A soil conservation champion, James (Jim) Halford pioneered zero tillage farming in Saskatchewan and across the Prairies, dedicating his career to improving farming practices. His commitment to stewardship, passion for advancing agriculture and innovative approach have revolutionized how crops are grown.
Jim was born in Indian Head, Saskatchewan, and it was here that his life’s work on soil conservation began in earnest. After completing a Master’s degree in agricultural economics, he worked for the Saskatchewan Department of Agriculture during the non-farming, winter months.
The pull to return to his roots brought Jim back to the family farm, providing the perfect opportunity to combine his scientific knowledge and common sense approach to find new ways to improve the soil health on his land. And in 1976,
Jim was awarded the Canadian Nuffield Farming Scholarship and studied agriculture in the UK for five months—an experience he credits with building confidence to pursue his farming career.
It was the late 1970s when Jim began zero tillage on his farm, but soon found there was no seeding equipment available that worked well. Ever the inventor, he designed what he needed—and what would become Conserva Pak®—a game-changing zero till, single pass seeding system that allows seed and fertilizer to be placed separately and consistently in high crop residue with adequate soil packing.
The Halfords’ Vale Farms Ltd. began manufacturing and marketing the Conserva Pak system in the 1980s with sales starting in Western Canada and expanding to the US and Australia. In 2007, the system was sold to John Deere—and today, millions of acres are seeded annually around the world with Jim’s invention.
Jim’s vision for better soil health also brought important spinoff economic benefits and employment opportunities to his local community—benefits that continue today with his sons (and partners) who operate Vale Industries Ltd., a local manufacturing business in Indian Head. To study the long-term impact of zero tillage on soil properties and crop yield, Jim opened his farm as a field lab and demonstration site for ongoing research related to zero tillage and soil conservation. He also coordinated the development of the Saskatchewan Soil Conservation Association as another way to promote soil conservation and zero tillage.
Throughout his career, Jim invented or co-invented more than 20 patents related to farm equipment, primarily conservation seeding. His passion and inspiration have been recognized with numerous soil conservationawards and honours including the Saskatchewan Agricultural Hall of Fame, Canada’s Conservation Hall of Fame, the Manning Foundation’s Innovation Award and Distinguished Agrologist Award from the Saskatchewan Institute of Agrologists.
Jim Halford’s ideas and influence—and unwavering belief in soil stewardship and conservation—have inspired many and brought about long-lasting, sustainable cropping practices for Canadian agriculture.