Small Grains – Frequently Asked Questions
If you’ve read the Small Grains webpage and still have questions, please read through the frequently asked questions below.
Benefits of Small Grains
Q. What are the benefits of growing small grains?
A. Small grains offer big gains. Scientific research and farmer observations show that adding small grains such as wheat, spelt, oats, barley, rye or triticale to a rotation has agronomic, ecological and economic benefits.
- Small grains increase yield for corn and soy: Small grains lead to increased yields, yield stability and profitability for corn and soybean.
- Small grains reduce pesticide use: Continuous ground cover helps to suppress weeds, and introducing new species to a field can break up pest and disease cycles. Because diverse rotations can control weeds and allow for up to six times less herbicide use, their potential freshwater ecotoxicity is up to 200 times lower than that of a simple corn-soybean rotation.
- Small grains help protect and build soil health: A diversity of crops results in a diversity of roots, which provide food and habitat for soil organisms. Diverse roots and soil microorganisms improve soil structure, increase organic matter and help prevent erosion.
- Small grains improve water quality: Since small grains are cool season crops, small grains keep roots in the ground year round. They capture and use nitrate-rich water from the soil and, in turn, prevent nutrient run-off and erosion.
- Small grains reduce GHG emissions and fossil energy use: Small grains are harvested in the summer, which allows farmers to grow legume cover crops and forages in the same season. From the nitrogen fixed by the microbes associated with the legumes, farmers can credit the following (corn) crop and decrease the amount of fertilizer they buy. Reduced fertilizer leads to reduced greenhouse gas emissions and less fossil energy use; and lower cost of production for the farmer.
- Diversity begets diversity: Small grains are critical to integrating livestock on the landscape. The grain crop provides feed and straw and the cover crop can be used as forage.
Q. Doesn’t small grain production promote the use of herbicide and fungicide?
A. While conventional small grains production uses herbicides and fungicides, there is a robust body of research that shows that diversifying a crop rotation with small grains – both conventionally and organically – has many important benefits (see above).
Small Grains Program
Q. Who is eligible for the Small Grains Program?
The Small Grains Program is open to farmers across Ontario. The specific July 2023 intake is for farmers who will grow a fall 2023-planted winter grain for harvest in 2024.
Farmers must fall into one of the three following categories:
a) New to small grains – growing small grains for the first time
b) Returning to small grains – have grown small grains in the past, but not in the last three years (2021, 2022, 2023)
c) Expanding acres of small grains – have grown small grains in the last three years, and will be expanding small grains acres to land that has not had small grains grown on it for the last three years (2021, 2022, 2023)
Q. How does the auction work?
A. Applicants will submit a bid to receive payment to plant a small grain followed by a legume cover crop on up to 100 acres. Bids are reviewed anonymously based on the per-acre cost requested. Approved applicants will receive the price per acre requested.
Q. Why is this program an auction?
A. EFAO chose an auction approach for two primary reasons:
- Costs to incorporate new practices are not consistent across all farms. The auction approach allows individuals to identify unique impacts associated with trying new crops.
- Auctions help ensure that limited funding generates maximum impact.
EFAO will hear from farmers directly through this pilot and communicate their needs to policymakers seeking to encourage broader adoption of diversified rotations.
Q. When can I submit my bid?
A. The current program intake is open from July 4 at 10AM until July 17 at 9:59AM. All applicants will be notified of funding decisions by July 24, 2023.
Q. How can I submit my bid?
A. Visit this page to submit your e-mail address. You should receive an email within 5 minutes that contains your application package.
Q. How much should I bid?
A. Developing your bid is a unique process, and each farm business may approach it differently. Be sure to take into consideration the added costs you may incur by planting this new crop as well as the profit and other benefits anticipated. For example, keep in mind the soil health benefits associated with small grains in your overall rotation.
Q. How will projects be reviewed?
A. Farmers will be asked to indicate your with small grains in order to be sorted into one of two equally funded experience groups: a) new to small grains; b) & c) farmers returning to or expanding acres of small grains. The most competitive bids will be approved and funded with each experience group separately. Bids in each group will be ranked on a cost per acre basis and funded starting from the lowest bid per acre, then the second lowest, and so on, until the available funds have been allocated.
For a very simplified example, imagine the current program budget is $10 and 8 farmers submitted bids to each grow small grains on one acre. Per acre payments are accepted until the program budget is fully allocated. In this example, per acre bids ranged from $1 to $10 (listed below), and the funds were fully allocated after the lowest 5 bids were accepted (underlined), for a total program budget of $10.
EXAMPLE: $1, $1, $2, $3, $3, $5, $8, $10
Q. What information should I have prepared to submit my application?
A. The application form will ask for:
- Basic farm information (number of acres, typical crop rotation and management)
- Experience level with small grains
- Bid information (cost per acre, total acres where you plan to grow the spring small grain)
- Additional, optional demographic and farm experience questions
Q. How many projects will you fund?
A. The program will fund as many projects as the budget allows. Cost per acre requests will determine the final reach of the program.
