Ontario Federation of Agriculture Commentary
By Mark Reusser, OFA Executive Member
Nutrient Management Plans were introduced in 2002 to assist in managing nutrient inventory on livestock farms of significant size. Completion of the Environmental Farm Plans has allowed farmers to implement best management practices to reduce nutrient losses from farm land. Farmers never want to lose valuable nutrients to water courses, these nutrients are vital to the growth and development of our crops.
Toxic algae blooms present in the western basin of Lake Erie are a result of excess phosphorous in the water. Phosphorus levels have been increasing in this shallow lake since the mid 1990s.Warmer water temperatures and clear water due to zebra mussels have accelerated the blue green algae problem that has covered up to 5,000 square kilometres in recent years. Blue green algae impacts fisheries, tourism and property values.
Various government initiatives are now coming to bear on this problem from international, federal, provincial and state governments. In particular, the province of Ontario is working on a domestic plan. Computer modeled data splits the sources of phosphorous between municipal and agriculture sources. There are ambitious targets to hit – reducing phosphorus in Lake Erie by 20% in 2020 and by 40% in 2025.
To address this issue at the farm scale level, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) wants to acknowledge the coordinated efforts between the Ontario AgriBusiness Association (OABA), Fertilizer Canada and OMAFRA to bring the 4R program – a simple reminder about how phosphorus loss can be reduced with better application practices in agriculture – to more Ontario acres through their leadership. 4R reminds farmers to use the right source of nutrient, at the right rate, the right time and in the right place. In a separate initiative, OMAFRA is consulting various agricultural organizations to assist in building a domestic plan that avoids phosphorus loss for Ontario, and sharing actions from competing jurisdictions. The OFA is also involved with other groups on both of these actions.
OFA has joined forces with the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative (GLSLCI) to look at ways to capture or reduce the flow of phosphorus through municipal drainage systems in the Thames River Basin. The Great Lakes and St Lawrence Cities Initiative is an organization of over 120 municipalities bordering Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. Farmers’ drainage systems are all part of larger municipal systems. Municipal water and lost agricultural phosphorous are both sources of nutrients that produce algae blooms. The joint GLSLCI and OFA project will work to bring together municipalities, drainage experts, conservation authorities, farm expertise, and others. Our starting goal is ensure that phosphorus goals are measured and monitored and that baseline data is compiled so that we can measure the effectiveness of farmers efforts to reduce phosphorus levels. OFA looks forward to working with other like-minded organizations to devise and institute best management practices that reduce phosphorus levels in the lakes and drainage systems.
The combination and collaboration of all these initiatives hold the promise of making significant improvements to the quality of the entire Great Lakes basin – an area that affects two countries, eight U.S. states and two Canadian provinces.
Ontario farmers have already taken important steps on their farm to address phosphorus loss by completing Environmental Farm and Nutrient Management Plans, voluntarily adopting best practices to meet their cropping needs and soil testing to avoid unnecessary application.
While embracing the 4R system, the state of Ohio has established a regulation to ban nutrient application on frozen land. Ontario needs to establish the same regulation.
Ontario will be part of the solution to toxic algae blooms. We will do it by supporting regulation that does not undermine competitiveness and more importantly we will do it with voluntary actions that enable prosperous and sustainable farms.