Tag Archives: research

EFAO wins inaugural Excellence in Agriculture Award

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We are excited to announce that EFAO’s Farmer-Led Research Program is the first recipient of the inaugural Excellence in Agriculture Award.

The Excellence in Agriculture Award recognizes agri-food businesses, individuals and organizations that have raised the bar for agri-food excellence, demonstrated leadership in their field, undertaken strategic product development benefiting their sector, or advanced technological innovation.

The award is a recognition of the importance of farmer-led research in addressing some of the big challenges that we face in agriculture. It also recognizes the hard work and innovation of more than 30 farmers who have received funding and support to conduct over 40 on-farm research trials since 2016. 

“EFAO’s Farmer-Led Research Program helps farmers combine their curiosity with research to answer their most challenging on-farm questions in a way that benefits their farms, soils, environment, and local communities. We are excited about this award for its potential to help secure funding to continue to support curious and innovative farmers across the province.” Says Dr. Sarah Hargreaves, Research Director, EFAO

“Agri-food organizations like the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario are always pushing boundaries and expanding economic opportunities. What I particularly like about their Farmer-led Research Program is that the research findings are publicly shared, so everyone can benefit.” said Ernie Hardeman, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

Three cheers to all of the EFAO farmer-researchers for making this possible! 

Read more in OMAFRA press release

Watch video of award presentation

Learn more about Farmer-Led Research


We would like to thank our project funding partners who have generously provided financial support for the Program since its launch in 2016: 



Media Release! EFAO Recognizes Grant from Ontario Trillium Foundation for Farmer-led Research

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On Monday, June 26, 2017, Heather Coffey of Fiddlehead Farm on behalf of Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario (EFAO), welcomed members of the public to a farm tour and plaque presentation to mark the growth of Ontario’s first Farmer-led Research Program. Local MPP Todd Smith and OTF Grant Review Team member Nancy Parks were on hand to congratulate the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario and the farmer-researchers conducting research trials this summer, and to hear more about how farmer-led research is a powerful decision-making tool that helps farmers innovate in the area of ecological agriculture.

“I am pleased to see this Ontario Trillium Foundation Grow grant go to such a worthy recipient,” said Todd Smith, MPP for Prince Edward – Hastings. “This farmer-led research project will bring vital information to Ontario farmers, for them to learn and share with one another and create an environment that is both economical and environmentally friendly. Congratulations to the EFAO on this successful application.”

Thanks to the $362,000 Grow Grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, the Farmer-led Research Program is supporting Ontario farmers to conduct research trials that address their challenges and fit their farm and equipment. In addition, the program hosts webinars, supports farmer-to-farmer information sharing at field days and workshops and a publicly available online database of farmers’ knowledge (efao.ca/research-library).

“This grant has allowed us to grow farmer-led research in Ontario. The program is about cultivating a culture of science and curiosity that supports farmers to innovate on their farms”, said Heather Coffey, Eastern Ontario Research Coordinator of the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario.

EFAO’s Farmer-led Research Program is committed to supporting farmers to generate and share evidence-based information about ecological farming practices and archiving farmer knowledge specific to Ontario. Visit EFAO’s website for more information on how you can join or support farmer-led research efforts in Ontario (efao.ca).

An agency of the Government of Ontario, the Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF) is one of Canada’s largest granting foundations. With a budget of over $136 million, OTF awards grants to some 1,000 projects every year to build healthy and vibrant Ontario communities. www.otf.ca.

Photo caption: Participants learned about farmer-led research at a field day hosted by Heather Coffey and Steve Laing of Fiddlehead Farm. MPP Todd Smith and Ontario Trillium Foundation volunteer Nancy Parks were also in attendance to help the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario recognize funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation to expand farmer-led across the province. (Left to right): Ayla Fenton (Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario), Heather Coffey (farmer-researcher and Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario), Nancy Parks (Ontario Trillium Foundation Grant Review Team member), and MPP Todd Smith (Prince Edward – Hastings)

For more information, please contact:

Sarah Hargreaves, Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario 226-582-0626 (cell), sarah@efao.ca

Is bird-friendly grazing ‘for the birds’?

