While growing up Richard learned firsthand from his father, Earl Sovereign about growing crops on the family farm on 1167 Plains Road Burlington. The sale of the family farm in 1956 made way for the construction of the 403 Highway. The loss of the family farm led him to operate a custom farm business until the purchase of his farm at 6447 Guelph Line Lowville in 1964. Richard is the seventh generation and last generation of Sovereigns farming continuously in Halton County.
With rented land and the help of one part time person, Leonard Coulson, he farmed the home farm of 130 acres and rented 1400 acres to grow wheat, oats, corn, and soybeans. He ran a medium sized grain drying system for the crops. The corn and soybeans were stored on the farm and trucked to the grain mills during the winter. The winter months allowed time to improve or repair farm machinery. In 1995 he gave up the rented land and sold all the farm machinery and grain drying system. From then on, he rotated wheat and soybean crops on the home farm using machinery suitable to the size of the farmed acres. He then started working part-time off the farm for Regional Tractor delivering farm equipment and continued this work until October 2010. He enjoyed talking with the farmers he met on his deliveries and enjoyed observing new farm practices in southern Ontario.
Prompted by observation and experience of his farming practices in the 1970s he implemented many soil conservation practices and labour saving devices. Richard designed and built tillage machinery to prepare a seed bed with fewer passes, which led to reduced soil compaction. He consolidated his chemicals into a safe chemical handling trailer and built a sprayer truck for applying chemicals. Richard was always thinking and innovating to create improvements to the farm operation.
To share his knowledge and ideas he hosted farm tours to grade school children, University of Guelph Crop Science students, International Soil and Crop Tillage Research Organization and the Halton Soil and Crop Improvement Association. On the home farm he provided land use for the following, The Halton Soil and Crop Improvement Association, field trials, University of Guelph Extension Program and Region of Halton sewage sludge test plots. In 1985 the International Soil Tillage Research Organization came to the farm to look at soil compaction testing plots.
Over the years Richard gave volunteer hours to the community with the Burlington Fire Department, Ontario Plowing Match for Halton, Halton Soil and Crop Improvement Association, Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association, Halton Federation of Agriculture and Halton Agriculture Society.
Some highlights of Richard’s career off the farm were helping to organize and deliver conferences and seminars with Halton and the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Associations on forages, fertilizer analysis, tillage, crop insurance, safe chemical handling techniques, and soil structure. He served as a member, president, and past president of Halton Agriculture Society and The Ontario and Halton Association for Soil and Crops. Richard also held memberships in the Federation of Agriculture and the Agriculture Advisory Committee for Halton Region. He firmly believes that Milton Fall Fair, housed within an urban setting is an excellent resource to celebrate the harvest and to educate the urban population on the importance of agriculture and food.
For his dedication to agriculture and to the community, Richard received the Government of Canada Community Contribution Award, the 1983 Farmer of the Year Award, and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food 1888 to 1988 Centennial Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Agriculture and Food Industry. In 1988 the Corporation of the Town of Milton awarded him a certificate for unselfishly contributing to the community. From 1988 to 1990 he headed a Soil Conservation Award Program for farmers with a commitment to good soil management on their farms by preventing soil erosion, maintaining crop productivity, and protecting water recourses. In 1991 The Ontario soil and Crop Improvement Association awarded Richard for his help in implementing the Land Stewardship Programs to advance agriculture in Ontario.
In 2006 Richard, along with his wife, Helen sold their 6449 Guelph Line farm and purchased an 80-acre farm at 5610 Cedar Springs Road with 30 working acres. He continued to improve the soil and created machinery parts with his metal lathe. Richard continued to build whatever was required on the farm and in the house. He built a marvelous studio for his wife, Helen.
The Ontario Government awarded farm families in 2017 with a Canada 150 Farm Family certificate, a farm sign, and a hand-blown vase marking the occasion. Richard gathered and provided history documenting his family farming in Halton County since 1812.
In 2018, Richard and Helen sold their 80-acre farm at 5610 Cedar Springs Road and retired to the Town of Milton. Richard was awarded an honorary membership to the Halton Soil and Crop Improvement Association in 2019. In retirement, Richard maintains his interest in current farm practices with his weekly subscription to Ontario Farmer. He enjoys a drive in the country through the seasons to watch planting, growing, and harvesting on Ontario farms.
Contributing Author: Helen Sovereign
All photos courtesy of the Sovereign family.