2023 is slated to be a big year for Oceanbrae Farms as the family farm, owned and operated by the Barrett family in Belmont, PEI, will be celebrating its 100th anniversary. An exciting milestone that has seen the multi-generational farm go through many transitions, achievements, and continued dedication to sustainable farming practices.
What started in 1923 with John and Vera Barrett after he returned home from the First World War has evolved into a farm corporation run by Fred and Margaret Barrett, their son Matthew and his wife Chandler; son Ryan, and full-time employee Brett MacInnis. Today, Oceanbrae Farms focuses on producing high quality milk and beef from pedigree cattle through a rotation of forage crops, corn, grains and potatoes.
“Our livelihood is dependant on the health of our soil,” says Ryan Barrett, whose roles include both agronomist and admin support on his family's farm. “We are learning more every year about how our farming practices affect the health of our soils. There are many ways that we can ensure that we are building healthier soils that also increase the profitability of our farm.”
This includes planting fall cover crops after harvest to build organic matter in the soil, completion of soil erosion structures that prioritize good drainage and soil conservation, as well as planting corn with a no- till planter to minimize soil disturbance. Establishing an alfalfa crop that requires no further tillage has also provided forage for their cattle while also fixing nitrogen and breaking up soil compaction.
Since 2020, Oceanbrae Farms has utilized the PEIDAL Soil Health package to test fields in order to understand the baseline health of fields and better understand what limitations some fields may face.
In acreage dedicated to permanent pasture for their cattle, these fields, reveals Ryan, score highest on soil health metrics and have up to five percent organic matter. Crops with higher soil organic matter are better able to withstand periods of drought and better mineralize nitrogen for cash crops, which in turn lessens the need to purchase more nitrogen.
Oceanbrae Farms also takes great consideration into safe storage of their on-farm manure, operating their dairy barn primarily as a liquid manure system. In recent years, they have prioritized manure use on fields needing the most help in lifting soil organic matter.
Soil health has consistently remained the farm's top priority, and it's clear the Barrett family are committed to keeping it that way. By building the organic matter of the soil, explains Ryan, carbon will be sequestered in the fields helping the farm become more resilient to the effects of climate change. By utilizing the farming knowledge acquired over the past 100 years combined with ongoing learning about the effects of farm practices on soil health, Oceanbrae Farms will continue to reduce their carbon footprint, now and into the future.
“Prioritizing soil health shouldn’t be about marketing or seen as a “fad.” There are a lot of producers already doing a lot of good things for soil health.” -- Ryan Barrett