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Cover Story: Byron Seeds - Promoting Positive Change in the Farming Industry

10 Sep 2023

imageWhen we think of an environmentalist, we might think of stereotypical images of what or who an environmentalist is, but, believe it or not, I’m an environmentalist and so are you. Before you get insulted, think about it. There is no one in this country that has a greater impact on the environment than you. It’s unfortunate that we have too many well-intentioned people running around trying to convince everyone that they are the environmentalists and that we should listen to them when, in fact, environmentalism is what farmers practice all day, every day. I’m serious. No one has a greater opportunity to influence the environment than you.

The bad part of this whole thing is that misdirected and well-funded environmentalists are gaining traction with the public and in Washington. They are gaining a voice and what they have to say isn’t always in our best interest. They are pointing at us, the agricultural industry, and saying that things need to change. When they talk about changing the environment, they are talking about your farm. I’m not sure about you but I still like to call the shots about how and when I do my job. To be able to control your own destiny is a perk in owning your own business. After all, it’s your investment we’re talking about.

Here’s another thought. No one cares about the environment more than you do as a farmer and businessman. After all, each of us is putting together a program that we will one day hand off to our children. We are working hard to ensure that they have every opportunity for success in the global market. We care about erosion. We care about nitrogen leaching. We care about over use of pesticides. And we want them to be able to farm without a myriad of rules and regulations imposed on them by well-meaning people who don’t understand the complexity of the farm business.

However, if they get their way, farming will be governed by more and more regulations, making our jobs more complicated and, ultimately, costing us money. Don’t think so? Just ask your neighborhood butcher. Hmm, he’s not there anymore? Do you know why he’s not there? I hate to state the obvious. Can it happen to us? It already has.

But we can change this around. Remember, no one knows how to do your job as well as you do. You are the expert. We should be the ones that are leading the environmental movement making this country a safer place to raise kids, making the agricultural industry something we can hand the next generation that will give them hope and a future. I don’t see the future of this country being saved by manufacturing or natural resources. Agriculture is the only renewable source of income that we can count on.

imageCover Crops are a Good Start

Let’s start talking about cover crops with a quote from a recent article, “ . . . Although solutions may seem elusive, it is important to make some attempts to try to stop agriculture’s destructive effects” (taken from “Intensive Agriculture Impact on Earth” by Lorena Costilla, emphasis hers).

We should see this type of article as a wakeup call. More and more, the public perceives the farming industry as environmentally destructive. Soil erosion, fertility overload, hypoxic zones, contaminated aquifers, methane, carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide, we seemed to get blamed for it all. I was reading an article the other day titled something like “The Destructive Nature of the Modern Dairy.” It was concerned with the proper treatment of farm animals and the environmental damage of farming. The author was encouraging the readers to take an active role in changing the farming industry. Several actions being encouraged by the author included:

  1. Report any suspected animal abuse
  2. Eliminate any dairy or meat products from your diet (you and the cows will both benefit)
  3. Support legislation that will protect farm animals

It seems that the public has lost trust in our abilities to farm responsibly and is ready to take environmental concerns into their own hands.

In another article called Dairy Farming and Cattle Ranching; Consequences on Human and Environmental Health the author, Sarah Kensky, states in regard to farming, “ . . . I believe that the ultimate survival of our society is greatly reliant on the way in which we manage our environmental resources . . . One objective of this research is to educate the public on the effects that tonight’s dinner may have on our society . . . ” (emphasis mine).

Conventional agriculture is being examined by the public in a new light and many people are not in support of our current farm management practices. We can ignore it and hope that it will all go away, but I don’t think that it will. In the logging industry, back in the 1980’s, the spotted owl became a big issue on the west coast. It virtually shut down an industry because people perceived the wellbeing of the spotted owl more important than the jobs and wellbeing of the loggers and their families.

imageI was a forester in Ontario during that time. We built roads into the wilderness of Northern Ontario and cut the “virgin timber” for lumber and paper products. We were just “doing our jobs” and providing people with the products that they wanted. But the environmentalists saw it otherwise. We were destroying nature and removing animal habitat, and after all, “animals have rights too.”

It became clear that if logging was going to survive as an industry in Ontario, we were going to have to change the public perception of logging before they started insisting on regulatory legislation. So we decided to act before we were acted upon.  We took an active role in the environment; we became the environmentalists who were out to protect water quality and animal life. We planted more trees than we cut, we left protective buffers around eagle nests and streams and made sure no silt got into the pristine waters.

We went one step further. We rented big tour buses and invited the public out for a day in the woods. People always like to watch big equipment working. We gave them lunch and a pleasant day, but most importantly, we showed them all the things that we were doing to protect the environment for their children and their children after them. Slowly the public changed in their thinking. They understood that we could work in the environment without destroying it. We were, in many ways, beneficial to the landscape and the land was better because of us.

The agricultural industry can also enjoy the perception as being the good guys and voluntarily start beneficial farming practices or we can wait until we’re legislated to do so. I’d rather have the public on my side. The farming industry has enough obstacles without creating more.

Cover crops are a really good place to start because of the positive environmental benefits:

  • Nimageitrogen production
  • Carbon sequestering
  • Weed suppression
  • Build tilth and organic
  • Catch mat for liquid manures
  • Subsoil air and water passage
  • Water conservation
  • Erosion control
  • Nutrient scavenging
  • Grazing or other forage


It isn’t as if cover crops are an extra expense without added value. Everybody wins with good farming practices. In our learning experience at Byron Seed, we’ve come to understand the correlation between healthy soils stemming from proper farm management practices, an improved ecosystem, and financial success on the farm. It’s good for the soil, the ecology, and good for the bottom line. Soil is the biggest financial investment and, if the farm is going to be successful, the soil has to be a fine tuned piece of machinery running at peak efficiency.

But modern farming practice is hard on soil. Healthy soil is a living entity with literally tons living biomass in just the top 9 inches. It is our responsibility to help farmers understand that the crop underground is as important as the crop above ground, that the two live a symbiotic relationship of mutual benefit. Cover crops not only nurture and enhance the biology, but improve the soil ecology so that both crops benefit with less financial commitment. I’ll say it again, beneficial farming practices allows us to farm more productively with less expense and will be perceived as ecologically sound.

imageByron Seeds has understood this for a long time. In fact, this is one of the reasons that Byron Seeds was started. Samuel Fisher calls our company an “education based company.” He sees it as our responsibility to help promote proper farm management practices that improve soil and animal health while saving the farmer money. Byron Seeds schedules field days, pasture walks, seminars and winter meetings as a part of this ongoing education process. As well, we publish a Resource Guide in quarterly installments that is a wealth of information for the farmer. We welcome you to join us in promoting positive change in the farming industry, your neighbors will thank you.

By Dwayne Colvin, Business Manager, Byron Seeds LLC

Article written by Dwayne Colvin, Business Manager, Byron Seeds LLC


Farmers Hot Line is part of the Catalyst Communications Network publication family.