Last week I listened to an environmentalist who warned the farmers that our Quebec government was adopting a policy to better protect waterways, riverbanks, wetlands and areas that flood regularly, both in springtime and during more frequent heavy rains.
In some areas, this policy will take thousands of class one farmland out of production at a time when our consumers are already complaining about high food prices and some of our less fortunate citizens cannot afford to feed their families nutritious food on a regular basis.
One of the orders coming is that hay that grows very well in these flood zones cannot be cut until after August 15 each year. This reminded me of a saying that dad had about poor-quality hay. Dad said “you might as well feed the cows balsam brush.” Then there was dad’s cousin that said “some farmers feed patriotic hay that’s cut after Canada Day, but some only feed orange hay that’s cut after the twelfth of July!”
During World War II, all food was at a premium, some was rationed because Canada helped fight the war by sending a lot of food to Europe not only to feed the troops, but also the European citizens because of fighting in fields that normally grew grain and other food staples. More of our Canadian fields were planted in grain, potatoes and feed for hogs and beef that was also sent to the war effort.
Some Canadian farmers didn’t even have enough hay to feed their cattle and horses in winter. Many farmers fed straw once a day to help get by in winter. In the spring farm neighbours would go from farm to farm and help “lift the cows” that were too weak to stand up by themselves. Those farmers were very glad when spring grass was long enough to pasture.
After World War II, companies that were successful at producing chemicals to kill people during the war were now shifting to produce chemicals and man-made fertilizers that farmers would buy to grow crops faster and kill weeds and pests that destroyed crops. They also developed feed additives and minerals for all types of farm animals. Farmers bought into this new technology and soon relied heavily on it.
I was once in a feed store when a farmer asked the feed dealer and our veterinarian who happened to be there, “what kind of mineral should I buy to help my cattle get pregnant?” The vet who had visited the farm on several occasions replied, “did you try a little corn?” The vet knew that the hay was not super feed and maybe the cows needed energy more than expensive minerals.
During the 50s and 60s, even our universities had bought into this new way of farming with man-made crop nutrients, replacing animal manure and other “green manures” that had supported crop production for thousands of years.
Not enough research had been done on symbiotic relationships between bacteria in the gut of all animals. Not only do they maintain a healthy digestive system, but when these little bacteria outlive their job of protecting the gut, they can be digested by the animal as a perfect source of both protein and energy for the host. In the soil these microscopic animals can turn minerals, crop residues and other compost into plant food that grows crops without much extra fertilizer.
Even today, many of our vegetables are grown in greenhouses in a soilless environment where chemical nutrients are fed as a solution in the water. Tests have shown that plants grown in an environment where there is a heavy dependance on chemical nutrients, that the nutrient density of the crop grown is considerably lower than in similar crops grown in a balanced topsoil. Some insects, birds and animals can detect and select more nutritious foods.
Not all excellent engineers wear a “cast iron ring” and not all of our best nutritionists have a degree framed and hanging on the wall.
Chris Judd is a farmer in Clarendon on land that has been in his family for generations.
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