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Upland Organics

Just six years after starting to farm, Allison J. Squires and Cody Straza were recognized as “Young Organic Heroes” at the Organic Connections conference. They also were recognized as SaskOrganics’ Outstanding Organic Farmers of the Year in 2021 and in 2022, they received the Canada Organic Trade Association “Organic Farmer of the Year” Award.

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Family Farm:

Cody Straza, Allison J. Squires, Declan (8 yrs.), Gavin (6 yrs.) and Caden (4 yrs.).

Farm Location:

Southern Saskatchewan, Palliser Triangle.


First year on the farm: 2010; the whole farm is certified organic and has been since the first year. In 2021, the farm became certified as Regenerative Organic.

Approach to Farming:

Diversity, resilience and farming for the next generation.


  • 8050 acres total (4200 in annual crops, 2000 in native grassland and the rest in tame grass/perennial forage).

  • Mostly sandy loam soil, dry, area receives an average of 12-14 inches to rain in non-drought years.

  • Lentils, flax, durum, khorasan, kernza.

  • Livestock: 300 beef cows (also pigs, chickens and bees for the yard site).

Just six years after starting to farm, Allison J. Squires and Cody Straza were recognized as “Young Organic Heroes” at the Organic Connections conference. They also were recognized as SaskOrganics’ Outstanding Organic Farmers of the Year in 2021 and in 2022, they received the Canada Organic Trade Association “Organic Farmer of the Year” Award.

The couple’s short journey from buying land to inspiring others reflects their passion for farming, their insatiable desire for learning, and much hard work.

Cody and Allison own and operate Upland Organics, a certified regenerative organic farm in southern Saskatchewan. When they started the farm in 2010, they chose to go on their own and bought 2000 acres.

Allison and Cody have appreciated the support and advice they’ve received from Cody’s parents over the years but wanted their own land. Because they have their own farm, as Allison points out, they can make their own decisions, including risky ones. Now their farm has grown to more than 8000 acres with a mix of rented and owned land, including annual cropland, perennial forage, tame grass and native prairie.

A desire for independence has led to greater self-sufficiency. Allison and Cody grow most of the family’s food supply. Rather than buy soil amendments, they use cover crops and cattle. They even create their own soil amendments and seed treatments, such as aerated compost tea. The only commercial input used on the farm is a mycorrhizal inoculant for lentils. Their major input is fuel and Cody, who has engineering degree and experience in machine design, hopes to build a biodiesel plant one day.

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Education is Key

From the start, the couple considered education to be a critical part of their farm plan. Their annual farm budget includes substantial funds for courses and conferences. Additionally, Allison and Cody have watched countless YouTube videos on farming, particularly the work of American soil superstars, Gabe Brown and Ray Archuleta. Allison and Cody soak up knowledge like a sponge or, more precisely, like soil organic matter.

For Allison, an eye-opening moment was watching Archuleta use a rainfall simulator to compare how water moves through tilled soil vs. no-tilled pasture sod. While water infiltrates the pasture soil, the tilled soil was saturated for the top inch or so but dry beneath. This means that when rain hits bare tilled soil, much of it will be lost as runoff. The farm not only loses water, but also the topsoil and nutrients carried away in the runoff.

Whenever Allison or Cody hear about a way to trap more rain, it catches their attention. Their farm is in the middle of the Palliser Triangle, an area known to be dry, especially in the last several years. Every year starting in 2017, when they received only a quarter inch of rain, their area has been in a severe or extreme drought (as of spring 2022).

They want to be able to capture every raindrop that falls on their land. This has led them on a journey into understanding and improving soil health.

When Cody and Allison began farming, they started with a simple four-year organic crop rotation: cereal, pulse, oilseed and green manure. Over the course of four to five years, Allison and Cody noticed improvements in the soil and better weed control. Yields were good, although getting high levels of protein in the cereals was sometimes challenging. Soil organic matter was low – less than 2%.

They began following the five principles of soil health (see sidebar) about five years after starting farming. In 2021, the farm became certified as Regenerative Organic. The regenerative soil practices improve soil health and the ability of the soil to capture and retain moisture and nutrients.

ROC: Regenerative Organic Certification

To become certified as Regenerative Organic, a farmer must be certified organic and follow other requirements as outlined at Regenerative Organic Certified (ROC). According to the Regenerative Organic Alliance “The goal of ROC is to promote holistic agriculture practices in an all-encompassing certification that:

  • Increases soil organic matter over time and sequesters carbon below and above ground, which could be a tool to mitigate climate change;
  • Improves animal welfare; and
  • Provides economic stability and fairness for farmers, ranchers, and workers.”

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Five Soil Health Principles

  1. Minimize soil disturbance
  2. Keep the soil covered
  3. Increase diversity
  4. Keep a living root in the soil as much as possible
  5. Integrate livestock

The couple continue to explore other ways to catch snow and rain. For example, they use a stripper header on their combine. This strips the heads off while leaving high stubble that traps much more snow than shorter stubble.

