Steve, Glenn and Tom Barrie
Bowmanville, Ontario

Tom, Stephen and Glenn Barrie – Terwidlen Farms

By Treena Hein

Diversity, innovation and teamwork are the keys to long-term success

Brothers Tom, Stephen and Glenn Barrie work well as a team, and like any successful team, they share a similar outlook. They’ve always worked to have their family farm (called Terwidlen Farms, located between Bowmanville, Orono and Newcastle) stay sustainable – both in terms of looking after the land and in terms of long-term profitability.

You get the sense that the Barries are very much on top of current trends, always considering how to best manage their highly-diversified and innovative farm business with an eye on possible new opportunities. They have a robotic dairy operation (purebred Jerseys), and also do grain drying, custom farming and cash cropping. Almost 1,000 acres are cultivated, with about a third of that their own land and the rest rented. “Our grandfather purchased the home farm in 1917 and that’s where we have our dairy enterprise,” Tom explains. “The second farm was purchased by our father Gordon, me and my brothers in 1978. It has the heifers and the grain drying operation. We acquired the third farm in 1996 and on it we grow corn, soybeans, wheat, oats, red clover hay and a small amount of alfalfa.” While the three brothers have rough divisions of responsibility (Steve is the herd manager, Tom is the crops manager – and a Pioneer sales agent – and Glenn looks after the calves and is a heavy machine operator), everyone works together. Since 1970, the Barries have also offered no-till planting, spraying, forage harvesting, and combining to others farmers in the region.

An inventive storage shed is one of several environmental projects on the Barries’ farm. With support from the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association, the brothers turned part of a fiberglass gasoline tank (which would have been sent to the landfill) into a storage bin for pesticides used on the farm. The rest of the tank went to a friend who used it to make a feeder for calves. The Barries reduce waste in other ways as well, for example switching from seed that comes in paper sacks to that sold in reusable plastic bulk containers.

Other environmental projects include electrical fences installed along a creek on the farm to keep their cattle away from the water, and planting trees along the banks to prevent erosion. The Barries also built three manure storage tanks, giving them the flexibility to apply manure to fields when it’s best to do so, instead of managing manure by applying it continually. This means runoff is reduced. These projects and more led to Tom (on behalf of the farm) winning the 2013 ‘Innovative Farmer of the Year Award,’ presented by BASF Canada and the Innovative Farmers Association of Ontario.

No-till is a very important part of cropping success for the Barries, a practice they introduced in the spring of 1993. At that time, some farmers in the vicinity retired, giving the Barries the opportunity to rent 500 acres of land. It seemed to them that the only way to cultivate it all profitably was to use no-till – and they were right. “No-till has reduced our machinery costs, decreased fuel usage, reduced soil compaction, decreased soil loss through erosion, and gives a better seed bed that is easier to plant into,” says Tom. “At the same time, we’ve increased yield without adding any more commercial fertilizer.” Indeed, the Barries won the Grain Farmers of Ontario soybean yield challenge in 2010 on a no-till field with a 74-bushel yield. Tom says no-till corn yields have also kept pace, with yields as high as 250 bushels.

While Tom greatly enjoys cropping, he says seeing their 55 cows milked for the first time by a robot was an incredible feeling. “It made one realize how advanced farming is becoming,” he notes. “At the same time, you realize that overall farm management is going to pay a bigger dividend in the future because now more effort can be put into that process. Even with good access to market information, it’s a challenge to achieve a suitable price for our crops. We have a good handle on our cost of production, but even so, some of today’s prices are approaching break-even numbers.”

Change is a given for farmers, and the Barries are no exception. Several of the farms they’ve been renting have been purchased, so cropping will be reduced next year. “Others are being tempted to sell out due to the high price of land,” Tom says. “Currently we are in a white area of the green belt which means saved for future development. This is moving developers and speculators to put more pressure on our councillors and civil servants to push development to our area. Not the correct move if productivity of the soil is considered.” The Barries may choose to pursue more custom work, but Tom notes that there is likely also more profit to be had through ‘fine tuning’ this or that. “We may look into higher-value crops,” he adds, “but many of these demand some form of tillage which is kind of against our philosophy.”

Brothers (from left) Steve, Glenn and Tom Barrie receive an honour from the Clarington Board of Trade