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Willmar Farms ‘Living Lab’ Field Trial Update

A collaboration between Willmar Farms, Bob’s Red Mill and Avena Foods

Regan and Michael Ferguson (Willmar Farms) farm three hours north of Regina, SK. For the past six years they have been experimenting with novel cropping strategies, practices which are now often referred to as regenerative agriculture. The five basic principles of regenerative agriculture are keeping the soil covered, minimizing soil disturbance, maximizing crop diversity, maintaining a living root as long as possible and integrating livestock.

Over the past two years, they have been supported by Bob’s Red Mill and Avena in implementing regenerative practices. This summer Ferguson’s planted a 10-acre pea and oat intercrop field trial as part of this ‘Living Lab’ partnership.

“We’ve been working with Bob’s Red Mill to show them what it looks like on the farm from putting seeds in the ground, to scouting and seeing what it looks like under the soil when we use these strategies,” explained Regan in her presentation to CAFAD on the project.

“One of the reasons we got into mixed crops was risk management,” Regan said. “We want to utilize the fields to their maximum potential.” Other beneficial factors, she noted, include increased yield potential within the field’s topography, better quality grains, natural suppression of unwanted pests, reduction in fertilizer and creating better soil health.

“Introducing variable rate seeding and fertilizing enables us to maximize our yield according to the topography on this hilltop field where it can be quite dry at the top and wet at the bottom end,” said Regan.

“The intercrop has the ability to improve the quality of the grains as well,” Regan said. For example, “if the peas get wet feet, they may lay on the ground. We can alleviate that problem a bit by having the peas climb up the oats and keep them off the ground,” she said. “Plus, the oats benefit from the peas being able to nodulate, to produce their own fertilizer and create better soil health.”

Michael said that Willmar Farms had reduced its fertilizer use by 28% in the six years since they started using these new regenerative agricultural techniques. About 10% of their acres are planted into cover crops.

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