du Nouveau-

"En 1995, le Conseil de conservation rassemblait un groupe de fermiers
très motivés pour participer à un projet-pilote de recherche par et pour les fermiers."

Il y avait un équilibre raisonnable d'hommes et de femmes de différents
âges, ainsi qu'une représentation des opérations d'élevage et de
production de récoltes.

David Coon, le coordonnateur de ce projet, nous parle des buts, des
objectifs et des résultats de ce projet et de ce qui s'en vient.


The New Brunswick
Pilot Project

    David Coon,
    Conservation Council of NB


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In 1995, the Conservation Council assembled a group of nine highly motivated farmers to participate in a pilot project in farmer-led on-farm research. Staff at Macdonald College's Ecological Agriculture Projects provided technical advice and information. The National Farmers Union agreed to collaborate. Funding for the pilot project was obtained from the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation.

The group represented a reasonable balance of men and women, young and old, and a mix of cash crop and livestock farm operations. Their farms are located in a 100 km stretch from Woodstock to Grand Falls, New Brunswick.

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(photo:Conservation Council of NB)

The group includes:

Conrad Toner, Grand Falls: 275 acres of seed potatoes in rotation with barley and clover.

Wayne Sabine, Arthurette: 125 acres certified organic potatoes, turnips, grain, plus beef.

Wout VanGaal, Aroostook: 260 acres corn silage/grass/ alfalfa for dairy and beef herds.

Shawna and Leighton Hayward, Woodstock: 100 acres potatoes, sweet corn, cabbage, turnips/greenhouse.

Darrell and Dale McLaughlin, Aroostook: 250 acres: potatoes/millet, ryegrass, buckwheat.

Betty Brown, Summerfield: 900 acres in potatoes/soybean/grain/hay/pasture plus beef.

Harold Culberson, Woodstock: 325 acres table, processing potatoes/barley, cow/calf, beef.

Wayne Jamieson, Grand Falls:
beef, hay.

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(photo: CCNB)

One of the participating farmers:
Darrell McLaughlin

Goals and Objectives

The group met regularly following the end of the 1995 harvest, each taking their turn to host the sessions. The Conservation Council's David Coon co-ordinated and facilitated the meetings.

During the first winter the on-farm research group members decided on their goals and objectives, identified their information needs, and prioritized their on-farm research projects.


1) to ensure their farms are viable for the long-term,
2) to be good stewards,
3) to minimize health risks.

Specific Objectives

a) to reduce reliance on purchased inputs,
b) to cut costs/ obtain better prices,
c) to reduce chemical use,
d) to build up their soils.

The Process

Over the winter the farmers prioritized the problems they wanted to address. These included providing a potato crop with a natural source of nitrogen from the preceding crop to avoid chemical fertilizers, stopping soil erosion and nutrient leaching after potato harvest, avoiding herbicide use for weed control in sweet corn and pasture ground, avoiding insecticide use when bringing old pasture into crop production, minimizing fertilizer requirements for new ground brought into crop production, and renewing pasture without cultivating it.

Information packages on each of these topics were developed by Ecological Agriculture Projects at Macdonald College to provide the farmers with possible options. There had also been considerable discussion within the group, drawing on personal experience and knowledge.

A task list for the growing season was developed. In particular, Charlie McIntosh, an agronomist, was hired on a consulting basis to help design, monitor and evaluate the research trials. Roger Samson from Montreal-based REAP Canada provided some initial input into the design of the on-farm trials.

Planning meetings were held with the participating farmers in April and August to design the research trials. Where required, Charlie was present to assist with the establishment of the trial. He then made periodic field visits to keep tabs on the progress of each experiment. A newsletter called On-Farm was distributed to participating farmers through the growing season when it was impossible to have face-to-face meetings.

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(photo: CCNB)

The Results

In October, field visits were made to assess the results to that point. In early December, everyone met together to share their experiences and results to that point. Charlie MacIntosh presented his report and recommendations to the other farmers.

Those farmers who felt satisfied with their trials expanded and incorporated the practices into their production system for the 1997 growing season. Plans for new on-farm experiments had to be abandoned that year as weather severely delayed planting.

Despite their obligations and responsibilities in their respective communities, on their farms and at home, meeting attendance by the participating farmers was very high. The members of the groups shared a clear motivation to work collaboratively to increase the viability of their farms and their capacity to be good stewards. This is a critical element of collaborative on-farm research.

While the farmers are involved in different types of production, and were not all from the same community, the collaborative approach and regular information exchange played an essential motivational role. Everyone knew that everyone else was aware of their particular concern, the on-farm trial they intended to carry out, and that the results were to be shared back with the group.

What’s Next

Existing institutions within the agriculture sector are not encouraging this kind of farmer-to-farmer collaboration. If anything there is a tendency to keep farmers divided by commodity and in many other ways.

It is clear to the Conservation Council that to advance the cause of sustainable agriculture in Canada, it must be tied to the hands-on experience of farmers themselves, rooted in the local context, and integrated with the practice of farming. Appropriate on-farm research would appear to provide the necessary mooring.

In the current political climate, this is not going to be fostered by government. Nor are Canadian educational institutions predisposed to this kind of collaboration. That leaves farm organizations as the most logical institutions to provide such a service to its members.

Based on the success of the New Brunswick pilot project, the National Farmers Union is in the process of developing a Sustainable Agriculture Transition Program for its members.