Profitable Practices: Brett Israel and 3Gen Organics

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Working together towards a common vision is the driving force behind 3Gen Organics, one of the country’s biggest and most progressive family-run organic farming operations.

On this episode of Profitable Practices, we visit with Brett Israel, near Wallenstein, Ont, to learn how three generations of the family have worked together to carve out a market niche with a diverse crop rotation and intensive organic management to produce high-yielding and nutritious grains for their pigs.

Key to the 3Gen Organics’ success is adopting farm practices that have a positive impact on profit, people, and the planet. This pursuit of profitability and sustainability really takes shape by moving organic farming to a larger scale. “A lot of organic farms might be smaller operations and that’s a good fit for them. But we wanted to take this philosophy and do it on a larger scale,” says Israel.

3Gen now runs about 1,000 acres under the Canadian organic standard and also have a 180-sow farrow-to-finish organic swine herd as part of a whole-farm system.

“We’re confident that if organic agriculture is going to provide food to feed a growing world, we have to be able to have competitive yields at relative scale in order to achieve that,” says Israel. “Our focus is taking the best concepts from conventional production and integrating them into our organic system, utilizing cover crops, diverse rotations, and integrating the livestock to be able to have a successful and scalable organic farm.” (Story continues after the video)

That whole farm approach starts with the soil. It really is a simple philosophy, says Israel. Healthy soil creates healthy grains and “that’s going to be the source of our herd health.”

The crop rotation includes corn and soybeans as well as a variety of small grains like spring barley, winter barley, spring wheat, winter wheat and forages. Small grain crops are followed by cover crops, which are also inter-seeded into standing grain corn crops. The goal is to create as much diversity and biology as possible throughout the system.

“We don’t have the capacity to utilize chemical solutions the same way that conventional farmers do. So we’re always focused on using biological tools to enhance the health of our system,” says Israel. “Over the years, we’ve found that a lot of the challenges that can come with organic production like weed control, pest management, disease management — these can all be addressed by having a strict adherence to a biological approach and fostering as much diversity as possible.”

Israel says the family measures success in several ways. There’s the growing demand for organic products, including pork, flower, tortilla chips, pasture-fed eggs and honey sold at 3Gen’s farm shop and online. Other benchmarks include soil management and productivity. There’s some heavy, tough clay in their area, and it’s nice to see the health of the soil improving over time, he adds.

What can other farmers learn from 3Gen’s approach to profitability and sustainability? Israel says it’s important for individual farms to analyze their operations and look for competitive advantages. Organic and conventional farms are different, “but there is a lot that we can learn from each other in this process.”

Profitable Practices is sponsored by Farm Credit Canada and RBC Royal Bank. Click here for more episodes.

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