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Support for farmers to grow small grains

Support for farmers to grow small grains

EFAO’s Small Grains Program will provide funding and community support for corn and soybean farmers to diversify their rotations 

By Jackie Clark
Staff Writer
Farms.com

Farmers in Ontario could have some additional incentive and support to diversify their corn and soybean rotation. The Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario (EFAO) launched its Small Grains Program on August 31.

Participants will grow wheat, barley, oats or another small grain during the 2021 season, followed by a forage or legume cover crop. They join a community providing mentorship and support in this endeavour, and receive $40 per acre on up to 100 acres.

“This is just our pilot year,” Maureen Balsillie, field crop coordinator at EFAO, told Farms.com. For now, 400 acres will receive funding.

“We have high hopes that we will be able to develop this into a large comprehensive program, both working with our funder and working with the industry, and hopefully helping to develop more grain markets as well for small grains to help feed this program a little bit more and turn it into a long-term program,” she explained.

Before now, EFAO hadn’t hosted much programming concerning field crops.

“Most of our membership is in livestock, market gardening or even large-scale vegetable production. So for us, we really wanted to start a new program that was really focused on field crops,” Balsillie said.

The Small Grains Program is modelled after a similar effort run by the Practical Farmers of Iowa throughout the Midwestern United States.

“They have been able to double their membership through their small grains cost-share program,” Balsillie said. EFAO hopes to see similar success.

EFAO is encouraging farmers who don’t typically grow small grains to apply.

“The real drive behind the program is for people that perceive there is less money in the small grains enterprise, but are interested in it,” Balsillie explained. Research has shown that adding a small grain into a rotation has benefits for soil health and profitability.

Growing a “wheat crop in obviously reduces your inputs, but also improves your yield in corn and soy. People know that from a high level, but they don’t know it on the ground,” she said.

“This program can help reduce that economic risk that (farmers) feel they are taking while they learn about all the benefits and see first-hand in their field that a small grains enterprise is actually profitable for them going forward,” she added.

EFAO wants to focus on the networking part of the program. The organization is “really integrating the education and mentorship program with the payment itself,” Balsillie explained. They hope to attract “people who really want to learn and pursue this as a long-term enterprise.”

Anyone, whether they receive funding this year or not, is welcome to join EFAO’s Small Grains Network to access agronomic information and community support events, such as monthly calls on topics related to growing small grains. 

“We have a small acreage for the payment this year, so we’re really focused on developing that network aspect of it,” Balsillie said. “We’ve received a fair amount of applications already.”

The deadline to apply for the Small Grains Program is Sept. 22. In the meantime, EFAO is hosting two Q- and-A sessions on Sept. 14 and 17. The Small Grains Program is funded by The W. Garfield Weston Foundation. To apply for funding, join the network, register for information sessions, or learn more click here.

Oleksandr Yuchynskyi\iStock\Getty Images Plus photo

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