wooden box reading "Organic Farming"

“You Can’t Do It Just Because of Money:” The 40,000 Acre Farm That Silenced Doubters By Going Organic

Travis Heide and his wife, Amy, both grew up on farms. However, while Heide was accustomed to conventional farming methods, his wife’s family lived on an organic farm on Vancouver Island. After they were married, when Amy spoke about making their farm free of synthetic fertilizer and pesticides, Heide took it personally. “Every time she talked about organic, it was like she was attacking the way I was raised.”

But in 2014, he decided to experiment with this kind of farming through a partnership with property manager Robert Andjelic. As it turned out, the organic crop helped offset the financial losses from his regular crop from that year. Now, the Saskatchewan farm is one of the largest organic farms in Canada.

40,000 Acres of Organic Crops

Ever since, Heide has advocated for other big farms to make the change to organic, especially as concerns about the impact of conventional farming increase. For instance, the Canadian federal government is phasing out the nicotine-based pesticides that are heightening the number of honey bee deaths. 

Heide has grown up using the newest and the best farm equipment and pesticides, plus he has experience in the commodities trading business. He also spent time in famine-stricken South Sudan to help the locals with their own farms.

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Travis Heide organic farmer
Travis Heide. Image Credit: Robert Arnason via Producer

“I was really on a journey to see how I could help and serve people,” he said. Despite not being interested in taking over his father’s farm after he retired in 2007, Heide retained an interest in agriculture. And when he returned to Canada, a family friend asked for help with a harvest in the fall of 2010. “That’s what really whet my appetite for farming,” he said. [1]

All of this has helped him think outside the box when it comes to organic farming. “What completely disqualifies us from organic farming, completely qualifies us to rattle it up.”

Although he began farming with conventional crops on about 7,000 acres of land, he now has 40,000 acres of organic crops, including wheat, flax, chickpeas, peas, alfalfa, oats, hemp, barley, and lentils.

Read: Unhappy with prices, ranchers look to build own meat plants

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“You have to believe in it in order for it to work”

According to Heide, food producers are paying more for crop inputs without any increased revenue. To help this, erasing potential costs can be well worth it. “I couldn’t believe through all these years the grain prices hadn’t really changed yet farmers were spending more, they were risking more (and) they were growing more but they were almost being paid the same price although their costs had doubled and tripled,” he said.

While saving money was an incentive, Amy encouraged her husband to make the change for the right reasons. “I remember saying, ‘you can’t do it just because of money. You have to believe in it in order for it to work,’” she said. The couple had debated between the different approaches to farming and ended up proving the skeptics wrong about going organic.

I have never heard of anything like that,” said Laura Telford, an organic development specialist with Manitoba Agriculture. “That’s kind of out of the ballpark. The biggest one I’ve heard of before is maybe 20,000 (acres).”

As Heide explained, “There’s a whole bunch of status quos these days: you can’t start a farm from scratch nowadays, you can’t do a large organic farm because there’s too much tillage.

Read: Farmer Who Refuses To Sell Land Grows Crops Between New Apt Buildings

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Inspiring Other Farmers

Nevertheless, Heide is used to derisive reactions to his decision. He was even confronted at a funeral about the drawbacks of an organic farm and gets attitude from truckers picking up the harvest. And it’s not only him. According to the Canadian Organic Growers, there’s a stigma of switching to organic and it’s seen as a higher risk. [2]

However, Heide has stuck with his decision and it has paid off for him so far. “A lot of other large farms have dabbled in little organic experiments now because they’ve seen us do it.”

He hopes that his experience can inspire other farmers. “If what we’re doing can help open some doors and can show a glimmer of hope to farmers, that’s what we’re excited about,” Heide said. [3]

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Keep Reading: Why Independent Farming in America Is Close to Extinction

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Sources

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  1. “40,000-acre farm goes organic.” Producer. Robert Arnason. March 22, 2018
  2. “Organic farming goes for scale in Canada’s prairies, pushes back on skepticism.The Star. Ian Bickis. September 2, 2018
  3. “Sask. home to Canada’s largest organic farm.Farms.com. Diego Flammini. September 17, 2018
Sarah Biren
Freelance Writer
Sarah is a baker, cook, author, and blogger living in Toronto. She believes that food is the best method of healing and a classic way of bringing people together. In her spare time, Sarah does yoga, reads cookbooks, writes stories, and finds ways to make any type of food in her blender.
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