Adding Diversity in Diverse Ways

“Once we learned about the five soil principles,” explains Cody, “our goal became to implement as many of these as possible.”

Cody and Allison started with the “low-hanging fruit” and identified diversity as an easy first step. The more diversity above ground, they explain, the greater the diversity and health of the microorganisms below ground. Abundant, diverse soil life is key to good soil structure, retention of nutrients and water, and long-term fertility.

A simple step was expanding their cover crop by adding oats to the field peas they had been using as a green manure. Over the years, they kept adding more species and are now using cocktail mixes with up to 10 species. They also intercrop. For example, they underseed yellow sweetclover into annual crops. After the cash crop is harvested, the sweetclover will continue to grow, fix nitrogen and protect the soil from erosion.

Meanwhile, they increased the number of cash crops. Initially they grew French green lentils, flax and durum, but have since added sunflowers, camelina and various cereals including spelt, spring wheat, Kernza and khorasan (Kamut). Their crop rotation is more “adaptive” than rigid – they assess what a specific field needs and adapt their choice of crop rotation to the needs, rather than applying a simple formula.

“We could do much more if we had more rain,” Allison says. Then she laughs and says she doesn’t want to sound like she’s complaining. However, their choice of crops is restricted by moisture availability.

Their desire to increase diversity continues on a large scale (now raising cattle) and small scale (soil microbes). While the couple acknowledge that having livestock is challenging, they appreciate the many benefits of incorporating cattle into the agro-ecosystem from providing fertility, “mowing” through grazing and trampling forages, and adding another income stream. 

As part of their ongoing education, Allison took Dr. Elaine’s Ingham’s intensive soil foodweb course[1]. Compost tea made from their own vermicompost (worm composting system) is now brewing on the farm. They soak seeds in compost tea before planting. The coated seeds germinate several days earlier than untreated ones and are more vigorous.

The beneficial microorganisms can help the plants as they grow by improving their access to nutrients and water, something particularly valuable in the dry summer months. The next step is to add a liquid kit to the seed drill so that they can add compost tea in the furrow next to the seed, so more beneficial organisms are available to the plants as they germinate and grow.

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Diversity also has economic benefits. For instance, Upland Organics manages risk not just with crop insurance but also with their diverse income stream: livestock as well as a number of crops including oilseeds, pulses and cereals, including higher-value crops (such as Kernza, Kamut and Beluga (black) lentils. They have a diverse marketing strategy too; in addition to export markets, they serve small niche markets, such as organic flour mills and even an organic mushroom operation that grows gourmet mushrooms on their grain. They established a stand-alone commercial enterprise, in partnership with Cody’s parents, Creekside Grain Cleaning in 2015.

When Allison and Cody first started farming, they sold their grain as “bin run” to brokers. This resulted in significant lost income as they were not paid for dockage (weed seeds, chaff, damaged grain, etc.). Also, they had no control over what cleaners were used or what percentage of grain was taken out during cleaning. Cody and Allison realized they had to make a significant change. After considerable research and consultation, they prepared a detailed business plan and went into partnership with Cody’s parents to build a commercial seed cleaning plant. Now they are able to clean their crop to their buyers’ exact specifications; this has opened up many new markets. Another benefit is that the screenings (dockage) is sold as feed, which means Upland Organics is paid for every pound of grain that leaves the farm.

Minimizing Tillage

Both Cody and Allison often speak at farming conferences. Whether the audience is mostly organic or conventional, the question of tillage always comes up. In an area where water is scarce and the soil particularly fragile, tillage can be a divisive issue.

“There are some farmers who will never consider transitioning to organics,” Allison says, “simply because of tillage.”

She and Cody initially aimed to adopt a no-till system but have settled on minimizing tillage while improving overall soil health. Allison quotes Dr. Martin Entz of the University of Manitoba who said three to five years is about the maximum period of time a field can be no-till organic on the Canadian prairies. After that, a period of tillage is needed to control perennial weeds before going back to no-till.

“We like to challenge ourselves,” Allison says. “We like to push the envelope on how long we can avoid tillage. To do this, they took the following steps (in order).

  1. Using a roller crimper (Rite-way Model F3-42) to terminate the cover crops without disturbing the soil. This has the added benefit of leaving a thick mulch that protects the soil from erosion, holds in precious moisture and moderates soil temperatures.
  2. Custom grazing cattle on the cover crops has replaced roller crimping cover crops. At first, this provided one year without tillage in the crop rotation – now it provides three years. The cattle incorporate the cover crops through grazing and trampling, while also adding fertility and microorganisms through their droppings.
  3. Buying their own herd of cattle. This led them to incorporate perennial forages into their cropping system. Now each piece of land is rotated into perennials and grazed for three years. This is valuable because the practice of growing perennial forages is one of the fastest ways to regenerate soil, largely due to their extensive root system.

The benefits of reduced tillage are now obvious at Upland Organics. Their soil’s organic matter content, aggregation and stability are all significantly improved. But it took three to five years to start seeing those benefits. During this time, yields fluctuated and, in some cases, dropped.

