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Marshall Farms

“We want to let nature do the work,” says Larry Marshall. Larry is fascinated by ecological processes. His curiosity, combined with a sense of adventure and much hard work, drives the success of Marshall Farms.

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Marshall Farms

Family Farm:

Larry Marshall, Meryl Wood, Josh Wood 47, Lynn Wood 48, Karl Marshall 38.

Farm Location:

Northern Saskatchewan.


Started farming in 1972 and transitioned in 2003-2008.

Approach to Farming:

“Let’s look down for life and find the stars!!!”


  • 3,500 acres in cultivation with a 400-acre woodlot.

  • Hemp, oats, peas, grass seed.

Family Farm:

Alex Boersch with his parents, Elke and Andreas Boersch, his Sister Jillian and brother in law Markus, and his fiancée, Emma.

Farm Location:

St. Eustache, MB, 30 kilometres west of Winnipeg.


The family started farming the land in 1988; Alex started farming in 2009. For the organic farm, the transition began in 2017 and finished in 2021.

Approach to Farming:

Focusing on improving health. Trying to promote healthy soils, healthy crops, (for the future with sheep) healthy animals, healthy profitability, and thus healthier people.


  • Acreage: 1,200 acres in organic (Alex’s parents farm another 3,800 acres).

  • Crops: Wheat, barley, oats, peas, flax and hemp (including intercrops). On the non-organic land, Alex’s parents also grow corn, canola and soybeans.

  • Cover Crops: Red clover, alfalfa, pea/oats, diverse blends of up to 7 species.

  • Livestock: Recently bought 200 ewes. 

  • Soil: Heavy clay (Red River Valley).

“We want to let nature do the work,” says Larry Marshall.

Larry is fascinated by ecological processes. His curiosity, combined with a sense of adventure and much hard work, drives the success of Marshall Farms. The northern Saskatchewan farm has 2000 acres in organic production and supports three families– Larry and his wife, and his two sons and their families – all with no debt. The main crops on the certified organic farm are industrial hemp for edible seed, followed by certified gluten-free oats and peas.

“I’ve been farming ever since I was a little kid,” says Larry. He first bought land at 17. Later, for almost thirty years, he and his wife, Meryl, were part of a cooperative farm with Larry’s parents, sister and brother-in-law.

Once Larry’s parents retired and the cooperative split into two separate farms, Larry and Meryl went organic. Their values were always aligned with organic principles.

Making the transition to organics was “a big learning process.” Much of the organic inspiration came from overseas.

As part of the cooperative farm, Larry embraced the opportunity to participate in international farm exchanges. After visiting China and Zimbabwe, he was invited to lead exchanges. He focused on organics and hosted exchanges with organic farmers in Costa Rica and Cuba.

“That was a super learning process!” he says. “It really opened my eyes to go into a little country like Costa Rica or Cuba, and see how much they knew and applied to their farms.”

In particular, Larry was intrigued by their use of effective microorganisms (EM), aerobic and anaerobic composting, fermentation, and carbon (similar to biochar). These methods were being used on a small scale, but he envisioned scaling this up. In the twenty years since the last visit, Larry has been experimenting and adapting what he learned.

Marshall Farms 1

Exploring the Potential of Microorganisms

Larry considers microbial life essential to the long-term health and productivity of the farm. He grows effective microorganisms to add to compost. EM both accelerate the composting process and proliferate. The result is compost rich in beneficial microbes.

Although he sometimes buys commercial EM, the Costa Ricans taught the Marshalls how to find the natural, wild ones.

How to Grow a Crop of Microbes

When the Costa Rican farmers were on Larry’s farm, they would “just scrape away the leaf mould in the forest and look for white mycelium growing underneath.” They collected this and grew it on a substrate of wheat bran, pea flour and molasses in both aerobic and anaerobic conditions.

To grow aerobic microorganisms, they piled the wet mass on the shop floor and covered it with gunny sacks. It immediately heated up but after about two weeks of daily turning, it cooled off. They spread out the material so it would dry and then stored it until needed. Once dry, they last for years.

For anaerobic microbes, they mixed the same materials into a silage-like consistency. They packed this into barrels, covered it and left it to ferment for a couple of weeks before spreading and drying it.