Q. How many acres can I apply for?
A. Applicants may only submit one bid of up to 100 acres for a particular farm address. If we receive multiple bids for the same farm address, we will take the last bid submitted and delete any others.
Q. When can I purchase my seed?
A. Applicants can purchase seed any time after they receive program approval. Copies of receipts for grain and cover crop seed will be required as part of the final claim form and must be dated after your approval.
Q. When will I know if I’m approved?
A. EFAO will provide project approvals by email on or before July 24, 2023.
Q. Once approved, what information do I have to provide to receive payment?
A. EFAO will provide a claim form, which requires copies of invoices or receipts for grain and cover crop seed; crop management information; list of other expenses and in-kind contributions; and dated photos of the project. Please keep track of hours invested in the project (equipment and hours worked) to include on this form.
Q. How will payments be made?
A. EFAO will mail cheques or direct deposit payment to successful applicants in the fall when invoices and photos have been received in the fall after small grain harvest.
Q. Can I stack funding? E.g. With the Canadian Agricultural Partnership cover crop cost-share and Conservation Authority programs supporting cover crops.
A. Please review the program rules and guidelines of each program for final determination. Pairing Small Grains Program funding with other program dollars may be possible depending on the requirements of each program.
Q. Will you visit my property?
A. EFAO does not intend to view your project in person throughout the season. EFAO may contact you to participate in a story or host a tour. However, willingness to participate in communications efforts is entirely up to you.
Q. What are the eligible small grains?
A. Cereals including wheat, spelt, barley, rye, oats, buckwheat, triticale, amaranth and quinoa. If you have another species in mind you’d like to plant for the program, please email Jackie Clark (firstname.lastname@example.org) to discuss.
Q. Do I have to plant the cover crop after I harvest the small grain?
A. No! You’re welcome to inter- or underseed the legume cover crop into your standing small grain crop, if that’s the practice you prefer.
Q. Can I plant a cover crop mix?
A. Yes! As long as legume(s) make up more than half of the mix.
Q. Do I have to be certified organic or grow organically to apply?
A. No, farmers who intend to manage their small grain using conventional methods are welcome to apply, as long as they fit eligibility criteria.
Q. What is the minimum acreage of a small grain that I must plant to qualify?
A. One acre is the minimum acreage.
Q. What if my small grain crop fails?
A. Even if your small grain fails, you are eligible for the payment, as long as you follow the failed crop with a legume cover crop or forage crop.
Q. I grow vegetables. Does this program apply to me?
A. Yes! If you want to extend your vegetable rotation by adding a small grain, then this program applies to you.
Small Grains and EFAO
Q. What is the Small Grains Network?
A. The Small Grain Network provides learning and mentorship opportunities open to all small grain growers in Ontario.
Q. Why pay farmers to grow something that they will market?
A. The payment helps reduce the risk to farmers as they learn to grow small grains and recognizes the myriad of ecosystem services that come from diversified rotations, including:
- Improved soil health and protection;
- Improved water quality;
- Reduced GHG emissions and fossil energy use;
- Increased profitability and farm resilience;
- Reduced pesticide use.
All together, these benefits mean small grains offer big gains – #smallgrainsbiggains. Read more about the benefits.
Q. What inspired this project?
A. In 2019, the Weston Family Foundation (then called The W. Garfield Weston Foundation) invited EFAO to put forward a proposal to help broaden the adoption of ecological farming practices through payments to farmers for implementing a new practice, in combination with farmer-to-farmer knowledge sharing and mentorship. While EFAO had not previously delivered payment-type programs, we were interested in the opportunity as it aligned very well with one of EFAO’s strategic goals identified by the EFAO Board of Directors: to broaden adoption of ecological agriculture. We also felt that such a project would respond to the policy priorities that we are advocating for through our work in Farmers for Climate Solutions. This farmer-led campaign recently released a series of recommendations for the federal government to help farmers cope with, and mitigate the acceleration of climate change. One of these policy recommendations is to provide incentives for climate-friendly farming – like diversified rotations.
EFAO’s Small Grains Program began in 2020 for the 2021 growing season as a pilot program that included payment, training and a farmer-to-farmer network of support and information for small grains production and marketing. For the 2022 growing season, the Small Grains Program was a regionally targeted, auction-based bid and payment program that is focused on spring small grains. For the 2023-2026 growing seasons, the Small Grains Program is an auction-based bid and payment program open to farmers across Ontario.
Please contact Jackie Clark, email@example.com, for all other inquiries related to the Small Grains Program.
This program is made possible by funding from the Weston Family Foundation.