Influential Women in Canadian Agriculture

Ontario farmer and soil extension specialist honoured as 2019 Soil Champions

February 15, 2019
By Top Crop Manager Avatar photo

A Middlesex County farmer and a long-time provincial government soil specialist are the recipients of this year’s Soil Champion Award. The award recognizes leaders in sustainable soil management and was presented by the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association (OSCIA) to Jim Denys and Anne Verhallen at its annual conference.

This is the first time the association has presented its award to multiple recipients. OSCIA has always had the ability to name winners in both the producer and research/extension categories, but it hasn’t happened until this year.

“We are very fortunate to have people in Ontario like Anne and Jim who are so dedicated to soil health and sustainable soil management, and our selection panel was very pleased to exercise its ability to present Soil Champion awards to both of these outstanding soil health advocates,” says OSCIA president Peter McLaren.

Jim Denys farms in Middlesex County, producing pork in a farrow to finish system and cash cropping mainly corn, wheat and soybeans. His father first started with no-till wheat in the 1990s as a way to conserve soil and stop erosion.

Today, the Denys family is also focused on building soil structure and organic matter through the use of cover crops and strip tilling. A transition to controlled traffic is underway, and variable rate fertilizer application is also in the works. “The goal is to run a profitable business while taking care of the soil – they’re not mutually exclusive,” Denys says. “We haven’t given up any yield with these practices and with phosphorus high on the radar now, we have to be proactive about finding solutions.”

Anne Verhallen, soil management specialist for horticulture crops with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), first joined the ministry in the late 1980s to deliver the Land Stewardship Program in Essex and Kent Counties.

Active in farmer outreach, Verhallen is a long-time advocate for soil health, played a key role in launching the popular Southwest Ag Conference and more recently helped get the “Soil Your Undies” campaign off the ground as part of her passion for extension and ongoing efforts to help people visualize soil.

“I’ve had the best job. I’ve been able to work with researchers and farmers—the best day for me is to be out on the farm soil sampling and talking to farmers,” Verhallen says.

Nominations for the 2020 Soil Champion can be submitted any time up to November 1, 2019. Visit to learn more about this year’s winners and how to make a nomination.

OSCIA is a unique, not-for-profit grassroots farm organization whose mission is to facilitate responsible economic management of soil, water, air and crops through development and communication of innovative farming practices.