They also fermented compost, Larry recalls. “We covered it with plastic and let it ferment for about two weeks. It stays nice and cool when air can’t get at it. That lets the anaerobic microorganisms grow. Then we opened it up and turned it six times (after 7, 7, 14, 14, 30 and 30 days). It took the whole summer. Towards the end, we re-inoculated it with anaerobic microorganisms because they love low heat and can grow in the compost.”

The Marshalls compost manure from neighbouring farms. They’re also interested in the ecological benefits provided by grazing animals, however the main obstacle to custom grazing is the investment required for fencing. Larry is intrigued by the idea of using virtual fencing in the future.[1]

At the Prairie Turfgrass Research Center at Olds College, researchers examined the effect of the Marshalls’ fermented compost on snow mould, gray mould, fusarium and other fungal diseases.

“With even just a quarter-inch layer of compost, they got as good results as their best fungicide,” says Larry.

“Basically, you’re replacing the bad microorganisms with good ones, and the good ones are more powerful. And you get the nutrients that get washed in from the compost.”[2]

Marshall Farms 3

Carbon Credits

While in Costa Rica, Larry was impressed by the use of carbon. This powdered substance, similar to biochar, is made from burning sugarcane waste (Larry notes that unfortunately the combustion gasses aren’t saved). The carbon is incorporated in compost piles. It captures nutrients, preventing leaching of soluble nutrients and loss of nitrogen to the air.

Again, Larry tries to adapt what he learned to his own context. “In Canada, we have big deposits of zeolite [a porous mineral], which has an even higher cation exchange capacity.”

“I really think now is the time in organics to be thinking of how we can get carbon credits. I believe more carbon credits should go to organics than to non-organics, mainly because their use of fertilizer and chemicals uses too much energy,” he says.

He mentions he was “very lucky” to participate in a five-year energy audit by SaskEnergy just when he was transitioning into organics. [What Larry considers lucky actually reflects his willingness to volunteer for projects, such as international exchanges, research trials and energy audits that require intensive recordkeeping.]

“It was exciting,” he says. “I would have thought going into organics that I’d be using a lot more energy to produce this food. It was exactly the opposite. I was using only 1/3 of the energy to produce a certain unit of food [compared to] when I was non-organic. The audit took into consideration how much energy goes into actually making and transporting fertilizer and other chemicals. I was using more diesel fuel but that was only a small bit of energy compared to what I had been using in chemicals and fertilizers. That was incredible.”

Since the transition, Marshall Farms has reduced its ecological footprint even more by planting trees, including 30 acres of red pine at the nearby school.

“We’re tree lovers,” Larry adds. “We’ve got 400 acres of treed land. All our fields have trees on the perimeter, as well as some in between. We use trees as great organic buffers between our land and our neighbours.”

 Another ecological step is moving into low-tillage organics with the use of a high-speed disk.  

“Having a high-speed disk is one of the biggest breakthroughs we’ve made lately,” The disk allows the farmers to get many of the benefits of tillage while only disturbing the top inch or two of soil, and often leaving crop roots intact.

Marshall Farms 5

Focus on Hemp

Hemp, the Marshall’s main crop, has the ability to sequester high amounts of carbon back into the soil.[3] This means the plants take carbon from the atmosphere and capture it in foliage and roots. When the Marshalls return the crop residue to the soil, the carbon is held in organic matter. This process of carbon sequestration helps mitigate climate change.

Even though hemp “requires a lot of nutrients to grow a really good crop,” the Marshalls aren’t exporting much off the farm, just the nutrients in the seed.

“Only about 20 bushels an acre is leaving the field in the seed,” Larry explains. “The rest of the plant is super-high in nutrients so if you can get that back into the soil, you still improve the soil.”

In comparison, there is a greater loss of nutrients in a 100-bushel/acre crop of oats.

The Marshalls originally tried hemp because it grows quickly.

“We’re always looking for the fastest growing crops and ones that can compete with weeds, Larry explains. “Hands down, hemp is the best crop we’ve ever had.”

As a pioneer in organic hemp (and a current director of the Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance), he has provided others with information based on his own experience.

“There are so many different varieties. Get the best one for your area,” he advises. “One tall enough to compete with weeds but not so tall that you can’t handle it.”

