By Treena Hein
At Kaiser Lake Farms in the Bay of Quinte peninsula near Napanee Ontario, care for the land goes back many decades. Father and son Eric and Max (president and vice president of the farm) are building on a long history of environmental stewardship as they work the farm today – and look to the future.
Eric bought the initial part of the current farm in 1968, expanding what he and his brother Kurt had while putting down his own roots (Kurt exited the business in 1981). Since then, Kaiser Lake Farms has grown to what is now nearly 1100 acres of cropland. It has changed at the helm as well, with Eric's youngest son Max now leading the operation. Together, they interconnect various aspects of the operation to both improve the farm’s bottom line and boost its capacity for environmental sustainability.Father and son Eric and Max
The corn and wheat from the 950-acre cash crop operation is used at the Kaiser’s feed mill, which in turn supplies their layer and pullet operation. “Being able to use the crops here on the farm instead of trucking them away helps reduce environmental impact,” Max notes. The poultry manure adds vital nutrients to the fields, applied after the wheat is harvested, so a cover crop can prepare the land for the next year’s corn. This circularity also allows the Kaisers to keep more of the premium they receive for their Omega-3 eggs (the feed for the layers includes purchased flax seed), which they began producing about eleven years ago for Burnbrae Farms.
Good planning and management have also always been a part of the Kaiser’s environmental stewardship. From the start, Eric had a plan in place for manure management and kept yearly records. In the early 1990’s, he was among the first farmers in Ontario to complete an Environmental Farm Plan, focussing on nutrient (manure) management. Max is also a big proponent of the EFP programs. “As a self-assessment tool, the EFP process walks producers through the various environmental aspects of their operations, giving them the chance to be candidly honest about their practices and facilities,” Max says. “EFP offers funding to assist in making some upgrades or improvements as well.”
Kaisers Lake Farms is also a no-till operation, which is a positive environmental move on many fronts. Eric and Max were among the first in the province to stop tilling, which they did ten years ago over their entire acreage. “We saw the merit of the idea for our heavy clay soil and it’s worked very well,” says Eric. “We also researched other ways of managing this type of soil and we’re big proponents of using low tire pressures to minimize compaction.” With no-till, seeds are implanted directly into the soil with seed drills and no tilling is involved, which saves labour and fuel costs, decreases soil erosion, reduces the loss of topsoil and improves drainage. It also boosts soil organism populations and activity, and in the long-term, can increase soil organic carbon, which in turn improves nutrient cycling, increases the soil’s capacity to hold water and improves soil structure.
Community involvement is important here too. Eric followed his brother Kurt by adding a direct-to-consumer element to the farm in 1990, in the form of pick-your-own strawberries. Selling a few eggs from the house and sweet corn in season also gives the Kaisers the opportunity to link with their neighbours. The market garden is also part of what makes the farm so attractive, and the Kaisers have been told their farm enhances property values in what is a fairly highly-developed area.
The Kaisers also consider it important to serve on the boards of various agricultural organizations. Eric, for example, has served as chair of the Ontario Egg Producers’ Marketing Board and twice served as chair of the Innovative Farmers of Ontario conference. Among other things, Max has been president of the Lennox & Addington Federation of Agriculture, and president of the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association.
Both Eric and Max are also veteran presenters, speaking regularly over the years to farming groups, clubs such as Rotary International and students at Loyalist College and Queen’s University (Environmental Studies program). “I like to dispel myths about farming,” says Max. “There are a lot of misconceptions about agriculture out there. We also share our experience with no-till and hopefully inspire others to give it a try.”