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G&G Farms

“I love organic farming,” says Garry Johnson. “There’s no doubt about it. Organic farming allows us to work with nature on a scale that can only be limited by our own imagination.”

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Family Farm:

Garry and Geri Johnson.

Farm Location:

Northwest of Swift Current, Saskatchewan.


Started transition in 2000.

Approach to Farming:

We approach organic farming with anticipation and curiosity! What we have learned so far is that we must never stop learning!


  • 3,800 acres in cultivation.

  • Brown soil zone.

  • Oats, peas, lentils, mustard, flax, hay and custom grazing of cattle.

“I love organic farming,” says Garry Johnson. “There’s no doubt about it. Organic farming allows us to work with nature on a scale that can only be limited by our own imagination.”

On 3800 acres northwest of Swift Current, Saskatchewan, Garry and his wife, Geri, grow field crops, hay and pasture for cattle. In 2000, Garry and Geri started their transition to organics. Since then, they have focused on finding ways to improve the quality of their crops and, most importantly, improve soil health.

Garry learned from his father, Ken, and uncle Norman, who in turn learned from their father, Frederik Johnson, an immigrant from Norway. He describes all three of them as “true stewards of the land.”

“They passed on the old ideas, like that the soil will tell you what you need to know, and to look at the indicators of nature,” Garry says.

For example, in the spring, they waited until the wild poplars budded out and then looked for wild oats. Once the wild oats emerged, they knew the soil was warm enough for seeding.

At about eight years old, Garry started helping on the farm, soon driving the tractor and the grain truck. As he got older, he took on more responsibility, eventually farming his own land, as well as farming with his father on the original homestead.

While farming, Garry also sold farm equipment. But in the early 90s, Garry and Geri started to cut back on their off-farm work “with the intention of being solely farmers,” Garry says.

The Johnsons were intrigued by the organic farming practices used by friends of theirs. In 2000, Garry and Geri decided to embark on a two-year trial using organic practices. The trial proved to be a success and by 2005, the Johnsons were certified organic.

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Before transition, the Johnsons were farming about 1500 acres of grain, in addition to raising cattle and growing hay. Garry’s dad and uncle farmed on a “50-50” basis – one year of a monocrop of wheat, durum, barley or oats followed by a year of black fallow.

Inputs were minimal – very little spraying or fertilizer was used. The lack of reliance on chemicals, explains Garry, “made it an easier transition for us to go into organics.”

During transition, Garry and Geri seeded oats, wheat and rye because these crops compete well with weeds and can serve as cattle feed, a back-up option if the crop fails or is poor quality.

At the time, they were still farming some land with Garry’s father, who was skeptical that organics would work. However during the two-year trial, Garry “communicated and demonstrated” the positive elements of organic production and eventually his father supported the idea.

“For anybody entering into organic farming,” Garry adds, “I would suggest making transition a little lengthier than what you would consider normal.” By adopting organic practices ahead of the actual transition, farmers can find out what works and what doesn’t. Taking time to learn more about organics can make it easier when it’s time to tell their family and others about their decision.

Make sure that everybody is onside and lay out the plan,” suggests Garry.

“Planning is essential.” But, he points out, when it comes to sticking to a plan, it’s more important to be flexible and adapt the plan as needed.

Geri and Garry embarked on a learning journey by going to seminars and conferences “to challenge the boundaries of our knowledge,” Garry says.

At the same time, “we kept thinking back to what my dad and Uncle Norman would say, ‘the soil will tell you what you need to know.’”

“We’ve learned over time to pay close attention to the soil and weed populations.” The weed composition can indicate soil problems, such as compaction or mineral deficiencies, Garry explains. “Take time to assess properly and check with your peers for advice or their experiences. Also research stations in your area are extremely good resources and are happy to assist with problems that may arise.”

Garry and Geri added more specialty crops, such as pulses and oilseeds, and started farming more land. Then BSE[1] hit and the market for beef collapsed overnight. A couple years later, they sold their cattle but arranged to have their neighbours’ cattle on their pastures and some of the fenced grainland. This allows their neighbours to access extra grazing land and the Johnsons get revenue from forage land and the ecological benefits of integrating livestock into their crop rotation.