Hemp is sensitive to daylength: the longer the days, the taller it grows. At their farm in northern Saskatchewan, they use a dwarf variety that grows 5-6 feet tall. Around Regina, 300-400 miles south, that variety grows two feet tall.

The Marshalls appreciate hemp’s resilience. They had written off a crop due to hail damage but then found that it regrew. They can re-seed as late as July 1st and still get a crop.

“We’ve now got really good choppers on the combine so that anything that goes through the combine is chopped up quite finely. And then we’re leaving really tall, like three-foot-tall, stubble.”

“It’s fantastic to have tall stubble to trap snow. Perennials love to have three feet of snow on top of them.” Before they left the tall stubble, alfalfa was often winterkilled on the knolls. Now that the stubble holds the snow all winter, the alfalfa always survives.

Marshall Farms 2

The Role of Legumes in Soil Fertility

To provide nitrogen in the rotation, the Marshalls intercrop alfalfa with hemp. In the same seeding pass, they seed 10 pounds/acre of alfalfa in the same row as 30 pounds of hemp. If there’s a problem with a hardpan, they might add chicory to the mix.

“In the fall, when the hemp comes off, those little young alfalfa plants get sun and keep growing,” Larry says. If they want a green manure, they incorporate the alfalfa in late July the following year and get 100 pounds of nitrogen per acre.

The Marshalls are experimenting with alfalfa as a perennial cover crop. The year after hemp, they use the high-speed disk to set back the alfalfa. They broadcast oats followed by a 2-inch-deep pass with the high-speed disk. This buries hemp stubble, alfalfa and oat seed. This has worked well but the question is whether it will work the year after or if the older alfalfa is going to be too competitive.

The Marshalls used to plant 40-10 silage peas as their main green manure, but now only use it after oats. They prefer alfalfa because alfalfa seed is less expensive, and it takes fewer operations. With peas, they need to incorporate the crop and then plant peas – two operations not needed when alfalfa is seeded with hemp.

They’ve also planted cover crops of winter oats[4] and sorghum-Sudangrass after working in green manures in July. These grow quickly before they winterkill. In the spring, they leave a thick mulch that controls weeds and holds moisture. The only challenge is that a no-till disc drill is needed to seed into it.

Larry takes a positive view towards what some might consider crop failure.

“We’re never afraid of having a bad crop,” he says. “We just look at it as a green manure crop and turn it under. Then we’ve got a nice clean field with high nutrients.”

Marshall Farms 4

Double-Certified Oats

Oats are a valuable crop, largely because Marshall Farms is certified as gluten-free (and organic). This means they can’t grow any crops that contain gluten, such as wheat, barley or rye.

“The price for organic gluten-free oats is amazing,” says Larry. “We contract at $13 a bushel and we can get 100 bushels an acre! That’s incredible.”

“It almost seems stupid to grow hemp,” he laughs. “But the hemp is so simple. Oats are more work to dry and transport. But, oats grow well in the area and are a great weed competitor.”

The Marshalls grow a new variety of milling oat, ORe6251M. It matures 7-10 days earlier than most oats, which means it outcompetes early weeds. It tends to lodge in non-organic conditions but Larry hasn’t had any problems.

Managing Pests and Weeds

Pests aren’t a serious problem on Marshall Farms.

“There are a lot of pests that love hemp, like the Bertha armyworm, but it only eats the leaves. It’s nature’s desiccation,” Larry laughs. “I love it when they come. The leaves they eat aren’t going through the combine.”

“Our biggest problem is cutworms, but just in certain places and in certain years. We’ve had to reseed to gophers because they come up in the spring and eat all the hemp seedlings around their holes. But,” he says excitedly, “we found an organic control for gophers.”

The green manure AC Greenfix (chickling vetch) is in the poisonous Lathyrus family, he explains. If cows eat it, they go lame due to lathyrism.

If you plant AC Greenfix, gophers will eat the young seedlings around their holes. The seedlings have concentrated levels of the toxin and the small mammals are more vulnerable and will die from lathyrism.[5]

In terms of weeds, the main problem is wild millet, but Larry says they’ve “got pretty good control of it” thanks to the competitive ability of hemp, alfalfa and fast-maturing oats.

If they find winter annual weeds, like stinkweed and shepherd’s purse, they kill them with very shallow tillage with the high-speed disk.

