This week’s guest commentary comes from Larry Davis, Ontario Federation of Agriculture
With the growing season in full swing, most Ontario farmers are focused on the “here and now” of food production. And in the background, groups like the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) are supporting research projects that look ahead to what comes next in Ontario agri-food and agri-products markets.
OFA is currently involved in three research projects that are crucial to the further development of our sector. All three projects – funded by the federal government through the Canadian Agriculture Adaptation Program – work with government and industry partners on farmer-made solutions to address important environmental and economic issues.
The first project, known as the Ag-Biomass Project, aims to address some very real needs of our provincial government and industry partners – the creation of a viable biomass industry in Canada. The project was formed after a 2007 Ontario cabinet decision to move away from coal-powered generating stations. The OFA firmly believes agriculture biomass is both economically sustainable and environmentally preferable to coal as a fuel for thermal power generating stations. Now, a multi-year field study coordinated by industry partners will see 18 farmers growing different species and cultivars of biomass crops like miscanthus on more than 800 acres of farmland in regions across the province. The OFA looks forward to the final report on this study in fall 2013, which will help determine which crops would be best suited to the growth of an agricultural biomass market for Ontario.
The second project is an extension of the Ag-Biomass Project – where OFA is also taking the lead on a closer look at uses for corn stover. Stover consists largely of corn stalks and leaves and is an agricultural biomass material that can be converted to create bio-chemicals and bio-products. If the project is successful, Ontario would become the first region to successfully commercialize the production of bio-chemicals from cellulosic materials, creating meaningful new markets for Ontario farmers, and a viable alternative to non-renewable products.
Finally, the OFA is also involved in the Farm Water Protection Framework Project, looking to bridge the land use needs of Ontario farmers with the environmental needs of municipal water supplies. The project aims to provide a science-based tool to help approximately 1,500 Ontario farmers negotiate a plan to continue using land for productive agricultural uses, while working with municipalities to address concerns about the farms’ proximity to municipal water sources.
We recognize that some of these research areas aren’t always top-of-mind for Ontario farmers. But OFA researchers continue to take action on agriculture and water issues that work towards new opportunities for profitable and sustainable farms in Ontario.