A small herd of brown and white cattle walk along in a field, while two children in the foreground watch them go by. The children are wearing jackets and baseball hats.

By Jennifer Barber

Good crops emerge from good soil, and Cody Straza and Allison Squires have made soil health the backbone of their organic grain and mixed cattle operation. Over the past 13 years they have educated themselves on how to create soil that is resilient and productive and how every part of their operation functions together to create land that will work long into the future.

A roller crimping tractor is pictured crimping yellow blossom sweet clover, a yellow plant in a large field. The sky is blue with fluffy clouds rolling by.

Roller crimping is just one regenerative agriculture practice used at Upland Organics. Here they are crimping yellow blossom sweet clover, a biennial that they had under seeded with a cash crop the previous year.

“Before we started our farm, farming had always been of interest to us, and we got to the point where we had to decide whether to continue with our careers or follow what we really wanted to do,” says Squires. “We had a shared vision for our future, and that’s when we decided to purchase our farm in 2010. We started out with seven quarters and we were able to certify as an organic farm from the start.”

Upland Organics, the couple’s mixed cattle and certified organic grain farm near Wood Mountain, SK, is now made up of 4,000 cultivated acres, with 200 cows and a seed cleaning business. The couple were recently named co-winners of the Outstanding Young Farmers Program national award announced last November.

Straza grew up in the area on his family farm, while Squires is from St. John’s, NL. They met at the University of Saskatchewan where Squires earned her Master’s degree and went on to get her PhD in Toxicology. Straza earned his engineering degree in Agricultural and Bioresource Engineering. After marrying in 2008 and working a few years in their respective professions, the pull of the farm brought them to change the course of their combined futures.

The couple’s vision for Upland Organics is to create a family oriented, 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.


“Education is a key component of our farm,” says Squires. “It’s a line item in our budget. Once we started learning about regenerative agriculture practices, we realized focusing on the health and functionality of our soil would be important for the long-term viability of our farm. We want to leave future generations with land that continues to produce and we farm with that goal in mind.”

A man and woman stand together in a field examining soil in their hands. The man is holding a shovel and they are standing over a long line of compost.

Cody and Allison check the quality of their thermal compost piles.

Regenerative agriculture is not defined by a specific practice, rather it is a combination of farming techniques focused on sustainability — practices such as recycling farm waste, the use of compost materials and reduced disturbance practices.

“When we started to actively incorporate regenerative farming practices we first began by reducing our tillage,” says Straza. “Everyone knows about the dust bowl in the ‘Dirty Thirties’ and we had already reduced our use of tillage with that in mind. But we reduced it even further to just in the spring for seed bed prep.”

The second tactic in their regenerative approach is two types of composting. First is traditional thermal composting using the windrow method. They apply this compost directly to the land after harvest. The second is vermicompost (or worm compost), from which they brew compost teas that are used to coat seed to increase seed vigour and germination as well as to create more biodiversity in the soil.

“We have taken courses on how to create good quality compost, again as part of our focus on education,” says Squires. “We do our own soil testing making use of my background in toxicology, so we make sure we are using everything properly to make the most out of the tools that are available to us.”

Straza and Squires also make strategic use of cover crops in order to conserve moisture and improve soil quality. At minimum, every four years they grow a cover crop in place of a cash crop on every field. These cover crops can be simple single plant or complex mixtures of different plant types including legumes to fix nitrogen in the soil.

“We incorporate this with adaptive multi-paddock grazing that allows our cattle to trample on the field and act as a natural method of incorporating the green material into the soil,” says Straza. “Combined with their urine and manure, it improves the organic matter and preserves moisture for the next year.”

They also use roller crimpers, which crimp the plant stems, terminating the cover crop but keeping them anchored to the soil with their roots. This creates a mulch layer that helps prevent evaporation without requiring tillage. “We also use intercropping of cash crops, using mixed row or alternating row seeding,” says Straza. “We have recently been shifting to companion cropping of non-cash crops such as clover next to a cash crop, as a way to preserve moisture and reduce weed competition.”


Straza says they have seen the financial benefits of reduced input and fuel expenses as the years have progressed, and that adding the cattle in 2019 had a big impact on their bottom line. While they started with a monocrop cover crop, which they would plow into the soil, now they graze their cows on high-quality forage, which also produces fertilizer for the following year’s crop.

A woman examines compost in a microscope while sitting in a lab. Lab implements are around her on the worktable. Behind her a vermicompost bin can be seen.

Allison looks at the biology of the compost before using it to brew tea. In the background is the vermicompost bin.

“We have a full-time cattle manager who takes care of that end of the business, so our focus is on the farming side of things,” he says. “But the cows are an integral part of maintaining our soil health. I grew up with cattle so they are familiar to me, but we are using them in a different way than I did growing up.”

When they initially bought the farm it was owned by a cattle farmer and the land was used as grassland. Their neighbours, while conventional producers, have been supportive of their ventures and curious about how they have managed their farm, especially during the drought years.

“We have hosted field days that help show people what exactly we are doing and how they can incorporate aspects of what we do on their own farms,” says Squires. “While people talk about the drought in the last couple of years, it has been very dry here since 2017, and things just became exponentially more difficult under drought conditions. But we have been able to measure positive changes during this time from soil quality to protein content.”


With a focus on education, running research trials is something they enjoy doing, whether it is their own research or part of a collaborative effort. While there has been lots of research in organic agriculture, it has not often been tested on a working organic farm. They have done plant breeding work with the University of Manitoba, and tillage work and side-byside trials with different government and university partners.

They also opened their own seed cleaning plant, Creekside Grain Cleaning, in 2015. “We wanted our seed to be in the best condition and more attractive to buyers,” says Straza. “In addition, it made economic sense. It worked well with our intercropping practices. We wanted to get paid for every kilogram that came off the field, so the economics of the seed cleaning plant worked.”

Straza and Squires first heard about the OYF program during their early years of farming when they met the 2010 National winners, Lauren and Ryan Maurer. They explained the criteria of what made an outstanding farmer, and while not looking for recognition, they used that template as a model of excellence.

“It showed us some areas where we could potentially grow, such as with our volunteerism,” says Squires. “I am now the President of the Canadian Organic Growers and have sat on many local boards. Cody works as a volunteer firefighter and sits on the Saskatchewan Soil Conservation Board. We are very intentional in our involvement — we give a lot and get a lot back.” The couple has added three children to their family — sons Declan (9), Gavin (7) and Caden (5). While still very young, their car seats have been in the tractor from the time they were born, and they play as much a part of the day-to-day operations as their ages allow.

“We would say to anyone who is interested in learning more about soil conservation and learning more about regenerative farming practices, to just be open to learning, be it from other people or from other resources available to them,” says Straza. “There is so much available and the principles can be applied to different types of farmers and farming. Find your people, and the knowledge will come from there.”