Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario Commentary
By Lorne Small, CFFO Past-President
The Ontario government has just released a discussion paper on “Sustaining Ontario’s Agricultural Soils.”
(PDF available at www.omafra.gov.on.ca/
They are developing a strategy to enhance the health of agricultural soils and are seeking the collective ideas and participation of all stakeholders. We welcome this initiative. Focusing the spotlight on this vital resource is an excellent first step in preserving and enhancing the productivity of our farmland.
The two percent of Canada’s population who are farmers see our soils as a precious resource; the other ninety eight percent of the population see it as just dirt and seldom give it a second thought. The soil that we all depend upon is just a few inches deep. It requires long periods of geological time to re-generate. Healthy productive soils include a complex mix of physical, chemical and biological components. During the last century new soil formation was slower than soil degradation and loss from erosion. Society is expecting our soils to produce an ever-increasing abundance of food, fibre and now fuels. Our soils will need careful nurturing by our farmers if soils are to continue to deliver the abundance our expanding world population expects. Soil health is just too important to ignore.
Our farmland soils are facing new challenges. Soils are suffering more frequent tillage with much heavier equipment. Thousands of acres of perennial hay and pasture lands have been converted to annual crops. Crop rotation has focused on two or three main annual crops. More of our farmland is being worked by tenant farmers on short-term leases. It is tempting for all of us to treat rented land with a short-term perspective rather than investing in its long-term health.
Loss of soil organic matter is a serious concern for Ontario. Agriculture Canada estimates that 82% of Ontario farmland is losing organic matter and emitting carbon into the atmosphere. However, the best management practices outlined in the discussion paper would help move carbon from the atmosphere and into our soils, and at the same time improve soil productivity.
Carbon has become a villain to many people, but for farmers it is a friend. Our soils contain much more carbon than the atmosphere and more than is in the world’s oceans. Carbon is a vital ingredient for all the crops we grow. Our agricultural soils have the potential to capture vast amounts of carbon and help reduce the fears of drastic climate change. Farmers will have to become better stewards of the land and we collectively can do just that. But farmers need the tools to work with in order to succeed. OMAFRA’s program to update soil maps and integrate new soil mapping technology is a desirable initiative. We need continuation of farm programs that provide fair returns to farmers for their work. Risk management, farm marketing boards, supply management, stable funding, innovate initiative funding, and university research are all programs that allow
farmers to take a long-term perspective and plan for the future with confidence. This confidence allows farmers to keep protecting the health and productivity of their soils as part of their farm plan.
We thank Agriculture Minister Jeff Leal for his foresight and leadership on this important initiative. Our organization welcomes the opportunity to be part of the discussion in the weeks and months ahead.