“I believe that adding livestock to a rotation is a key component to building soil health and completing the circle of life on an organic farm,” says Garry.

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Risk Management

When considering crops in the Palliser Triangle, moisture is always top of mind. In 2021, the farm had less than 3 inches of rain and 2022 marked the fifth year of drought. The Johnsons manage the risk of crop failure through crop insurance.

“Crop insurance is very costly but it’s a very important tool to have,” says Garry. “After going through five years of drought conditions, Saskatchewan Crop Insurance Corporation (SCIC) has been a good partner, an equitable partner in supporting revenue on our farm. It’s definitely a way to achieve a cost balance, so you’re not losing your total output.”

Recently, SCIC has become more adapted to organic production, Garry says, including contract pricing for specialty crops. By showing their contracts to the crop insurance agent, farmers can get coverage up to the contract price. This coverage comes at the cost, however, of higher premiums.

The Johnsons contract about 60% of their production. The rest is left for spot pricing so they can take advantage of an increase in price after harvest. “We resist putting all our eggs in one basket,” Garry states.  

Another challenge is deciding what to do after a crop failure. If a crop is lost to frost or hail, they can allow for regrowth and then cut it and bale it or leave it for winter soil cover. But if a crop is lost to drought, “that creates a different problem,” Garry says. “You have to be very attentive to moisture. Instead of tillage, you might be better off to mow to control weeds or use very shallow, slow-moving tillage to keep residues on the soil.”

“It’s important to bring the soil and weed conditions back to a balance,” he adds. “Agronomic decisions need to guide the balance, which is like a slow-moving train. It takes time to see the effect of the changes.”

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Crop Rotation

The crop rotation evolved after Geri developed celiac disease, a severe gluten intolerance. Geri has to avoid gluten in her diet and working with wheat, barley or rye in the field. They stopped growing these cereals on their certified organic land and only seed them on recently acquired transitional land. During the three-year transition, the grain is sold on the conventional market. These crops are visually distinguishable from their organic crops, which is essential given the Canadian Organic Standards prohibits parallel production.[2]

The Johnsons have considered gluten-free certification for their farm but haven’t embarked on that because, as Garry says, “the gluten-free marketplace is still in its infancy.” However, they provide declarations to the companies that buy their grain to state that no gluten-containing crops are grown on their organic fields.

Their main buyer of gluten-free oats, Avena Foods from Regina, “goes that extra mile and dives deeper into a rotation,” adds Gary. “They want to make sure that there’s no chance of any kind of gluten contamination. They actually inspect our fields. That’s worked well.”

The Johnsons use a four-year rotation of:

  • oats,
  • peas or lentils,
  • mustard or flax, followed by
  • a year of soil building (including cover crops).

Throughout the rotation, they use fall-seeded cover crops to protect the soil over the winter and trap snow. For full-season cover crops, the Johnsons use an oat-pea mix and an oat-clover mix; 40-10 peas work well, as does yellow blossom sweetclover, which is overseeded into oats. The sweetclover overwinters and provides excellent weed control and nitrogen fixation in its second year. These cover crops (sometimes called green manures) are not harvested but instead grown to add nitrogen, improve the soil, control weeds and provide other agronomic and ecological benefits.

They are experimenting with faba beans and lupins, which are used for low-carb flour. They are considering adding a winter cereal “to enhance the rotation and include a soil cover for the winter.” It wasn’t in their plans (given Geri will need to avoid that field) but five years of drought are forcing them to make difficult decisions.

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Vertical Tillage for Weed Control

The Johnsons use very shallow tillage – aiming for two inches deep  – to minimize damage to soil life. They have switched from using cultivators as their main tillage tool to a vertical tillage tool, along with shovels on their air seeder for light tillage while seeding. Vertical tillage leaves much of the stubble intact. Its effect on the soil is so minimal that some farmers actually consider vertical tillage a no-till practice.

