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Farming forever

By Roger Samson

Perhaps the most important factor in the successful conversion to a more sustainable agricultural system is to develop a planned crop rotation. This is absolutely essential for establishing successful and economical weed control, livestock feeding and soil fertility management. One of the more well known farmers who has successfully achieved this balance is Ted Zettel of Chepstow, Ontario. Ted has developed a long term rotation strategy for the successful conversion of his dairy and cash crop farm from a conventional to organic system.

Some features of the Zettel farm, that are often used to enable the successful conversion to an organic production system, are the reduced use of row crops and increased reliance on high quality forages and winter cereals. Typically, an alfalfa-timothy-bromegrass hay mixture is undersown into spring barley and kept for a three to four year period. The sod is plowed four to six weeks before seeding of a winter cereal to enable adequate decomposition of organic material. The winter cereal is then followed by oil radish seeded in mid August. The system was developed so that, in almost all cases, living material is present on the soil surface at the beginning of winter. This not only reduces erosion but minimizes nutrient losses and weed reproduction.

Almost 1/4 of the crops grown on this farm are sold as cash crops. Despite the large amount of biomass removed there has been no difficulty in maintaining fertility levels. Ted attributes this to his rotational system's ability to make use of previously unavailable nutrients, deep feeding by the ON radish catch crops and long tempt hay and pasture.

Summary of Zettel Farm

Livestock: 30 milking holsteins, plus heifers and calves

Location: Chepstow, Ontario, clay loam soil, 2600 CHU approx.

Acreage: 250 Acres workable: 190 to feed the herd and 60 in cash crop cereals.

Feeding Program:

Summer: rotational pasture; free choice hay; grain ration of oats, barley and rye; no protein supplement; small amount of commercial mineral and kelp

Winter: hay; grain ration of oats, barley, and rye; usually no soybean meal unless hay is of poor quality; small amount of commercial mineral and kelp.

Basic Rotation:

If the forage is sown for pasture a mixture of bromegrass, perennial ryegrass, trefoil, lading white clover, timothy and orchard grass is sown.

Pasture Rotation: 9 plots, 3 acres each/ 2 days grazing per plot (during periods in the summer, animals are withheld from pasture if production is low).

Manure Management:

Liquid Manure:- collected by gravity from open yard.

- micro aerated to create aerobic conditions to feed bacteria.

- applied after winter cereals either before oil radish seeding or on growing oilseed radish.

Compost: Generally applied prior to seeding of fall rye (fall of year 3 in sequence). The objective is to feed the biological community and organic matter rather than the growing plant directly.

Pillage: Fall chisel plowing of undersown red clover, spring chisel of oilseed radish, fall moldboard plow of hay or pasture. Surface cover going into the winter will almost always be greater than 30 % as moldboard plowing is performed only one year in eight or nine and followed by seeding of a winter cereal.

Copyright 1989 REAP Canada

Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

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Ecological Agriculture Projects, McGill University (Macdonald Campus), Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, QC,  H9X 3V9 Canada
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