Soil specialist, pork producer honoured as Ontario's soil champions

Jim Denys, a Middlesex County farmer, and Anne Verhallen, a long-time provincial government soil specialist, have been named recipients of the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association (OSCIA)’s Soil Champion Award.

The award recognizes leaders in sustainable soil management. This is the first time the association has presented its award to multiple recipients.

“We are very fortunate to have people in Ontario like Anne and Jim who are so dedicated to soil health and sustainable soil management, and our selection panel was very pleased to exercise its ability to present Soil Champion awards to both of these outstanding soil health advocates,” says OSCIA president Peter McLaren.

Denys raises hogs in a farrow to finish system and grows corn, wheat, and soybeans. His father first started with no-till wheat in the 1990s as a way to conserve soil and stop erosion. Today, the Denys family focuses on building soil structure and organic matter through the use of cover crops and strip tilling. A transition to controlled traffic is underway, and variable rate fertilizer application is also in the works. “The goal is to run a profitable business while taking care of the soil – they’re not mutually exclusive,” Denys says.

“We haven’t given up any yield with these practices and with phosphorus high on the radar now, we have to be proactive about finding solutions.”

Verhallen, soil management specialist for Horticulture Crops with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), first joined the ministry in the late 1980s to deliver the Land Stewardship Program in Essex and Kent Counties.

Senator Rob Black (left) presented the awards for the Ontario Soil and Crop 2018 champion, Daniel Breen and 2019 champions Jim Denys and Anne Verhallen. (@SenatorRobBlack/Twitter)

She is a long-time advocate for soil health, and played a key role in launching the popular Southwest Ag Conference. She also recently worked to get the “Soil Your Undies” campaign off the ground as part of her passion for extension and ongoing efforts to help people visualize soil. (She’s also a regular guest here on RealAgriculture. You can see all her interviews, here).

“I’ve had the best job. I’ve been able to work with researchers and farmers—the best day for me is to be out on the farm soil sampling and talking to farmers,” Verhallen says.

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