Van Eerd, Denotter honoured with OSCIA Soil Champion Award

Two soil health contributors were honoured with Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association (OSCIA) 2021 Soil Champion Awards.

“This year we are lucky enough to be able to award two worthy nominees,” said Chad Anderson, OSCIA president. “One in the producer category and one in the extension category.”

Dr. Laura Van Eerd, a professor of sustainable soil management in the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of Guelph, Ridgetown Campus, was awarded the 2021 Soil Champion Award, extension category at the OSCIA’s virtual annual general meeting Feb. 2. 

Her research has advanced knowledge on the role of cover crops in improving soil health in primary productivity and enhanced nitrogen use efficiency while mitigating edge of field losses, said Anderson. 

“Her systems-based approach explores interconnections among soil, crops, microbes, greenhouse gases, nutrients and farm management,” said Anderson. 

In addition to her research, Anderson said, she further contributed to the pursuit of soil health by the publication of 50 referred scientific journals, 100s of industry, radio, webinar and workshop presentations and trained over a dozen masters and Ph.D. students, as well as hundreds of undergrad students. 

“To be honest, I’m really thrilled — look at this, I’ve got the Champion bat,” said Van Eerd, swinging her bat in front of the camera. “It’s a big team effort to get this research out to you and I really enjoyed it, and I continue to enjoy it.”

Van Eerd said without the support of OSCIA, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and farm groups, her research wouldn’t be possible.

“Most importantly, I want to thank my research team… my technicians, Mike Zink who retired a few years ago and Shawn Fink’s excellent work,” she said, “And then countless Masters, Ph.D. postdocs and undergraduates.”

Henry Denotter, a crop farmer near Kingsville with a history of soil health advocacy, took home the OSCIA 2021 Soil Champion Award in the producer category.

“Henry is truly an ambassador for sustainable conservation-minded farming systems,” said Anderson. “He is widely recognized and respected as an advocate of soil health.”

Henry Denotter in one of his fields.

Matt McIntosh

Denotter grows corn and soybeans on his Brookston clay soil crop farm, which is 100 per cent no-till on 20-inch rows. 

Anderson said the Denotter farm relies heavily on cover crops, riparian buffers, tree windbreaks and structural measures along ditch banks to control soil erosion. 

“They’ve also recently established a one-acre pollinator plot,” he said. “(And) Henry’s currently involved at the Edge of Field Research site as part of the ONFarm program.” 

Denotter Farms has been in production since 1970 when Denotter’s parents purchased it.

A decade ago, Denotter bought out his brother and he, his wife and youngest son changed the direction the farm was growing. 

Since then his youngest son has taken over the production side of the business while Denotter has continued to invest in his love of developing on-farm practices that improve soil health. 

“It all comes down to one thing — if we can’t keep the soil healthy, the soil growing good crops then we don’t have anything,” Denotter said. “I’m delighted and honoured to be nominated for the Soil Champion Award for 2021 and to receive the infamous bat.”

The Don Hill Award recognizes a farm business that successfully applied on-farm innovation and ingenuity to address an identified risk associated with soil, water, air or biodiversity on their farm. 

Lambton County brothers Roger and David Buurma, of Buurma Acres, were presented with the 2021 award and $1,000 for their farm-shop innovation to increase the efficiency of side-dress nitrogen and reduce losses to the environment. 

The men invested $450 for 400 feet of hose piping and gear clamps to create rubber hoses to mount on their self-propelled 120-foot boom sprayer to drag through taller corn. 

The system reduced nitrogen loss due to wind caused by a taller canopy. 

“This system is capable of reducing nitrogen losses and yield risks associated with pre-planned nitrogen while potentially allowing the Buurmas to adjust nitrogen rates in season,” Anderson said. “It makes use of commonly available parts and could be easily replicated by other growers at a fraction of the cost of commercial attachments.”

Jacob Coppolino, a University of Guelph graduate student at the School of Environmental Sciences, was awarded the 2021 Soil Health Graduate Scholarship worth $10,000 per year. 

Coppolino is researching the effects of freeze-thaw cycling on the biogeochemical dynamic of phosphorus on riparian buffer zones in southern Ontario.