Eric and Max Kaiser

Treena Hein
July 31, 2010
By Treena Hein
Innovative use of on-farm resources makes both economic and environmental sense for father and son egg producers

Eric Kaiser and his son Max have each gone by more than a few titles in their time. First and foremost, they’re president and vice president of Kaiser Lake Farms Ltd. in Napanee, Ont. But Eric, for one, has served as chair of the Ontario Egg Producers’ Marketing Board (now the Egg Farmers of Ontario) and twice served as chair of the Innovative Farmers of Ontario conference. Among other things, Max has been president of the Lennox & Addington Federation of Agriculture, and is currently first vice president of the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association. Both are also accomplished public speakers.
kaiser
Good Neighbours. Eric Kaiser and his son Max run a diverse farming operation, located amid urban neighbours, that respects the environment. Photo courtesy of the Ontario Farm Animal Council

But among all the things they’re known for, there are two that stand out. “People have said to me all my life, ‘You’re Eric’s son,’” smiles Max – while Eric says that increasingly, he hears “Oh, you’re Max’s Dad.” Both father and son take those remarks as a compliment. They work as a good team running their 950-acre crop and egg and pullet farm, which includes 30 acres of market garden (peas, lettuce, strawberries and sweet corn). “We’re likeminded on most things,” says Max, “and when we do differ in opinion, we kind of automatically see that there’s one of us that’s more enthusiastic about his idea, and the other backs away from trying to have another solution win out.”

The Kaisers’ farm rests near the middle of the Bay of Quinte peninsula, with “a couple of thousand people as neighbours,” says Eric. He grew up on a farm nearby, where his father began raising poultry around the time of Eric’s birth after a long stint in dairy farming. After high school, Eric attended Royal Military College in Kingston, graduating as a civil engineer, and upon completing four years of service, bought the present farm with his brother in 1969. “I steadily expanded the acreage,” says Eric, “and worked continually to convert it from marginal to land that can support cash crops.” Max, the youngest of Eric and Helen’s four children, was always keen to farm, and he and his wife Jessica and three children also live on the property. 

Farming both cash crops and layer-pullets provides important advantages, says Eric. “For one, the poultry is the only thing that got us through some years,” he observes. In addition, both the corn and wheat they grow in a strict corn-wheat-soybean rotation goes into their own feeding mill for the birds. “Not having to truck the wheat and corn away and only having to buy small amounts of feed ingredients such as flax,” says Max, “makes both crop farming and the eggs more profitable.” The arrangement allows them to keep more of the premium they receive for their omega-3 eggs, which they began producing about seven years ago for Burnbrae Farms. Excess pullets are sold wholesale. Furthermore, the poultry manure adds vital nutrients to the fields, closing the cycle. “We put all the manure in our tank on the fields after the wheat comes off so a cover crop can prepare the field for the next year’s corn,” says Max.

However, the Kaisers have found that having both egg production and cropping does have a downside. “We don’t qualify for federal crop loss programs the way we have the business structured,” says Max. “Having a supply-managed commodity is looked upon as an additional source of income. We may change that in future.”

Eric was among the first farmers in Ontario to complete an Environmental Farm Plan (focusing on nutrient management) in the early 1990s, although he says “I had a plan and records for spreading manure during the previous 20 years.” Kaisers were also among the first Ontario farmers over ten years ago to begin using no-till, which is now used on their entire acreage. “We saw the merit of the idea for our heavy clay soil and once we started, we became the local source of information,” says Eric. “We also researched other ways of managing this type of soil and we’re big proponents of using low tire pressures to minimize compaction.” Father and son also aren’t afraid to innovate with equipment design. “We modify everything,” says Max, “from creating a multi-crop planter to improving the lawn tractor.”

The market garden was created many years ago by Eric’s brother Kurt to enhance farm income. However, with busy modern life, fewer and fewer berry pickers come out each year. “We’re also far from an urban centre, and not enroute to anywhere, so we’ve reduced the acreage, but we still enjoy it,” says Eric. The garden also fosters good relationships with neighbours and makes the Kaiser farm a bigger part of the community. “All the waterfront around us on this point is developed, but instead of reducing property values, we’ve been told our farm enhances them because it looks like a park,” Eric observes.

Both Eric and Max are veteran speakers, which they believe is important. “I like to dispel myths about farming,” says Max, who has recently had Ontario Farm Animal Council media training. “There are a lot of misconceptions about agriculture out there.” They’ve also both presented to farming groups, to clubs such as Rotary International and to students at Loyalist College and Queen’s University (Environmental Studies program).

In terms of their poultry operation, the Kaisers recently refit their layer barn with new conventional cages and converted the open basement manure storage area to a dry floor with manure belts. “Our pullet cages from 1969 are still ok,” says Max, “but we’re slowly improving the intakes and insulation in that barn.”

The decision to go with conventional layer cages was based on familiarity, economics and the bigger picture. “Consumers get more fickle every year and you can’t make decisions on consumer whim,” says Max. “We think it’s important to provide choice for the consumers for their sakes, and also as long as there’s choice, there is more flexibility for the industry to adapt to demands.” He believes that “If policy makers stay out of the game and let the market lead, industry can keep up.”

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