Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario Commentary
By Richard Blyleven, CFFO Executive Board Director
Farmers have always been stewards of the land. However, over the last few years, Lake Erie has had a tremendous problem with algal blooms, especially in summer. Sometimes it’s been so bad that municipalities and cities that take their potable water out of Lake Erie could not do so because of contamination, not to mention other ramifications, such as closed beaches.
The algae problem is caused by phosphorus entering the lake. Agriculture is part of that problem, thanks to phosphorus leeching from fertilizers and animal manures. But it is fair to say that over the last 50–60 years, farmers have done a good job of sending less phosphorus into the lake. Still, we need to do more to curb phosphorus run-off.
That’s why Ontario commodity groups, OMAFRA, OSCIA, the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, and other general farm organizations are working together on the Timing Matters Peer-to-Peer pilot program. The goal is to encourage farmers to avoid spreading manure during the winter—and to prove to government that we can regulate ourselves.
The pilot project was started to identify and visit farmers in the Lake Erie basin, from Windsor to Guelph, who are seen spreading manure when the ground is frozen or has snow cover on it. In both cases, the soil is slow to absorb nutrients, so a high level of nutrient leeching will result.
When OMAFRA field staff are travelling in the Lake Erie basin and notice winter spreading, they will identify the farm and do a risk assessment of the situation. The assessment will be very basic, but if warranted, commodity groups will get involved. Each commodity organization will designate a peer farmer to give the producer advice on alternatives to winter spreading.
We are hoping that farmers who do apply manure at the wrong time of year will listen to the advice of their peers who understand the region and work within the same commodity.
The Peer-to-Peer initiative is aimed at farms with 300 animal units or less. (Farms larger than 300 units are regulated under the Nutrient Management Act.) Unlike legislation, there aren’t one size-fits-all rules in an approach like this. Farm-size and geography will make a difference as to how big a problem winter-spreading is. A one-off incident will be treated differently than regularly scheduled spreading.
We at the CFFO are hopeful that this pilot project in the Lake Erie basin will be successful in reducing phosphorus run-off in the Lake. If successful, we hope that this Timing Matters peer-to-peer pilot project can be applied to the entire province to reduce phosphorus in all our freshwater basins.