Henry and Jeremy Denotter
By Lisa McLean
In the farm shop at Denotter farms, owner Henry Denotter and his son Jeremy look over an air seeder gang they are retrofitting to be more functional for use on the hundreds of acres of loam clay soil that’s waiting for them under the snow. The Denotters are well known in their community for their fabrication skills. As a young adult, Henry once worked in a machine shop.
Jeremy, a recent graduate of nearby Ridgetown College, spent part of 2012 on a harvest tour of the Midwest, custom-harvesting crops from Texas to Alberta. Now he works full time on the farm with Henry, and has a clear appreciation for his family’s commitment to trying to find new ways of doing things.
“We try to be innovative,” Jeremy says. “We’re always building things to suit our purposes on our farm, or looking for new ideas to help us conserve.”
The corn, soybean and wheat farm is located near Kingsville, Ontario, in a unique part of the province that is surrounded by water on three sides, making it vital that the Denotters keep their soil where it belongs — on the ground. The farm has been a frequent participant in local soil and crop research trials. The Denotters are strong supporters of land stewardship and innovative farming practices. In 2000, they won the Conservation Farm Award for Essex County. Henry has also been a longstanding member of the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association – and he recently completed his term as its president.
“We’re conservationists,” Henry says. “We’re focused on protecting the land and saving it for the next generation.”
Henry recalls that it took some time to convince his father to shift to no-till planting, a practice that involves planting seed directly into the ground without first ploughing the field. Henry says his father eventually relented and agreed they could try the new idea on 25 acres behind the barn.
“It had to be behind the barn so nobody could see it,” Henry laughs. “When that 25 acres yielded the most, dad admitted there was something to it.”
Today, the Denotters practice no-till planting as much as possible, aiming for minimal passes with the tractor – which is better for the soil and less wasteful of fuel. Their farm also boasts rock chutes, a grass waterway and windbreaks down the middle of the farm, all in an effort to slow wind and water erosion, and keep soil in the field.
The Denotters were among the first farmers in Ontario to develop and implement an Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) for their farm. The EFP is a personalized, peer-reviewed plan for making environmental improvements.
“We like to review our plan to see what we’ve done over the years,” Henry says. “Sometimes something we planned to do in six months took six years. But it’s important to make a plan.”
Henry notes in addition to EFP on his home farm, he often works with owners of land he rents to come up with plans for those fields too. He says a few modifications on some rented fields have resulted in more productive land, and more aesthetically pleasing too.
Recently the Denotters hosted a tour of culinary students on their farm, and Henry frequently speaks about environmental initiatives to farm audiences.
“I don’t mind sharing what we know,” he says. “I don’t think we’re super exceptional. We have to make a living. We make mistakes. But we have a rhythm, and we don’t mind thinking outside the box.”