by Robert Arnason
Part of Travis Heide's motivation
converting a large farm to organics
fact that many people
believe it can be done.
Robert Arnason photo
Farm Goes Organic
There are 25 grain bins
in Travis Heide's farmyard, including six massive ones with a
capacity of 70,000
In total, the bins can store around 550,000 bu. of grain. That's
enough for 10,000 acres of spring wheat, assuming an average yield
of 55 bu. per acre.
For most prairie farmers, 550,000 bu. of storage would be more than
enough. Not for Heide. He has two other grain storage yards - one
near Stockholm, Sask., and another by Whitewood, Sask.
Heide needs a massive number of grain bins because he farms 40,000
acres of cropland in eastern
Again, for most growers,
that would be more than enough. Not Heide...
He's converting all 40,000 acres to organic.
"We're half and half
this year, between organic and conventional," said Heide.
"We'll be 75 percent organic in 2019, and if we don't add
anything else, in 2020 we'll be 100 percent organic."
If all goes according to
plan, Heide will have the largest organic farm in Canada and
possibly in North America.
"I have never heard
of anything like that," said Laura Telford, organic development
specialist with Manitoba Agriculture.
"That's kind of out of the ballpark. The biggest one I've heard
of before is maybe 20,000 (acres)."
Laura Telford and
other players in Canada's organic sector haven't heard of Heide
because he's been quiet about his transition to organic.
He's created a company
called Organics Canada Ltd. and will be producing a list of
organic commodities, such as,
The size of the operation
is impressive and it's more remarkable because Heide just started
farming full-time in 2014.
Heide, who's in his late 30s, grew up on a farm near Moosomin,
Sask., and is the oldest of four brothers. He was involved in the
farm as a kid, and as a young adult he earned a business degree from
the University of Saskatchewan. Like thousands of other young men
and women from Saskatchewan, Heide moved to Calgary in the 2000s.
He took a job with a commodity trading firm and then started his own
grain trading company.
Around 2007, Heide's father wanted to retire and asked his sons if
they wanted to take over the family farm. Heide and his siblings
weren't interested so his father ended up selling the farm.
At that time, Heide was in his late 20s and he decided to travel to
He was still interested
in agriculture and helped start a farm in South Sudan.
"I was really on a
journey to see how I could help and serve people."
After returning to
Canada, a family friend in Moosomin asked Heide to help with the
He ran a combine for the
neighbor in the fall of 2010.
"That's what really
whet my appetite for farming," Heide said.
For the next couple of
years he did custom combining in eastern Saskatchewan and managed a
farm for a local group.
Heide then met Robert
Andjelic, a Calgary businessperson who runs
Andjelic Land Inc. and now owns 203,000 acres of
"A realtor that
Robert had bought some land with… gave my number to Robert,"
"He (Andjelic) had bought this land south of Whitewood and
needed it broke, a good chunk of it was in pasture."
Heide agreed to do it and
found people to help him.
"We broke 17 quarters
in (about) two and a half weeks."
immediately, that Heide is a hard worker.
"He puts his nose to
the grindstone," he said.
"He doesn't give up until the job is done. That's what impressed
Soon after that, Heide
and Andjelic met at a Tim Hortons, where Andjelic asked Heide to
manage farmland around Waldron and Whitewood.
Heide agreed and in the spring of 2014 he seeded 7,000 acres of
cropland with his brother, Garret.
"We looked after
machinery, people and all that," Heide said.
"He provided us the land and access to the inputs."
Andjelic bought another
parcel of land around Stockholm, south of Waldron on Highway 9.
That land was also in
pasture and Heide decided to farm it organically because the
previous owner hadn't used pesticides or fertilizer.
"That was kind of the
beginning of the organic journey," Heide said.
Heide grew up on a
conventional farm and wasn't opposed to pesticides, genetically
modified crops and the other tools of modern agriculture.
However, what he noticed
upon returning to farming was the price of inputs.
"Being away from it…
I couldn't believe the costs, how they had increased."
Did you know?
With 40,000 acres of cropland, Travis Heide of Waldron,
Sask., likely has the largest organic farm in Canada.
In comparison, the entire province of Manitoba had about 50,000
acres of organic field crops in 2016.
Since he was managing freshly broken pasture land on part of the
farm, Heide soon realized that the economics of organic were better
than conventional, especially when crops such as organic flax are
selling for $37 per
"In organic, our
costs were far lower, and because the value was up there, it
just made sense," he said.
"Conventional doesn't make sense unless you have the best land
in the area."
The economics were right,
but another important and more personal factor pushed the decision
His wife, Amy, grew up on Vancouver Island in a family
committed to local, organic food.
Amy and Travis, who have three young girls, had many conversations
about organic versus conventional after they began farming near
"I remember saying,
'you can't do it just because of money. You have to believe in
it in order for it to work'," Amy said.
Heide didn't say if that
argument ever won him over, but he admitted that he now thinks
differently about crop production.
What's more obvious is that he wants to accomplish something that
others claim can't be done.
"There's a whole
bunch of status quos these days: you can't start a farm from
scratch nowadays, you can't do a large organic farm because
there's too much tillage."
Since beginning with
7,000 acres in 2014, the farm has rapidly expanded.
Heide began buying land and Andjelic bought more property. Soon,
they had accumulated 40,000 acres on three parcels at Waldron,
Stockholm and Whitewood.
"When we started with
that 7,000 acres, it was never (the plan) that we're going to
grow a 40,000 acre organic farm. Never."
Last spring, Heide was
considering keeping half of the farm in conventional because he was
planning to grow canola and soybeans.
However, managing a
conventional-organic operation is not easy because equipment must be
cleaned for organic certification.
"We had done it the
year before and it was a lot of work," Heide said.
"Last minute (we) decided to transition everything. We're not
fence sitters… We kind of felt we had to go all in. If we're
going to do this, let's dive right in."
Jumping in the deep end
and managing 40,000 acres requires people. Heide, along with his
brother, Garret, have about 15 full-time employees.
Most of the employees are friends and acquaintances who moved to
eastern Saskatchewan to work on the farm.
"Initially, it was
friends of mine from New Zealand," Heide said.
"It just kept on being more friends of friends. Lately we've got
(a few) South African families helping us out. We've got a
couple from Olds, Alta… so we've really become a collection of
Some of the employees
have experience with livestock, and Heide is considering adding
cattle to the operation, mostly because livestock are critical for
getting phosphorus to the soil.
They may need 40,000 head
of cattle to maintain soil fertility on 40,000 acres, Heide
An organic farm with 40,000 acres, 15 or more employees and
potentially 40,000 head of livestock is an incredibly complex
operation. Nonetheless, Heide is committed to doing something big
He envisions a future where some of his employees start their own
organic farms, in other parts of Saskatchewan, and the Waldron
operation becomes a hub to discover and develop best practices for
"If I'm only creating
opportunity for myself, then what's the point?" Heide said.
"If we can create opportunity for other people, create
employment… that's what we're excited about."