The first leg of my recently completed seminar tour of North America involved my first visit to Canada. We visited Toronto to deliver our 4-day Certificate in Sustainable Agriculture followed by a field day designed to demonstrate biological principles in action. Attendees included large scale cash croppers, Mennonite farmers, permaculturists, consultants and agronomists. The questions flowed like wine and Joel Williams (my co-presenter) and I found it more difficult than usual to stick to the schedule. The Canadians, however, proved to be a warm, intelligent bunch and we thoroughly enjoyed the sharing.
The GMO Mistake
Canada has become party central for the multi-nationals pushing GM crops and there is no surprise that they focused upon this region when you survey the scale of agricultural enterprise in this country. On the flight out we passed over an endless patchwork of wheat, soya beans, corn and alfalfa for at least an hour, and this was just one direction.
There were many stories of the problems associated with GM crops, including compromised animal health, the arrival of herbicide resistant super weeds and substandard performance. The only major crop that has yet to be genetically modified is alfalfa (lucerne). It was horrifying to hear that in spite of a large scale farmer survey revealing that the vast majority oppose the introduction of GM canola, the introduction is still going ahead regardless. Democracy appears to be battling in Canada!
One of the growers presented leaf test data comparing GM corn with conventional corn and the nutrition differences were staggering. I intend to commission my own studies into this nutritional comparison because, if this data is correct, it represents an abomination in terms of the possible effect upon soil, animal and human health. I will keep you posted.
Hosts with the Most
Our Canadian hosts were a dynamic agricultural company headed by talented consultant, Dave and with the assistance of organizational whiz, Rhonda. Together, they delivered the best food, quiz prizes and fifth day, field day of any foreign four-day event in the history of NTS. We feasted on bowls of assorted berries with homemade muesli and yogurt for breakfast followed by omelettes, muffins and fruit salad. Each day the food changed and lunches ranged from delicious soups to barbecues and Asian delights with wholesome salads. Everything was organic and this is the first time we have encountered this luxury in a course outside of our own seminar centre. There was no hesitation when we were asked to repeat the exercise in January, when I will also address a large organic conference.
Seeing is Believing
The field day following an NTS, four day course is a hugely important event. This allows course participants to witness biological principles in practice and they can then make their own evaluation of the effectiveness of this approach. In Canada, we travelled two hours from Toronto to the farm of Daniel Konzelmann. He is of Swiss extraction but has farmed in Canada for the past seventeen years. Daniel intensively farms 1500 acres, growing the typical Canadian cash crops, corn, soya bean, wheat and alfalfa. He also grows spelt, the non-hybridised, nutrient dense, ancient grain that is becoming so popular around the globe. He has specialised in the de-hulling of spelt and he has found that the fibre removed during this process represents 30% of the weight of this grain at harvest. He has invested in a pelletising machine that can concentrate the fibre in a user friendly format for the stock feed industry. This value-adding exercise has proven a real success in that the pellets now equal the profitability of the spelt itself. In fact, Daniel was able to pay off this substantial machinery investment in just 18 months.
Boys will be boys when it comes to farm machinery and here, the remarkably well maintained array of huge equipment lined a concreted, aircraft hanger the length of a football field. We were treated to a demonstration of one particularly impressive tool. Daniel has created the largest compost turner I have ever seen and it was remarkably effective when turning a large windrow of excellent, fungal based compost. This man is an impressive achiever and he obviously had the admiration of the large crowd. His crops were vibrantly healthy and disease free. His yields were over 30% higher than the average in his area and his profitability was exceptional, with the benefit of enhanced organic premiums. He had clearly mastered mechanical weed management and this field day was the perfect showpiece for all that the farmers had learned over the previous four days.
I always argue that food producers are involved in the single most important profession on the planet but those that have truly mastered their trade are those that have minimised the crutches. My absolute heroes are the masters who can produce good yields of high quality foods with great weed management and no chemical crutches. Daniel is most definitely one of those heroes. He has my admiration and gratitude.