My OFCAF Experience: Cattle Producer Mike Hittinger talks OFCAF with RDAR

Mike Hittinger is a cattle producer and Board Chair for Gateway Research Organization (GRO). He and his wife Melissa have run a cow/calf operation east of Clyde, Alberta for 18 years. Mike applied to the On-Farm Climate Action Fund (OFCAF) to help enhance his farm’s grazing system. He plans to make their pastures more resilient to climate change — better able to handle excess moisture and weather droughts. We had the opportunity to connect with Mike to talk about his experience with OFCAF and how this program may be able to help other producers transition into new farming ideas.

Tell us about your farming operation?

Hittinger: My wife Melissa and I run a cow/calf operation east of Clyde and have been doing so for about 18 years. Our farm relies heavily on a rented land base, and we are fortunate to have most of our pasture within 5-7 miles of home.  We calve in May/June and usually background the calves through the winter. We also breed some heifers for sale as well.  I have sat on the Board of Directors for Gateway Research Organization since 2021 and became Chairman of the Board this past spring.

OFCAF is a new program. How do you think it will help farmers and producers in your community?

Hittinger: OFCAF’s high-cost share proportion (at 85:15) will certainly help convince our local producers to try some projects that they may not normally consider, and this funding may help to ease their transition into trying some new ideas. 

Quite often the cost of trying a new technique is a barrier to adoption, particularly when the cost of adoption is high, and/or the success of the technique isn’t well known or accepted locally. Cost share programs such as this help by reducing the cost of the technique to aid in increasing adoption.  I also see some potential opportunities here to help cattle producers and grain farmers work together to make cover cropping a more feasible practice in the area.

Has changing climates affected your farming practice in any way? 

Hittinger: I am getting concerned with the bigger swings we seem to be seeing in annual rainfall over the past 7-10 years which have caused significant swings in forage production.  We have gone from record wet to record dry in the span of a year, which does cause one to be concerned. 

What adjustments will your application to OFCAF help you make on your farm?

Hittinger: OFCAF will help us make changes to our grazing system that should make our pastures more resilient and better able to handle excess moisture and weather droughts. Additionally, fitting cover crops into our silage acres will improve the ability of our soil to handle moisture fluctuations as well through increased organic matter and soil health.

How do you think this change in practice OFCAF will benefit your farm?

Hittinger: We have currently been approved by OFCAF for a Rotational Grazing project. OFCAF funding is helping us to be able to spread manure on some of our land that is farther from our yard.  This project will provide us with the benefit of spreading manure on land that has not yet been spread on and will reduce our need for urea on that land for the next year or two.  Additionally, the land this project will be carried out on has some light soils, so will also receive the added benefit of increased organic matter to improve soil tilt and water holding capacity.  

What other OFCAF-projects would you like to try on your farm?

In the future, we are planning some cross-fencing projects that will include improved watering systems.  These projects will allow us to reduce the graze period on 650 acres of pasture to 3-4 days, improving grass health, productivity, carbon sequestration and carrying capacity. We will also be looking into seeding some cover crops in 2023 to help improve soil health.

How has your OFCAF application and approval experience been so far?

Hittinger: So far, the process has been smooth. OFCAF staff answered my questions promptly and were very helpful in making my application a success.  The application process was straight forward and simple enough to complete. Even when I had some small changes to make after the application was submitted, the change was easily made with the help of the program staff. 

As with any new program there will understandably be a few kinks to work out, but it is refreshing to know that Program Manager Fiona Briody’s understanding of the industry and her common-sense approach will help keep the program headed in the right direction.