Jonathan MacLennan’s sees his efforts in soil conservation as carrying on the legacy his father Laurids MacLennan began when he started farming.
“It’s just kind of the way he always farmed, it came naturally to him,” he explained. “We were always a mixed farm, but once he specialized in potatoes, he knew he had to take care of the land, more so when he was farming a crop like that than a mixed farm.”
This effort in soil conservation is something that has now earned he and his wife Katie the award for Soil Conservationist of the Year in the Cash Crop category by the PEI Soil and Crop Improvement Association (PEISCIA) for their farm MacLennan Properties Ltd.
The goal of soil conservation is using the land, but keeping it in as good or better condition for the next generation than it was when a farmer first started working it.
Located in West Cape, the 2,000 acre farm grows 700 acres of potatoes. Potatoes take a lot of nutrients out of the soil, with the biggest issue being they leave the ground bare for winter, which could in turn cause potential issues with erosion caused by water or wind. To help prevent this, the farm replaces the nutrition that was removed by using practises like strip cropping, diversion terraces, and grassed waterways. Rotational crops like Sorghum Sudangrass and alfalfa are also used.
While ensuring soil maintains the nutrition it needs to help other crops, temperature is another factor. Mr MacLennan said potatoes, as in the tuber itself, are always trying to survive, and in its natural cycle it will convert sugars to starch. If it goes into panic mode and needs to protect itself, it will convert the starches it made back into sugar, and if something that contains wet sugars is stored in a warehouse, it tends to rot.
“Potatoes are not a hot weather crop, they don’t like temperatures over 25 degrees Celsius,” he said. “If we get a prolonged period of days and days, and even nights of 25 degrees or higher, the plants just shut down, they don’t grow. We have to rely on every single day that we can to get the most yield that we can out of our crop. If we get two weeks of hot, dry weather in July or August, where the plant has just basically shut itself down and is trying to stay alive rather than grow, we lose a lot of yield.”
This year, one factor no one anticipated was Post-Tropical Storm Dorian, which brought too much water onto fields all at once, causing puddles in the field. While this may not seem like such a bad thing, the potatoes themselves technically drowned. Because of the short window of time between the storm and when the potatoes were harvested, the dead potatoes only started to get noticed when they were causing problems in storage.
Mr MacLennan added that the farm has sensors throughout the storage areas, and workers are constantly recording and checking things like temperature,relative humidity, airflow to ensure the crops stay fresh.
“The old saying ‘One bad apple spoils the barrel’, that holds true with a 5 million pound potato storage,” he said. “One bad potato can ruin the whole pile if it’s left.”
Mr MacLennan appreciates being this year’s award winner, and notes the recognition is a nice acknowledgement on what MacLennan Properties Ltd is doing to help conserve the land for future generations.
John Hooper, president of the PEISCIA, was at the award ceremony in Summerside on March 5, where Katie accepted the award.
“The Board of Directors have seen a tremendously positive evolution in attitudes and actions over the years in how our producers in this province are protecting the land and water resources,” he said. “Kudos to our farmers as we are really second to none in sustainable agriculture.”