They tried organic sprays for weed control and inter-row tillage, but that was a lot of work. “If we can get crops that are totally thick and can grow really fast and outcompete the weeds, we just let the crops do the work.”

“We’re trying to figure out how to do stuff with as little amount of work as possible,” Larry chuckles.

They no longer have serious problems with perennial weeds. Quackgrass and thistle are common in their area but not on their farm. Larry thinks the tillage involved in incorporating green manures controls them. Before going organic, they had a terrible problem with cleavers, but it disappeared shortly after the transition.

Managing Risk and Marketing

Hail is the main environmental risk at Marshall Farms and, consequently, the farmers always get hail insurance. They also take out crop insurance for oats and peas but not hemp because of the high price of insurance for hemp. The farm has had dry years and wet years, but has never suffered from drought or flooding.

They also use AgriStability.[6] Larry considers that to be “really good insurance if you’re producing well.”

Although Marshall Farms don’t use financial planning tools, Larry’s daughter-in-law (their bookkeeper) keeps good records, such as the return per acre for each crop. These details provide better leverage when working out contracts. Everything the farm grows is pre-contracted.

Larry admits that, in certain years, when prices increase after negotiations, the contracts may cause them to lose out somewhat. But, overall, he is very satisfied with signing a contract if they’re happy with the original price and know they’re making money.

Also, all of the contracts have an Act of God clause in them, he explains. “So, if you don’t get a crop, you don’t have to cough up any money.”

Another way of managing risk is by diversifying their buyers even though their main hemp supplier wants to buy all of the hemp they grow. Larry always signs contracts with more than one company for each crop in case something happens to a buyer, like a major chain dropping their product.

Planning for Succession

Being in the 3rd-generation of a 4-generation farm family, Larry has seen how succession works from both sides. He knows that passing the farm onto the next generation takes years, and has learned the value of planning and preparing for succession years ahead of time.

When Larry and his wife were part of the cooperative farm with his parents, sister and brother-in-law, they were “building the farm to do a split.” Years before his parents retired, the family cooperative was doubling machinery so the farm could be divided in two.

Larry and Meryl have their own corporation, and so do both their sons (with their wives). Larry explains that when his sons started farming, they leased the machinery from Larry and Meryl and rented their land. The sons gradually bought most of the land off their parents and are now buying the machinery.

“Basically, we don’t get any income from the farm anymore,” Larry explains. “but we’re getting income from selling off our assets to them.”

Meanwhile, he continues to be excited by future opportunities. For example, he wants to use energy from his farm’s solar bank to power small autonomous electric tractors.  

He also considers it satisfying to show conventional farmers that “it is possible to grow thick, weed-free organic crops by using nutrients from cover crops and animal manure.”

Larry says he loves the ingenuity involved in farming. He goes to every conference and farm show. “The things you can learn are just incredible.”

Likewise, Larry enjoys sharing his knowledge. As a pioneer in organic hemp (and a current director of the Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance), he has provided the organic community with valuable information on growing the crop. His farming expertise and contribution to the organic community have been recognized. In 2022, Larry received the SaskOrganics Outstanding Organic Farmer Award.

Lessons to Share

  1. Be open to learning from others and adapting what you learn to your own context.
  2. Choose crops that are fast-growing and competitive.
  3. Let crops and nature do the work.
  4. When faced with a bad crop, just look at it as a green manure crop and turn it under.
  5. Plan ahead for succession in terms of dividing assets.


[1] The livestock wear GPS-enabled collars. When they approach the virtual fence line, they hear a beep. If they go closer, they get an electric shock. “We can just move cattle by using a phone,” Larry says.

[2] Larry adds that you can grow Phoma macrostoma, a fungus that kills Canada thistles and dandelions, in compost. “So, if you wanted,” he says in an excited voice, “you could have a compost for golf courses that would control the dandelions, give it nutrients and control the overwintering diseases all in one application.”


[4] A cool-weather variety that winterkills on the Prairies. Larry gets the seed from the Southern States.

[5] Larry hopes someone will make rodent traps using AC Greenfix seed to use on organic farms and processing facilities.

[6] “AgriStability is designed to help farm operations facing large margin declines caused by production loss, increased costs or market conditions.”; SK:


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.