By Tim Kalinowski
Good stewardship and good farm management go hand-in-hand at Coulee Crest Farms, this year’s winner of the Alberta Beef Producers Environmental Stewardship award.
“We just feel it is all part of doing a good job in agriculture,” says Coulee Crest Farms owner Randy Radau, whose family has farmed in the environmentally sensitive Spruce Coulee area of Red Deer County for three generations. “If you are taking care of the land, it’s your lifeblood. We take care of the soil, the air, the land and the water it’s just going to ensure our operation will stay viable for years to come— and stays profitable.”
Radau says he tries to make one or two environmentally sustainable changes to his operations every year. These changes, he says, must always be well-budgeted, must enhance the health and viability of his existing cattle and grain operations, and represent a win-win for nature and the business of agriculture on his farm.
He gives a few examples to explainwhat he means.
In 2018 Radau worked with Ducks Unlimited to build up a berm on an existing slough which had been ditched many years before, and he added two feet of water to the slough’s water level.
“It stabalized the wetland area,” states Radau.“And it was a benefit to us this year because it didn’t go dry in the drought year, and our cows are still allowed water from that area. It just made better water for them, and also better wetlands for the migrating ducks and geese.
“We are always looking for win-win changes,” he adds, “or things like this Ducks project, which are good for the operation and good for the environment, good for the land, and good for the profitability for the operations. It was a real, prime example of that.”
Another example of Radau’s win-win stewardship philosophy in action is when he built an off-creek winter watering site for his cattle powered by solar power.
“We used to chop ice for the cows in kind of a drainage area,” he explains.“We now pump the water out with a solar unit, and it’s a frost-free watering system that just pumps the water when the cows are there with a motion sensor.
“It really worked good. The environment benefits because we don’t have the cows spreading their manure in the drainage channel, and it improves the nutrient load going down into the water system. And at the same time, our cows get better quality water, and we don’t have to worry about them falling through the ice.
“And,” he adds with a chuckle, “you don’t have to chop ice every day.”
Another project Radau is proud of is moving a winter feeding area from a low-lying drainage area onto one of his existing grain fields.
“On the field where we winter our purebred cows, we bought some windbreak fencing and moved the cows out of a low area where the water would drain in the spring,” he says. “We got them out on the grain field where, with portable, windbreak shelters, we’ve now got them into a better spot where it is not going to have the runoff issues like we had before, and they are spreading their manure out on the grain field where it benefits our cropping operation.”
Radau says he is always open to trying new sustainability initiatives on his farm, but he says the key to making it all work, and not breaking the bank, is to do it step by step. He says the common sense stewardship changes he has made to his operations can really be adopted by any farm of any size, and will lead to almost global improvements in animal health, better quality soil, cleaner water, and more cost-effective power supply.
“You just have to go step by step,” he confirms. “And if you just take small steps, it doesn’t overwhelm you if you just try to do a couple things every year. It’s amazing what improvements you can make— and it all adds up. We were earlier adopters of solar technology, for example, early adopters of cross-fencing and rotational grazing, and I would say some of those things have helped us through some of the drought years.
“We are always trying to improve our water quality and watering systems, and it has always worked out well for us.”
Radau says winning the 2019 ABP Environmental Stewardship Award is a huge honour for himself, his wife Sandra and their son Luke, who is poised to take over the farm one day.
“I think of it really like a lifetime achievement award,” he says with obvious pride.
“I think the greatest compliment you can give someone in agriculture is to call them a good steward of the land. You have to take a long-term approach. There is nothing to be gained by being hard on the environment or the land.”