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Brenda Frick, Ph.D., P.Ag.
PEI farmer, Raymond Loo received honourable mention in the Outstanding
Organic Farmer of the Year contest held by OCIA RnE (Organic Crop Improvement
Association Research and Education). OCIA is one of the world’s
foremost organic groups, with offices in Canada, the United States,
Latin America, Asia, and Europe. The OCIA RnE board developed the Outstanding
Organic Farmer of the Year award to honor and showcase talented producers
who excel in cropping and livestock practice, who are good stewards
of the natural environment and who are committed to the organic community.
Raymond Loo is interested in finding ways to produce healthy food with the smallest possible environmental impact. He puts this philosophy into action at Springwillow Farm near Breadalbane, Prince Edward Island where he grows mixed grains, potatoes, vegetables, legume hay, pasture, and small fruit. He also raises beef that are sold directly to consumers.
Land stewardship is important on Springwillow Farm. Raymond, his family, and workers have established two wetlands on the farm and have planted 4 km of hedge rows in the last 5 years. These are a mix of species that provide diverse habitat for wildlife. In spring the Loos scout for bird nests, and hay around them. They keep the cows out of the wetlands and hedge rows.
Weeds and bugs are often managed by hand. Insect pressure has been reduced as the natural environment was enhanced. Birds in the hedge rows eat many of the insects that could be problems in the field. Raymond monitors for insects all summer, but only applies Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) when pests like the cabbage worm reach high numbers. Weeds in the vegetable garden are managed by hand and with a mechanical weeder.
Fertility is managed with legumes and composted livestock manures. Legumes are often seeded on top of the snow, an innovative technique that works well most years. Rotations are long, which improves weed control and fertility. Raymond avoids fall cultivation when possible, and plants cover crops to reduce erosion potential after potato or vegetable harvest.
Raymond has an on farm program to breed better potatoes for organic production, and his family has released a registered variety, Island Sunshine, which is highly resistant to late blight. Springwillow Farm has variety trials for potatoes and more recently, for black currents.
Raymond has been very active in the farming community, promoting better farming practices. He works with watershed committees to address nitrogen problems in PEI rivers, and to promote good use of farm manures. He is on the boards of several environmental and farming groups, including the PEI Environmental Network.
Raymond is also active in the local organic community, as chair of the PEI Certified Organic Producers Coop, as a member of the Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network and as PEI’s representative for the Canadian Organic Regulatory Committee
Raymond is also very interested in converting large farms to organic methods. He has worked closely with the government of PEI to promote organic farming. Raymond’s goal is to change a large portion of PEI’s 1000 farmers to organic production. He feels that PEI has a very good chance to lead North America in organic agriculture in the future.
Raymond feels markets need to pay a fair price to farmers for their
crops if organic farmers are going to succeed. He is finding this fair
price in Japan where he has established a business relationship based
on a value chain model. He and a co-operative group of local farmers
will be selling organic blackcurrant jam to Japan. His next project
is to promote organic canola products. Raymond hopes this will lead
to a “GMO Free” PEI. Raymond is always promoting organics,
and in his words, “the work goes on!”
© 2012, Organic Agriculture Centre of Canada (OACC)