Allison discourages others from going “whole hog, all at once, across your entire landbase.”

“We jumped in both feet first and I don’t recommend that!” says Allison. “Those first few years were challenging.”                       

They have eliminated all fall tillage except for spot-tilling patches of Canada thistle. Their work on soil health has led to a decline in annual weeds, but they still have problems with perennial weeds. Allison has realized that the soil biology differs between weedy and non-weedy areas. Their goal is to alter the soil life of the weedy patches with the goal of minimizing the vigour of the weeds.

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Building Networks

Just as Cody and Allison work hard to protect the community of soil microorganisms, and the linkages between fungi and plants, they see themselves as part of a larger, interconnected community.

Allison explains that they enjoy going to conferences both to learn from others and because “it’s great to hang out with like-minded people.” 

The couple give back by volunteering with farming organizations across the country. Cody was on the SaskOrganics board and is now on the board of directors of the SaskSoil. Allison is the president of Canadian Organic Growers (COG) and on the board of IFOAM-North America. She is also a member of the Standards Interpretation Committee and SaskOrganics’ Education and Research Committee.

Learning from others and, likewise, sharing their knowledge is an integral component of their farming mindset.

“We’re not afraid to talk to conventional farmers,” explains Cody. “A lot of the stuff we have learned, particularly around cover cropping, we have learned from conventional farmers. There’s a whole branch of conventional farmers who are really innovative.”

After being inspired by conventional farmers, the challenge for Cody and Allison is adapting methods to work in an organic system, for example, using a roller crimper or grazing cattle to terminate cover crops instead of herbicides.

“We’ve developed a huge network of farmers with diverse backgrounds,” adds Cody. They reach out to them with questions, for example asking nearby farmers (organic or not) about which crops and varieties are most drought-tolerant.

Cody and Allison are invited to speak at conferences not just because of their knowledge, but also because of their passion for farming and willingness to talk frankly about their experiences. They share tales of mistakes they have made. When an experiment doesn’t work, they don’t let discouragement get in their way. Instead, obstacles are seen as learning opportunities, stepping stones in their progress, and stimuli to find ways to adapt or something new to try.


Keeping accurate records is essential for organic certification but Cody and Allison go several steps further. They have created their own bookkeeping system on spreadsheets which allows them to calculate the cost of production in great detail. They even know how much it costs to use any one of their machines; this lets them assess the cost of new practices.

They recommend growers use financial planning tools, and say they wished they had used them from the start.

They also keep detailed records of soil health and experiments, thanks to Allison’s scientific background. (She holds a PhD in environmental toxicology.) In addition to sending soil samples to a lab for physical and chemical analyses, Allison conducts on-farm soil tests on each parcel at least every five years, including measures of soil aggregation, compaction (using a penetrometer) and infiltration rates. She samples the Brix levels of plant tissues to assess the health, sugar levels and nutrient content of the crops (including forage).

Using a microscope, Allison assesses the soil microbiology and is seeing changes in the ratio of fungal to bacterial biomass. As more perennials are included in the rotation, the ratio becomes less dominated by bacteria. Her goal is a 1:1 balance of fungi and bacteria.

The Future

Allison and Cody are making their dream come true, as guided by their mission statement: to create a family-orientated, environmentally and economically resilient organic farming operation which contributes in a positive and significant way to both the local community and the greater agricultural community.

They plan their soil management and crop rotation years in advance. This includes extensive calculations on the net profit across crop type and field. As a result, they know which crops generate the best income and which fields perform best. This allows them to fine-tune their crop rotation, including identifying which fields they should consider rotating into perennials.

Also, even though their eldest son is only eight, Allison and Cody have already started to develop a farm succession plan.

“The kids have been involved from the very beginning,” Allison explains. When the boys were babies, she took them out when she went soil sampling or out in the tractor.

The whole family is engaged with the land. As their farming practices have changed, so has the landscape.

On family walks, they’re seeing more wildlife, including many owls and hawks.

“The land is responding well,” Allison pauses. “We’re seeing progress in soil health and that helps to retain moisture in the dry years.”

“And,” she says as a smile comes to her face. “The land feels very alive and happy.”

The couple’s short journey from buying land to inspiring others reflects their:

  • insatiable desire for learning with a willingness to listen and learn from others, including conventional farmers
  • interest in sharing what they know, including the mistakes they have made
  • flexibility, being daring to take risks while also being open consider the consequences and adapt as needed
  • strong work ethic
  • dynamic, independent personalities
  • strong commitment to shared goals, namely supporting diversity, resilience and farming for the next generation.

Lessons to Share

  1. Follow the five principles of soil health: Minimize soil disturbance. Keep the soil covered. Increase diversity. Keep living roots in the soil as much as possible. Integrate livestock.
  2. Develop a network of farmers you can approach with questions. The more diverse the group, the better.
  3. Go slow when embarking on a new farming approach, such as reducing tillage. Just convert one parcel at a time.
  4. Keep detailed records including financial planning tools.
  5. Plan ahead.




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.