Garry says that of all their tillage equipment, the vertical tillage tool has given them the best return on investment, time and conservation. “That machine, CNH Model 330 Turbo Till, I think, has done the most in our movement away from tillage to help us get to where we are today.”

The weed that poses the greatest threat to their yields is wild oats. To control them, they wait for the wild oats to emerge before seeding so they can control the weed with the shovels on the air seeders.

But if you seed before the wild oats emerge, you will end up with a field infested with wild oats – something the Johnsons have learned the hard way. “It’s always best if you can learn from your mistakes,” Garry adds.

Winter annuals can be controlled very easily with vertical tillage in the late fall, Garry says. 

“Weeds are not always our enemy. Some weeds can be considered as friends. They tell you the story of your soil health. The type of weeds that are growing indicate what’s going on below the ground,” he says. For example, Canada thistle may indicate soil compaction or a mineral deficiency.

A Lack of Disease

The Johnsons also pay close attention to the health of their crops. Fortunately, their disease rate has been “very minimal,” says Garry. “I guess it might be a testament to our rotation.” Also, they seed disease-sensitive crops, like lentils, into fields that are isolated from neighbouring farms.

“With our practices, and I think organic practices in general,” explains Garry, “plant diseases are really a minimal threat.”

He gives credit to the knowledge “developed from the early days of organic farming by farmers who knew that they couldn’t use [pesticides]. The tools in their toolbox were limited compared to their commercial neighbours. So they developed and devised these rotations and green manures.”

We’re standing on the shoulders of those that came before us. There’s no doubt about it. And we have to do the same,” he adds. “We have to provide examples of improved agronomy for the next generation of farmers as we move along.”

Garry feels that the low disease rates on organic farms is because of healthier soil, which produces healthier plants that are less attractive to pests.

“The long and the short of it is: the lower disease rate on organic farms is a very strong signal that we’re doing something right by concentrating on soil health and rotation.”

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Pushing the Boundaries

Garry feels that organic production may have hit a plateau. The steps to get to the next level may include organic regenerative farming and biological soil amendments.

“There’s a lot more to discover and learn. There are new products coming out, mycorrhizal inoculants and compost teas, that are soil-orientated, not silver bullets,” Garry says. “Farmers have to consider what works for them on their fields and their cropping situation. Because these things all cost money and you may need special equipment to apply them. In theory, everything sounds really great, but how does it work for your operation?”

“Compost tea, for example” Garry continues. “That process of having a sprayer, hauling water, mixing your compost tea, and applying it becomes that one extra job on our list of things to do.”

However, Garry and Geri want to start analyzing their soil biota and are looking into organic regenerative certification.

Garry keeps on top of the research by participating in scientific studies as part of the Organic Science Clusters.[3] “I’ve gleaned more out of this than I’ve ever contributed to it.”

In a research trial, Garry and Geri seeded AAC Oravena, an oat variety developed specifically for organic production. They were greatly impressed and are growing 300 acres of Oravena for seed in 2022. 

“Oravena had very strong germination and it covered the ground very quickly,” Garry says. “Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ve seen it in its full potential [given the drought] but it has the potential to be a very good milling oat.”

Garry recalls a talk Dr. Martin Entz gave 25 years ago about wheat varieties. “Of the 25-30 most common varieties, he said only a handful of those varieties would work well in organic agronomic conditions and one of those will be a shining star.”

Since then, more varieties have been developed for organic production, such as AAC Kingsore oat. This variety provides higher yields than AAC Oravena but lower levels of beta-glucan, the soluble fibre that gives oats its heart health designation. However, the vast majority of seeds are developed for non-organic production.

“We in the organic industry need to stand up and rally for our own separate seed industry, that should be parallel, at the very least, to the commercial seed industry. We shouldn’t have to rely on the varieties that they’re developing for the purpose of using chemicals,” he continues. “That’s my view because the seed is the most important thing. If you don’t have a good solid seed that’s willing to participate in your agronomic environment, you have nothing.”

