By Teresa Van Raay, Director, Ontario Federation of Agriculture
Agricultural soil health is directly connected to the food production system and economic growth in Ontario. Healthy soils impact the viability, sustainability and productivity of Ontario’s agriculture and food industry. It is our most valuable resource and its long-term health and conservation remains a key priority for the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA).
At our recent virtual Policy Advisory Council meeting, OFA hosted a presentation from the chair and co-chairs of Ontario’s Soil Action Group, which OFA is actively engaged in. The Soil Action Group represents a partnership between government, industry stakeholders, conservation groups and academia with the purpose of providing guidance and advice on the implementation of Ontario’s Agricultural Soil Health and Conservation Strategy. OFA was heavily involved in the development of the strategy, providing input as a member of the soil health working group.
Moving forward, the Soil Action Group is focused on four main themes: soil management, soil data and mapping, soil evaluation and monitoring, and soil knowledge and innovation. Though many soil management best practices already exist, integrating them into existing production systems is a challenge that must recognize Ontario farmers’ capacity to change, the economic realities of farming, and the availability (or lack thereof) of supports to help make desired changes.
Increasing soil data will be critical to allow farmers to establish the baseline status of soil health and be equipped to measure improvements in soil condition. Armed with modernized soil maps, inventory and updated data, the industry can focus its soil enhancement efforts on high-priority areas.
Evaluating and monitoring the state of soil will ensure that progress be tracked at the farm level and within specific regions across the province. Effective tracking will ensure a long-range view of soil health.
The Soil Action Group has already established the need for a productive management cycle that includes farmer knowledge, innovative research and technology transfer. Equipped with a variety of soil demonstrations, knowledge can be shared, and data collected to ensure long term productivity of the land.
Following the presentations, Policy Advisory Council members participated in a poll asking key questions around soil health practices. OFA understands that work continues to ensure the long-term health of our most valuable resource. It may result in farmers having to implement minor changes or adjustments to their current farm practices as well as adopting long-term solutions for managing soil health strategies. Poll results indicated that 77% said they already test soil regularly; 82% have a lot of faith in soil testing; and 83% said they would share this data anonymously for research purposes. The top two ranking incentives for soil improvement programs were free soil testing kits for individual farm use, followed by access to a soil specialist consultation. More than two-thirds of respondents felt that perennial cover crops were the most effective soil management practice. It was also noted that 33% are very concerned about the resilience of the soil in the region of the province they represent.
OFA’s involvement in soil health will continue with an eye to best practices. Specifically, how our members can continue to be effective stewards of the land with methods and programs that maintain or improve profitability and productivity. OFA intends to gather input from members later this fall through a survey on priorities and attitudes around soil health as it relates to their farm business.
In a provincial announcement from earlier this year in July, Ontario’s Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Hon. Ernie Hardeman announced a Jobs and Recovery Committee to focus on reducing regulations and providing incentives to attract investment in local economies, which includes participation by OFA president Keith Currie. Among the areas for potential investment will be projects focused on environmental sustainability, such as soil health management.
OFA is involved in many projects and initiatives to advocate for programs, research and best practices to ensure high quality information and expertise is shared among farmers and industry partners. We know from input received at the grassroots level, including groups like our Policy Advisory Council, that it is critical that incentive programs offer farmers practical and useful data and tools that can not only improve their soil, but also their bottom line. Our food system and economy depends on it.
For more information, contact:
Teresa Van Raay
Ontario Federation of Agriculture
Ontario Federation of Agriculture