Ontario Federation of Agriculture Commentary By Don McCabe, OFA President
Phosphorus levels in Lake Erie are an increasing concern, and agricultural practices have been identified as a potential source of loading into the lake. The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA), along with regional Lake Erie and water working groups, are looking at solutions to reduce overall phosphorus levels in the lake and minimize phosphorus loss from farmland into the watershed.
OFA supports the overall goal of reducing phosphorus loads to the watershed. We have partnered with the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative (GLSLCI) to develop and implement a Farmland Water Management and Drainage Strategy to Reduce Phosphorus Loss in the Thames River Basin. This strategy will create a farmer/landowner program that encourages and supports landowners to adopt water management and drainage improvements to reduce phosphorus loss. This project is still in the early stages, with recommendations around the development of a pilot project in the Thames River Basin expected at the end of June.
We must work together on this project to meet the established phosphorus target reductions into Lake Erie. These targets have been established through a bi-national agreement between Canada and the United States under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. These government agencies are also developing a phosphorus reduction strategy and domestic action plan by 2018. Through the joint project, OFA and GLSLCI will also be working to provide input and influence Canada’s domestic action plan and phosphorus reduction strategies with farmers in mind.
Ontario farmers have already made many changes to farming practices to achieve phosphorus reductions through Best Management Practices (BMPs). Most agricultural BMPs address phosphorus loss during the growing season. But new research indicates major storm events are often the largest source of phosphorus mobilization into Lake Erie and its tributaries. Developing an effective strategy to reduce phosphorus entry into waterways can be a tough task. Major storm events don’t always happen during the growing season.
With so many factors contributing to phosphorus entry into Lake Erie and surrounding waterways, OFA recognizes this is a challenging task, but one that we must take on. Farmers around Lake Erie and its tributaries know firsthand the impacts of phosphorus in our waterways and the importance of maintaining a healthy environment. Working together through these types of partnerships will help identify workable solutions for our lakes and waterways.