Mixed Farming Has Advantages


In a modern age designed for specialized category agriculture the concept of running a mixed farming operation is often viewed as being out of date. The idea of rotating annual field crops alongside multi-year forage crops, while also managing a livestock herd, is complex to say the least.

But a mixed farm also has some real advantages in times of high-cost, hard to get inputs.

Prince Edward Island is Canada’s eastern-most agriculturally intensive region and that’s where Ryan Barrett grows potatoes, corn, oats and barley. That’s when he’s not in his dairy barn milking sixty Holstein cows.

Barrett says Prince Edward Island’s overall field crop season is a bit later than the rest of Canada. PEI farmers normally start planting their potatoes and other spring crops right about now.

“Most people are rolling by about the 18th to 20th of May. So, we’re a little slower here than in Manitoba or Alberta usually, Ontario even, too. We have a little bit longer season at the end of the year.”

The majority of PEI’s purchased inputs are brought over to the island on barges, so ferry transportation costs just add to the high fertilizer prices. It’s times like this that Barrett’s dairy cows add even more value to the farm operation.

“So, on our dairy farm we’re trying to dial in how much credit are we getting out of manure, especially our liquid manure. And, a lot of our barley this year, our oats and even some of our corn, we figure we’re going to be able to get away with very little fertilizer, based upon the combination of liquid manure and solid manure. I think we sure be able to keep purchased fertilizer down on a few things. But then, of course, we’ve got other fields we’re going to have to bit the bullet.”

Ryan Barrett says he thinks this is a year to spread lime on some of his Prince Edward Island fields to give available nutrients already in the soil a boost. And mixed farm operations also tend to have a longer crop cycle rotation with multi-year forage crops in the mix.

“Usually about a six to seven-year crop rotation in most of our crop fields. Alfalfa’s a big part of our rotation, and we need to keep high potash for the alfalfa. So, we have a lot of fields that test reasonably high. We’ve got a fair bit in the bank in a lot of those fields. Anything that we rotate with potatoes is pretty high in P, because potato guys usually go a little high on the P. This is the year to maybe invest in the lime a little bit, to make the other nutrients a little bit more available. About $85 a ton, I think, if you’re putting a ton to the acre. So, then I might save some money on fertilizer.”