Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario Commentary By Suzanne Armstrong, CFFO Director of Research/ Manager of Board & Committee Services
While soil stewardship is important all year round it is helpful to have a week to put soil in the limelight. Soil health plays a vital role in the quality of our food, but also of our water and air. Soil Conservation Week is promoted each year by the Soil Conservation Council of Canada. Their website points out that “soil, air, water, and wildlife … are all impacted by soil management.” This year the focus is “on the importance of proper land stewardship for the benefit of all resources – especially soil – under our care.”
Since January, CFFO has been hosting Policy Tour meetings, one in each of our districts across the province. Our theme this year is focused on soil health. Our discussions have focused on the benefits of good soil stewardship both environmentally and economically.
Environmentally, good soil stewardship keeps nutrients in the soil, rather than lost into local waterways. Proper care for soils also reduces greenhouse gas emissions because healthy soil sequesters carbon. Nitrous oxide emissions can also be reduced through practices that minimize the need for nitrogen fertilizer. On the other hand, good soil stewardship benefits farmers economically too. Careful management of soils pays off in the long run in better crops, lower input requirements, and better resilience in adverse conditions.
There are many farming methods that are being promoted to benefit soil health. These include adding organic fertilizers such as manure or compost, planting diverse crop rotations including cover crops, and minimum or no-till practices. Each farm and each soil are different, so different methods will work better for some farms compared to others. The best stewardship of the soil comes when a farmer has a good relationship with the soil, a familiarity with the land.
Caring for soil is an investment in the future. One challenge facing soil stewardship is the increasing percentage of farmland that is rented in Ontario. It is important to protect the investment farmers make in caring for rented land by promoting long-term rental agreements.
National Soil Conservation Week is a perfect time to join the conversation on soil related policy issues. Soil health is not just important for farmers. If you breathe air, drink water, and most of all, if you eat food, then soil health matters to you.