“Our heating costs for the one barn have been next to nothing”
With all of the effort being invested to demonstrate agriculture’s image today, northern Alberta hog producer Jaco Poot has a remarkably simple tool for developing goodwill among his neighbours. Every year when it’s time to work manure into his field north of Barrhead, he makes an effort to find out how he can work around his neighbours’ schedules. In the fall or around Christmas, those same neighbours often receive gifts of smoked ham and bacon produced on Poot’s operation.
Jaco and his wife Jacquline and their family believe these simple, neighbourly actions drive a long-term payoff by giving their neighbours a positive impression of both their operation and the hog industry in general. In the process, Jaco says they’re helping ensure the long-term sustainability, and by extension profitability, of their operation.
The Poots approach environmental stewardship on their hog and grain operation in much the same way. Immigrating to Canada from Holland in 1996, Jaco says his native country’s long-standing focus on the environment is hard-wired in him to an extent. At the same time, they’re careful to make sure environmental improvements on their operation drive an added benefit of profitability. In this way, the Poots are typical of a growing number of producers today who are finding out that what’s best for the farm is often what’s best for the profitability and sustainability of their operations.
Environmental policy in Holland led the Poots to think about environmental sustainability many years ago. They’ve retained that attitude throughout their experience as hog producers in Canada, receiving an Environmental Stewardship Spectra Award from Alberta Pork in 2002 for their concrete manure storage structure.
EFP natural fit
So when they had the opportunity to develop an Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) in 2004, in many ways it was a natural fit. Although they had made a number of environmental improvements on their operation both before and after developing an EFP, Jaco says the program caused them to look at their farm from a fresh perspective and drive new ideas for the future.
“I think of EFP as an awareness program,” he says. “Sometimes when you look at things from a different direction, you really see how you can improve things. I think it’s a matter of attitude and how much you are willing to do. We borrow this world from our kids and they will borrow it from the next generation. I’m not a tree hugger, but I believe we should all play our part so everyone has a chance to enjoy it.”
Newly weaned pigs in the Poots’ four-room, 2,000-head barn are heated by energy from the grown pigs. This is accomplished by way of a hot water heating system which carries the heat transferred from the 250-lb. hogs sleeping in one room to another room housing the baby pigs. In addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, Jaco says the system has
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saved them thousands of dollars in heating costs over the past 10 years. “Our heating costs for the one barn have been next to nothing,” he says.
Over the past couple of years the Poots have started to do more soil sampling. In the process, they have switched from a flat manure application rate of 3,000 gallons per acre to a more strategic application approach.
This has driven several benefits. From a financial perspective, the Poots are optimizing their nutrient management, in the process reducing the need for commercial fertilizer. From an environmental perspective, they are minimizing the risk of excess nutrients leaching into water bodies. From both a financial and environmental perspective, they are minimizing the risk of excessive manure applications which can accelerate soil acidification and salinization.
Like many producers, the Poots traditionally farmed as much of their potential cropland as possible in order to get the most value. Over the past couple of years, however, they have maintained a 100-foot buffer zone around a creek that runs through their property. This has helped protect the quality of the water body and has driven a new level of biodiversity on the farm. “We’re seeing new trees, new grass and more animals in the creek bank,” says Jaco. “It’s personally rewarding to us.”
The Poots continue to think outside the box when it comes to saving money and reducing environmental impact. They have completed a feasibility study on a project in which they would run water lines through a composting pile. The water would be heated by the composting process and used to heat hog barns, in the process saving on their heating bill and reducing the operation’s overall environmental footprint.