Garry feels that organic farmers, particularly young farmers, should get involved in organic research. He also recommends that transitioning farmers and new entrants join a farming association with regular meetings “to get agronomic information and surround themselves with a huge volume of friends and like-minded people.”

Garry has served on the Saskatchewan Oats Development Commission, Prairie Oats Growers Association and Swift Current Research and Development Centre organic advisory committee, as well as being a past councillor for the Rural Municipality of Swift Current. As of 2022, he is the president of SaskOrganics and vice-president of the Prairie Organic Development Fund.

Geri and Garry are constantly looking for ways to improve their farm and reduce their environmental impact. For example, they’re always looking for ways to support and enhance wetland areas.

One way to improve efficiency is to increase the amount sunlight plants receive to enhance the production of chlorophyll. Garry experimented with seeding half the seeding rate in one direction and the other half at right angles to the first pass. So instead of rows, they had a grid pattern. He did a side-by-side comparison of this approach and the regular rows and was impressed by the results. They will expand the experiment next year.

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Sunlight is the greatest gift we have as farmers, because sunlight is the energy that the plant needs to create the sugars that go out through the roots,” Garry says. These root exudates feed and communicate with soil organisms and “create the environment that the plants want and need.”

Meanwhile, Geri has been concentrating on how to understand and improve the water cycle.

“After an inch of rain, we look at our commercial farmer friends and see standing water, but  there’s no standing water on our fields. It just infiltrates, but,” he adds, “ I think we’re miles away from where we want to be. There’s lots yet to do.”

“I would like to see organic farms strive to create the water cycle, carbon cycle and  nutrient cycle, all self-sustaining, on their individual farms. It’s very doubtful that we will see those in our lifetime but I think we need to target that kind of achievement.”

I think we’re evolving with our soil and we’re both becoming better, ” Garry says. “We look at soil as our partner. It’s easier now than ever for us to go out there and design.

When you get on the tractor, you can be a designer, a field-scale artist,” says Garry. “Whether it’s harvesting, seeding or tillage, you can look back on that field and say, ‘Wow, look what I helped to create.’”

After a full workday, with Geri on a tractor in one field and Garry in another field, “We’ll join up, look at our day’s work and we’ll say ‘We did a really fabulous job today.’”

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Lessons to Share

  1. Leave more time for transition than you expect is needed; use that time to learn about organic production and to communicate the process and the benefits of transition with farm family members.
  2. Observe the soil and weeds and learn what messages they are sharing; enjoy the opportunity to partner with the soil and be an artist in your fields.
  3. Don’t be in a hurry to seed in the spring – wait until the soil is warm and the first flush of weeds have emerged.
  4. Crop insurance and contracts can be valuable risk management tools but need to be considered carefully.
  5. Join a farming organization.


[1] BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) is a neurological disorder of cattle. Consumption of brain or spinal column tissue from infected cattle has been linked to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a rare and fatal human brain disease. In 2003, BSE was found in Alberta, resulting in the closure of international borders to exports of all bovine products, live animals, and beef from Canada.

[2] According to the 2020 Canadian Organic Standards (3.52), parallel production is defined as “simultaneous production or preparation of organic and non-organic crops, including transitional crops, livestock and other organic products of the same or similar varieties that are visually indistinguishable by the common person when the crops, livestock or products are positioned side by side.”



The Prairie Farmer Profiles (Sundog Organic Farm, MJJ & A Organic Farm, Haywire Farms, Mill Creek Organics Ltd, Pristine Prairie Organics, Upland Organics, Our Farm, G & G Farms, Marshall Farms and Penny Lane Organics) were written by Janet Wallace.  The Ontario Farmer Profiles were provided by the Organic Council of Ontario.   The Farmer Profiles were developed as part of the Prairie Organic Development Fund’s Canadian Organic Ingredient Strategy (COIS).  The COIS was funded by the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, Government of Canada.  Translation services were provided by the Government of Manitoba.