Crazy Like the Neighbours Say

Colby Hansen is not one to shy away from a challenge. He’s been working on throwing off the yoke of synthetic fertility, but his tongue-in cheek response when asked why?

“I’m crazy.”

“That’s what the neighbours say. I’m the crazy guy who doesn’t know what he is doing and gonna go broke. But I’m still here and I’m seeing positive results. I stopped using insecticides and fungicides because farmers are in the business of growing, and working with living things. That’s not the way it seems we’re going. We’re tied to these products and we’re tied to them like a drug addict is tied to drugs. We’re just creating more problems and having to use more and more of it. And I’m slowly weaning myself off of that.”

Colby owns and operates a fourth generation mixed ranch north of Edmonton, Alberta. Production includes grain, beef, and pork. They background 400 cow-calf pairs, and sell 60 beef a year to the local Edmonton market. They grow a variety of crops: fall rye, hairy vetch, winter wheat, and a little bit of canola, barley, oats, peas, and corn.

Colby prides himself on supporting the local economy, producing nutrient dense food, and animal and environmental stewardship. He’s striving towards a fully regenerative operation.

He started looking into options to help the wallet, the farm, and soil health overall. He quickly learned one way that farmers can contribute to sustainability is by composting.

This lead him on a journey to become part owner in a new and innovative organic composting facility in Westlock, AB, which has taken him one step closer to his goals.

AltRoot diverts municipal organic waste from landfills and turns it into nutrient-rich, environmentally friendly compost for local farmers to apply. This practise reduces landfill requirements, reduces methane emissions, aids in carbon sequestration, improves water retention, increases production, and makes for more nutritious crops.

“I was tired of paying big dollars for synthetic fertilizer. Compost is a soil builder, not a soil depleter of nutrients and biology. That’s why I got into it as an alternative to synthetic fertilizers and this will be my second season of applying it.”

When it comes to cutting back on synthetic fertility, does one need to go to zero to be a hero? Is it do or die?

“Combining the cover crops and with soil amendments, I think 50% is totally obtainable.”

Colby recently did a fall rye field using twenty pounds of synthetic nitrogen with the seed and then utilized four tonnes of compost. The end result was a 70 bushel yield.

He is running large-scale farm trials on the benefit of compost as fertilizer with research groups such as Gateway Research and the University of Alberta.

“The proof will be in how my yields are affected in the coming years.”

Do you have a neighbour that’s crazy? Or are you at times the crazy neighbour?

If you’re curious to learn more you can connect with Colby here: