Our story starts with my grandparents in the early 1900s.  The original farm was a typical family dairy operation, but they also grew potatoes.  I grew up on the farm, but it wasn’t until the early 1990s that I joined my dad and started cash crop farming. 

Throughout the years we have been able to grow the acreage, add machinery, take out fences and ditches, and tile-drain the land … all seen as necessities when cash cropping.  Througout this period I kept a full time off-farm job to subsidize my farming “addiction.”

Why organic?  Because I wasn’t a good conventional farmer.  Like many other new organic farmers, the original motivation was financial. I was tired of working so hard and losing money.  Fertiliser and pesticide bills were growing every year and returns were diminishing.  I just did not see a viable future for a small cash crop operation like ours.  Farming had become a chore for me, it wasn’t fun anymore.

I knew very little about organic production, so I started doing some research and yes, I am a student of YouTube University.  It was then that I stumbled on the concepts of soil health and food nutrition; at that point, I knew there was no turning back.

The transition:  My biggest worry in transitioning to organic was weed control.  As it turns out, weeds were not much of a hurdle.  Yes, last year’s ragweed crop was the best I’ve ever had, but the soybean crop was very decent too.  My two biggest issues were changing the way I perceived farming and learning to market my products. 

Growing organic crops requires a multi-year crop rotation plan with very specific goals for each crop (and cover crop) in the rotation.  You also need a backup plan for when Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate.  Trying to master the balance between very profitable crops vs crops that are less profitable but will help next year’s harvest vs crops we need in our feed formulation for our animals is the greatest challenge here.  That’s what has brought the fun back into farming for me.

I found, to be successful in the organic world, you need to network with fellow producers.  This is where Canadian Organic Growers (COG) really shined.  Shortly after I started transitioning, COG implemented the GEO-O (Growing Eastern Ontario Organically) program.  The information-sharing and networking opportunities that came out of that program were invaluable.  The one lesson everyone learns is to ensure there is a buyer for your product.  The perfect example for us was buckwheat.  We had grown conventional buckwheat in the past and we knew it was an excellent crop in the rotation.  We seeded some in our first year of transition but our usual buyer was no longer in business.  That year, we couldn’t find a buyer in the fall so we kept it for seed the for the following year. That isn’t the best way to pay your bills!

I presently market through a local grain processor in Casselman, another in Montreal and a grain dealer in southwestern Ontario.  These companies provide organic grains to buyers across Canada and worldwide.


Financials:  There are multiple reasons our farm did not have a profit for the three years during our transition.  In our specific case, we wanted to diversify our crop rotation from corn/soybean to multiple crops over multiple years.  We needed to buy a whole assortment of new seeds for the new crops we were growing: fall rye, buckwheat, winter wheat, barley, hull-less oats, peas, new varieties of soybeans, cover crops (tillage radish, hairy vetch and red clover).

We also needed to invest in equipment.  We needed a seeder that could seed small grains and clover/hairy vetch in a minimum-till environment, a set of discs, a tine-weeder and a manure spreader.  We even invested in a roller-crimper (still undecided if that was worth it).

Last, but not least, there are the losses from “learning the trade”.  For example, when to run the tine-weeder and how to adjust it properly for the crop you are weeding, using higher seeding rates, etc.  Last year (2022) was our second certified organic crop, I feel we have turned the corner and financials are really starting to improve.

Summing up my experience: I was in a system where I only had two crops in my rotation. I over-applied fertilizer because it was “cheap” insurance for a better crop, over-tilled the land (because you were considered “lazy” if you no-tilled) and over-used herbicides, A “clean” field looked so good.  That’s what made me such a terrible conventional farmer.  Good conventional farmers have made major strides towards sustainability and the environment is better for it.

In 5 short years, our system has changed to certified organic where our focus is to minimize tillage in order to improve soil health.  We don’t always succeed but I really enjoy the challenge.

Our crop rotation now includes more than seven different crops (corn, soybean, wheat, rye, barley, oats, peas, etc…) plus cover crops that we harvest and sell (buckwheat, red clover, hairy vetch, and the list keeps growing).  We’ve started intercropping different mixes with positive results.  We’ve added pastured animals on rotation including hogs, chickens, turkeys and laying hens.  We sell those products and our certified organic potatoes and sweet corn at the local farmers markets.  

The Future: We are going to continue participate in farmer-research opportunities with the EFAO (Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario) to help advance no-till in organic agriculture. 

We will continue to focus on our carbon footprint.  We are very proud to say that we start with a seed and just add a little local manure. We mill the grain on the farm with a few (local) additions added to the feed, grow the animals on the farm, process them at local abattoirs and sell the products locally.

Tips and Tricks for Transitioning:

  1. Do some research. Learn more about different crops, pest and weed management and soil fertility under organic production. 
  2. Have a plan. Try to establish a mindset that looks ahead multiple years and is right for your specific situation.  Include crops, cover crops or animals in your rotation that will make you profitable and will improve your soil.  Make sure you have buyers for your product.
  3. Put the plan into action. Get in the habit of recording everything. This will be useful when the organic inspectors come around.  Pay attention to the little details, record failures and successes.
  4. Honestly evaluate the results of your plan and adjust. I’ve had many failures trying different things in the short time I’ve been transitioning, but I’ve had some successes.  I consider the learning opportunity the most important part of this journey.  Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone.
  5. Learn from others and establish your networks. Stuff you see on the internet doesn’t necessarily work in your environment.  Reach out, go to events, join COG, EFAO, Regeneration Canada, Farmers for Climate Solutions or any other organization that shares your views.  Call or visit an organic producer that grows the same type of crops.  All the organic producers I have met are hard-working, honest individuals who will readily share their knowledge.
  6. Most importantly, enjoy what you do. That’s what makes it all worthwhile.

 Andre Houle

Houle Farm

Curran. ON



Transitioning to Certified Organic – Bringing the Fun Back into Farming