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Rotational grazing is generally considered ecologically beneficial because of its potential to build soil and maintain diverse and robust plant communities. Grass-based farming (i.e. pastures for grazing and haying), however, can come in conflict with the ecology of other organisms such as grassland birds.

Some have suggested that refuges – areas that aren’t grazed by cattle during the nesting season – may help reconcile the use of these ecosystems by cattle and grassland birds including the threatened bobolink.

A Bobolink nest built on the ground in a cattle pasture. Photo: Gerald Morris, BECO

A Bobolink nest built on the ground in a cattle pasture. Photo: Gerald Morris, BECO

To assess whether strategically placed bobolink refuges can have meaningful impact on conservation efforts for this species, Bird Ecology and Conservation Ontario (BECO), a non-profit organization dedicated to the conservation of birds in Ontario through the use of ecological research, is teaming up with the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association (OSCIA) on a 2-year study in the Ottawa Valley. The project is funded by the Government of Canada through the Species at Risk Partnerships on Agricultural Lands initiative.

Starting in May 2016, wildlife biologists with BECO worked with 5 farmers on 8 pastures that are each rotationally grazed by 1 herd of beef cattle (herd sizes vary, as do stocking density, rest period, etc.). Across the 2-year study, each pasture has 1 year of treatment, when ~2 hectares remains un-grazed during the bobolink breeding season (mid-May to mid-July) to provide refuge habitat, and 1 year of control, when all paddocks are grazed during the nesting period. When possible, the order of refuge treatment vs. control was randomly assigned.


Grassland Bird Field Assistant with BECO, watches for signs of Bobolink nesting activity. Photo credit: Andrew Campomizzi, BECO

Grassland Bird Field Assistant with BECO watches for signs of Bobolink nesting activity. Photo credit: Andrew Campomizzi, BECO

In May, June and July, the BECO crew located and monitored breeding success in nearly 90 bobolink territories. In these territories, they found and monitored 32 nests, of which 15 fledged young while the others were predated or destroyed by cattle trampling. After year 2, they will compare the proportion of bobolink that fledged young in each pasture under treatment and control.

The conservation implications of this study are important and complex. If refuges are effective at supporting bobolink conservation in pastures, what does this mean for grass-based farmers who may already feel the burden of conservation efforts in an agricultural landscape composed primarily of monocultures and field crops? If refuges don’t improve bobolink reproductive success, then what does the future hold for this charismatic grassland species?

Learning from other farmer-researchers: strip-tilling and forages for pastured pigs

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While EFAO farmer-researchers are busy collecting data and tending their research plots, it’s a good time to share results from other farmer-led research studies.  Highlights like this will continue throughout the year, so if there’s a study you’d like shared or summarized, please email me (sarah@efao.ca). The following studies were also highlighted in the July EFAO Member Newsletter.

Summer squash yield higher in strip-till compared to no-till in Iowa

Squash growing in till and no-till plots at Mustard Seed Farm on Sept. 17, 2015. Photo credit: Practical Farmers of Iowa

Squash growing in till and no-till plots at Mustard Seed Farm on Sept. 17, 2015. Photo credit: Practical Farmers of Iowa

In cooperation with Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI), Alice McGary of Mustard Seed Community Farm in Iowa tested winter rye as weed control for summer squash. She established 8 plots (6’ wide x 36’ long), with 4 randomly assigned replicates each of strip till and no-till treatments. In tilled plots, 2’ wide strips of cereal rye were incorporated prior to seeding; in no-till plots, summer squash was seeded into cereal rye that was scythed at maturity.

Results revealed that mean plot yield and number of fruit produced were higher in the strip-tilled plots than no-till plots. This trend was driven by better plant survival in the tilled plots, with surviving plants under both treatments producing similar yields. McGary suspects the difference in yield was due to an outbreak of mosaic virus in the no-till plots. Replicate experiments are needed, however, to determine if no-till increases disease risk to cash crops. Time spent weeding was lower in the no-tilled plots, but additional analysis is needed to determine the revenue trade-off between yield and labour costs.

Overall, McGary concluded that the strip-till method, which leaves the majority of soil mulched and covered, may be a good compromise. Read the full report here.


Testing field peas and barley as forage for pastured pork in Maine

In cooperation with Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (NE-SARE), Hanne Tierney of Cornerstone Farm in Maine tested whether pasturing pigs on field peas and barley can reduce feed cost and fat content of pork. She wanted to conduct this experiment after observing her pigs’ preference for high protein forages.

For the experiment, piglets from two litters were randomly sorted into two new groups using ear tags, with 10 pigs in each group. She assigned one group a full grain ration + standard pasture (control) and the second group a 1/2 grain ration + pasture with succession plantings of field peas and barley pasture (treatment). Every week she weighed the pigs and collected forage samples. After slaughter, hanging weight of the five largest pigs and % fat were comparable between groups. However, the five smallest pigs were smaller in the treatment compared to control group, resulting in the treatment group costing $0.09 per lb more to raise.

This is only one replicate (i.e. a group of animals is equivalent to a row of vegetables) such that additional experiments are needed to draw robust conclusions. Tierney noted that future studies should decrease competition among pigs for grain, especially in the treatment group that receives less grain. She also noted that planting a greater diversity of forages that mature differently throughout the season might better supplement the pigs.

You can watch the full video report here and read the full report here.


Looking for other resources? Check out these useful links!

Practical Farmers of Iowa Farmer Knowledge Database

NE-SARE Learning Center

Resources for reduced tillage and no-till vegetable production.


EFAO’s Farmer-led Research Program is made possible by a grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation. Contact: Sarah Hargreaves, sarah@efao.ca.


EFAO announces first webinar: On-Farm Research Design & Analysis

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EFAO’s Farmer-led Research Program is gearing up for a productive first field season. We are working out the final details of two multi-farm projects (quick turnaround cover crops and soil health testing) and single-farm experiments (meat chicken comparison – see below, efficacy of foliar sprays and others). Stay tuned for more information in May!

As part of the program, EFAO will host its inaugural webinar: On-Farm Research Design & Analysis on Wednesday, March 30, 2016 from 9-10:30 a.m EST. It is free for anyone with an internet connection. This year’s farmer-researchers will participate and we hope you can join us too!

The webinar will cover the four steps to on-farm research, including tips for designing randomized and replicated trials that fit your farm and equipment and straightforward ways to analyze and interpret your results, followed by Q&A.


Can’t make it? The webinar will be recorded and archived here.

Attention pastured poultry farmers: Are you testing different breeds this year and want to be part of our meat chicken comparison? Please contact Sarah Hargreaves, sarah@efao.ca, for more info.

Contact: Sarah Hargreaves, sarah@efao.ca


EFAO is hosting an Information Session about the new Farmer-led Research Program

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“What are you going to research?” is a question I get a lot these days. “I don’t know!” I reply enthusiastically, to an often-puzzled look.

Really, the question needs to be posed to EFAO farmers: “What are you going to research?”


The heart of our new Research Program is highlighted in its title: Farmer-led. It’s about giving EFAO farmers support, resources and compensation to investigate reliable on-farm answers and solutions. This means helping you

  • Find the root of your question or challenge
  • Design, conduct and analyze trials that fit your farm
  • Share discoveries freely with other farmers

In this way, the Information Session should really be called an Information & Brainstorming Session.

Research is a flexible and powerful tool for evaluating new methods, varieties and enterprises, and tweaks to current practices, so the Session will review its “instruction manual” – that is, the What? Why? And How’s of on-farm research.

But we will also spend a lot of time generating and sharing research ideas and questions.

  • What are you curious about?
  • What questions do you need answered to become a more profitable, resilient and ecological farmer?
  • What synergies and commonalities exist among members’ questions?
  • What training do you need to feel confident to conduct your own investigations?

Please join us at the Information Session! We want to hear from you!

Jan 31: Farmer-led Research Program Information (& Brainstorming) Session


50 Stone Road E, University of Guelph, University Centre, Room 334

Free, just pre-register here!

Contact: Sarah Hargreaves, sarah@efao.ca


Official EFAO Statement on Closure of Kemptville and d’Alfred College Campuses

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March 26, 2014
Guelph, Ont.

Ecological Farmers of Ontario (EFAO) would like to express concern over the recently announced closure of the University of Guelph’s satellite Kemptville and d’Alfred college campuses in Eastern Ontario in 2015 and urge officials to preserve d’Alfred’s organic dairy research and teaching capacity.

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