by Bruce Buttar, Director, OFA
The environment is important to all of us, but it’s particularly key for farmers and their businesses. That’s because we need healthy soils, and clean air and water to grow the crops and raise the livestock that provide the food, fuel and fibre that we all depend on.
This makes environmental stewardship a core part of our jobs as farmers, but as it’s also a responsibility we carry on behalf of society, it’s a job we can’t do alone.
That’s why it was great to see two separate announcements from the provincial government recently for programming to enable research and projects that support water quality and soil health.
I farm near Cobourg and I attended one of those events that took place in our part of the Province when David Piccini, Ontario’s Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, visited Kaiser Lake Farms near Napanee to announce a $6 million investment into projects that will support the health of the Great Lakes.
Of particular interest to farmers is the support for projects that enhance agricultural land stewardship and will help keep run-off from agricultural nutrients out of the Great Lakes.
Ontario Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Lisa Thompson visited Shuh Orchards in Waterloo Region to announce $68 million in funding for three new programs to support sustainable farm initiatives.
The bulk of the funding will be made available to farmers through the Resilient Agricultural Landscapes Program (RALP) to reduce tillage, create water retention ponds, and other practices and projects to reduce emissions and sequester carbon. Funds will also be available to farmers through the Agricultural Stewardship Initiative to help modify equipment and operating practices on the farm.
The third program, On-Farm Applied Research and Monitoring (ONFARM) will dedicate funding to agricultural sustainability research to improve soil health and water quality.
During Minister Piccini’s visit, Kaiser Lake Farms showcased various practices farmers can use to protect water quality and the environment.
These include buffer strips of perennial plants alongside crop fields to reduce water run-off, grass waterways to funnel surface water into drains, cover crops to minimize soil erosion and build soil organic matter, and tile drains that help surface water get into the ground and make it accessible to plants and nutrients.
These are just some examples of tools and practices many farmers right across Ontario have been using for years – in some cases decades – as part of their ongoing commitments to farm sustainably from both an economic and an environmental perspective.
On my own farm, for example, which is in a very hilly area of Ontario, I started no-till planting in the 1980s to minimize erosion, boost soil structure and encourage healthier soils. I’ve also long been involved in our local soil and crop improvement association which supports agricultural research and farmer learning around environmental stewardship practices.
As technology evolves, many new tools are becoming available to farmers, like precision farm equipment that lets us apply fertilizer in the precise spots where the soil needs it or minimize spraying to only target weeds directly, or robots that can scout for pests, make yield predictions, or take care of weed control.
Farmers are always trying to be more efficient and do a better job to produce more food with fewer resources. These types of technologies will help us do that while also continually improving environmental stewardship and sustainability. That’s not just good for farmers; we all benefit from an environment that’s healthy, thriving and sustainable today and for future generations.
Water and soil, after all, are two of the main ingredients that we depend on to feed ourselves, so it’s tremendously important that we manage those valuable resources wisely and we appreciate the support of government through programs like the ones that were just recently announced to help us do that.