Pinewood farm now officially certified organic
Wednesday, 26 October 2005 – 12:00am
Amos Brielmann has worked hard—and it’s paid off. Brielmann’s 8,000-acre Pine River Ranch in Pinewood, about 60 km west of Fort Frances, recently has been deemed certified organic by the Organic Crop Producers and Processors after nearly three years of completely following organic standards.
And this organic beef farm is the first—and only—of its kind in Rainy River District. “It’s quite an achievement because we had to turn the operation around,” Brielmann said last week, noting how much he learned in the process. “I had to find ways to deal with problems,” he remarked, citing just a few of the many organic regulations he has to follow, such as not using commercial fertilizer. Brielmann must go through complicated steps to compost the manure in order to get the nutrients back on his fields, which he added is better, considering he used to see the manure as waste. Instead, after about a 10-week process, the manure becomes like topsoil and is very valuable. Brielmann also must ensure the animals are not fed grain, used oil and batteries are kept away from water sources to ensure no contamination, no pressure-treated posts are used as fencing, and no additives are in the salt, just to name few. “There are so many things to worry about,” he said. “It’s a lot of work, but we’re sure we can keep it up.” For instance, Brielmann recounted how township crews would spray the brush near the roads by his farm. It didn’t really matter before, but now he must make sure all pesticides and chemicals are at least 28 feet away from his fields. And the cows only can eat hay and silage, instead of grain, because there’s always a possibility of the grain being chemically altered. That means Brielmann must plan ahead to make sure he has enough food for the cows because he can’t just go buy feed. But it is difficult to plan when it comes to the unpredictability of the weather. “So, I’m really restricted,” he remarked. “I have no flexibility.” Brielmann also must watch his cows closely to make sure they don’t get sick. “We will treat sick cows with antibiotics, so they don’t suffer, but I have to mark them right away and they can’t be part of the organic program,” he explained. Brielmann added the certifiers can check up on his farm at any time to ensure continuous compliance with the organic regulations. “They could pull my certification right there if I wasn’t following the regulations,” he stressed. Brielmann was introduced to certified organic farming by Bob and Moira Kerr, southern Ontario farmers who pride themselves on their organic beef. In fact, Brielmann raises cows and calves for the couple’s “Back to Nature” beef farm. Brielmann began to think about organic farming five years ago—and whether there are better ways to do things. “I was concerned about the things we use,” he said. “Just because it’s cheap food doesn’t mean it’s good food.” He also added he wants to take care of his farm and leave it in good shape when he retires. Aside from the problems he had to overcome, Brielmann acknowledged the amount of paperwork that had to be completed—not to mention the high costs that also came along with the changes. “The transition period is the worst,” he said, referring to the time between applying and becoming certified. “We were not allowed to use cheap, available resources outside the farming community. “On top of that, your product is still not certified.” With his new certification, Brielmann hopes he will be able to market his beef at a higher price this coming spring. The calves he has now are the first to be certified organic. “I feel I will have a better product and, in the end, a better profit, too,” he enthused. He also hopes to build more contacts with other farmers in southern Ontario, who would want to work with him. “People are looking for it. There’s definitely a demand for it in southern Ontario,” Brielmann said, noting these farmers are importing beef. “There’s not enough people producing [organic beef].” He said he’s been told organic beef has a better flavour and aroma, as well. “I looked for a market and then tried to produce a top-quality product that people want,” he explained, noting he’s been trying to encourage other district farmers to become organic, but that it is a lot of work. Brielmann will be traveling to Sudbury in December to speak to an organization that encourages farmers to get involved in organic farming. He said the organization believes Northwestern Ontario is a prime area for such operations.