseases and weeds must focus on organic management practices that enhance crop health and reduce losses. These include crop rotations, use of resistant varieties, mulching and grazing and more.
Substances that are prohibited from use on organic farms include all products and materials from genetic testing, irradiation — the use of high-energy radiation to protect from pests, cloned livestock and its descendants and fungicides, preservatives, fumigants and pesticides.
“I’ve never really wanted to be involved with a bunch of chemicals and stuff like that,” Bialkoski said.
Rotating crops and other best management practices that Bialkoski uses on his farm means that, despite not employing any chemicals or other prohibited substances, he has had a high degree of success protecting his crops from pests and other threats.
“The land is quite fertile. We have no weeds. We have no problems with disease or pests because we’re rotating things all the time. We’re not going to have the same crop two years in a row.”
Taking time in the rotation for cover crop also leads to good yields that are consistent and reliable, Bialkoski added.
Management practices on organic farms must also include measures to promote and protect ecosystem health on the operation and incorporate one or more of a pollinator habitat, insectary areas, a wildlife habitat, maintenance or restoration of riparian areas or wetlands, or other measures that promote biodiversity.
Partnering with DUC allowed Bialkoski to support wildlife habitat while still effectively managing their farmland.
“It’s important to preserve land for wildlife, but you don’t want to take away from cultivated land that a person can make a living from,” Bialkoski said.
Since he and his wife signed the agreement with DUC in 2022, they’ve noticed benefits to wildlife and their farming operation.
“Trees and grasses help take up moisture from the ground in low-lying areas close to marshes, so the land beside it doesn’t become so saline that you can’t even [grow] a crop,” Bialkoski said.
Working with DUC has been a very straightforward, producer-friendly experience, the Bialkoskis said.
Kiera Senkbeil, a conservation program specialist with DUC, explained how setting aside some land for conservation would benefit their farm as well as local wildlife.
“She was not trying to push to get more land,” Bialkoski said. “She was looking out for my interest as a farmer, my farming operation, and she was very good at explaining how it would all work and making suggestions.”
It’s important that farmers feel as though they have DUC’s support every step of the way, Senkbeil said.
“We make sure that they know what’s going on and keep everybody in the know.”
Producers have a huge role to play in conservation, especially since up to 70 per cent of wetland ecosystems have been lost to agriculture across the Prairies, Senkbeil said. More and more, producers who care about conserving land for the future generations are stepping up and making the Prairies healthier, she added.
“I think it’s so important that we work together in the future.”
Producers who would like to learn more about working with DUC can visit ag.ducks.ca.
By Miranda Leybourne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Apr 27, 2023 at 07:13